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Lifelong learning for livestock farmers

Over 1000 Farmer Field Schools (FFS) on IPM and/or integrated soil management are currently being implemented in Kenya with many more farmers involved in FFS across the continent. But during the last few years, Farmer Field Schools have been taken a step further to develop the methodology for livestock. With lack of information shown to be a major constraint to improved milk production in Kenya, a collaborative project supported by FAO and DFID's Animal Health Programme was undertaken to determine whether the FFS methodology could be adapted and tested for smallholder dairy farmers.

Women livestock farmers record their observations (Bruno Minjauw, ILRI)
Women livestock farmers record their observations
Bruno Minjauw, ILRI

Since 2001, 20 pilot FFS in five different agro-ecological zones in Central, Rift Valley and Coastal Province in Kenya have been supported through partnerships between the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Each FFS runs for a year and it is the farmers who choose the topics to be covered. Extension agents from the Ministry of Agriculture are selected and trained as facilitators, who use participatory techniques with the FFS groups to prioritise the main constraints to improving milk production. Issues identified include feeding strategies, fodder establishment and conservation, calf rearing and mortality, diseases, water management, and breeding. Understanding the impact of animal health on productivity and how to control disease occurrence is of major importance, particularly as endemic diseases such as tick-borne diseases and worms infestation are considered major constraints to increased dairy production in the Rift Valley Province.

A group of farmers record their findings (Bruno Minjauw, ILRI)
A group of farmers record their findings
Bruno Minjauw, ILRI

The advantage with the FFS approach is that farmers begin to disseminate information and help to train other farmers. Bruno Minjauw, project leader for FFS at ILRI, is also keen to point out that the extension agent, now known as the facilitator, no longer provides farmers with information in a didactic manner but instead helps farmers to design experiments and to accurately observe the results. The facilitator cannot be an expert in every subject so he or she will also help the group to invite the right specialist, including from local NGOs, national or international research institutes, to provide appropriate advice.

The FFS approach for livestock is not only of direct benefit to farmers but is also allowing scientists to collect appropriate data and to transform developed technologies into products and services adapted to farmers' needs. The unique relationship that has been established between farmers, scientists and extension workers in these FFS groups has also provided an opportunity to disseminate information on disease prevalence, to design relevant participatory technology development, and to introduce successful disease control strategies.

Such is the success of FFS with smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya that several NGOs have expressed an interest in testing the approach in sponsoring their own FFS group. FFS for livestock are also being introduced into Southern Africa as part of FAO's Special Programme for Food Security and, in The Gambia, the methodology is currently being tested with small ruminant farmers in collaboration with the International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC). The challenge in each region is to determine the mechanisms that will be required for researchers, extension agents and farmers to work effectively together in the development of the methodology in their environment and circumstances.

Date published: May 2004


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