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4 Programme Design

First the evolution of FFS is discussed, then a comparison between IFMC and AFSP is conducted. The overall institutional set-up of AGEP programme design is presented with a focus on IFMC.

4.1 Evolution of FFS

The FFS approach was developed by FAO in the late 1980s in the

IPM programme, covering much of South and Southeast Asia. The programme had been initiated as a response to serious food security problems arising from over-reliance on pesticides and FAO had a small demonstration project in Bangladesh. By 1995 the GoB approved the Danida-funded IPM programme in Bangladesh and introduced the FFS approach in a project called ‘Strengthening Plant Protection Services’ (SPPS). This marked a shift in Danish support from delivering pesticides to a focus on reducing their use.

In 2000 the FFS/IPM (in rice and vegetables) became part of the Danida-GoB Agricultural Sector Programme Support, the ASPS I. Its successor, ASPS II implemented FFS in two Programme Components: i) Agricultural Extension Component (AEC); and ii) Regional Fisheries and Livestock Development Component (RFLDC). AEC aimed at developing improved extension systems to support poor, marginal and small crop farmer households, by using the FFS approach and group development concepts. RFLDC on the other hand focused on fishery and livestock development in remote and marginal coastal areas. One distinct difference between the two FFS approaches was that AEC applied a household approach where one household – consisting of one man and one woman – was considered an FFS member whereas the RFLDC approach was an individual approach where either one man or one woman from a household participated in a FFS. Nevertheless, learning principles in the two components were compatible and the evaluation from 2011 summarised them as illustrated in the box below.

Box 1: Learning principles for FFS


  1. Farmer centered: the FFS consists of field studies and special topics, based on farmer-identified problems.
  2. Group-based discovery learning: FFS is a group-based learning process using the farmers’ own experience. The learning is done in the field in small groups doing comparative studies/experiments (discovery learning). Farmers’ learn together and from each other.
  3. Learning focused: FFS is not top-down technology transfer but is learning focused. The field is the learning site and provides learning material. Farmers’ experimentation is part of the discovery learning. Farmers are encouraged to experiment, also in their own fields.
  4. Facilitators: FFS requires competent, skilled facilitators, able to facilitate the learning process; no teaching. Facilitators create a suitable learning environment, provide back-stopping and facilitate learning by asking questions. Competent facilitators should have good technical knowledge but also a certain attitude. It requires good mentoring, on-the-job training and experience to become an expert facilitator.
  5. Empowerment: farmers make all decisions in FFS by collecting data – analysing data – making decisions – reaching group consensus. Participants have the right to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Farmers develop confidence in their abilities and local knowledge. FFS improves farmers’ communication, conflict and problem-solving abilities, leadership and discussion skills.
  6. System approach: FFS is a system approach. It considers the farm and the whole agro-ecosystem in the learning process. Agro-Eco-System Analysis (AESA) or Farm Management Analysis is applied to assess the system.
  7. Community based: FFS is participatory and community based. Success depends on involvement of individual farmers and the community. Activities have to continue over a long period of time to be effective. Key for sustainability is farmer ownership of the process at all levels.

When the previous evaluation was conducted (2011) steps had been taken to develop a unified FFS approach under the integrated farm management label that would cover the areas previously covered by two different components. Hence, the IFM-FFS combined crops with fish and livestock, and with the intention to continue applying the exploratory learning principles when implementing FFS while at the same time scaling up.

In designing the AGEP I, it was decided to continue providing extension services through the FFS approach and to maintain the focus on poor and marginalised farmers. The overall modality for FFS was still seen as project-based, but with the emphasis on building on national structures; an approach that was considered suitable and a way to balance the principles of alignment and aid effectiveness, in light of local conditions.

The change under IFMC can briefly be summarised as follows: a) a major upscaling in terms of geographical area and number of villagers/ farmers targeted, b) merging and partial reworking of curricula from AEC and RFLDC and thereby inclusion of more technologies but with the same time available and c) more direct implementation by Upazila and ‘regional’ DAE. As a consequence of the geographical expansion, regional offices were set up with lead roles in implementation, quality assurance and monitoring – as discussed above. In addition, a business development component was added. It was acknowledged from the outset that the scaling up and the change in role for the DAE comprised a number of challenges, and a range of risks were identified, including delays due to bureaucratic structures and institutional barriers to cooperation.[54] In addition, it was highlighted that the approach would pose high demands on the capacity of the DAE, necessitating follow-up and continued capacity development.[55]

The Department of Agriculture Extension as a key partner institution for FFS

A key element in the institutional arrangements for AGEP was the decision to select DAE as the core implementing institution for FFS activities. DAE, established in 1982, is an important arm of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and it represents a consolidation of efforts by the GoB to disseminate agriculture-related information and technology, protect and promote key staple and cash crops, as well as providing essential extension services and support to Bangladeshi farmers. DAE is the largest public sector extension service provider in Bangladesh[56] and has contributed significantly to increasing crop production, particularly in rice and wheat, which has played an important role in the country’s efforts to attain self-sufficiency in food production.[57]

While the mandate and mission of DAE relates to all types of farmers in the country, practical experience has shown large variations in farmers’ contact with DAE extension services. DAE’s mainstream extension coverage mainly seems to benefit medium to large scale farmers.[58] While this may be linked to the relative size of the groups and the limited resources of the DAE, it nevertheless indicates a need for complementary support programmes (like IFMC) to ensure sufficient attention and focus within DAE on the marginal and small farmers in Bangladesh.

Danida has long experience from working with the DAE, with collaboration starting back in 1993. DAE has been promoting the concepts of IPM, Integrated Crop Management and IFM through FFSs with Danish support since 1996 and IFMC would, in this way, build on earlier capacity building support and experiences. Thus, in light of both its mandate and its outreach, DAE was seen as well placed to be the agency solely responsible for implementation. It should be noted that this role included coordinating the practical involvement of other relevant actors, such as extension staff from the Department of Fisheries (DoF) within the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, responsible for specific extension services in these sectors.

Whereas FFS was, in the past, implemented mainly by Danida technical advisors, in AGEP it was now DAE who implemented the programme with Danish funds. This way of working with DAE also linked to considerations regarding longer-term sustainability and consideration of future exit strategies, pointing to the option of a “wider application, within DAE, of the successful (as demonstrated in the FFS evaluation) extension approaches developed through many years of project support”. This was to be facilitated as part of the IFMC through establishment of a national platform for extension actors.

Establishing of farmers organisations and market linkages

Under AGEP, it was recognized that improved production techniques were not the end of the story and that supporting poor, marginal and small farmers may also entail focusing on the value chains between producers and consumers, i.e. on what have become known as “market linkages”. Therefore, it was decided to build on experiences from RFLDC and AEC and establish a component on FO and market linkages under the IFMC component. In RFLDC and AEC, FFS participants were encouraged to form post-FFS groups, which could develop into collaborative groups (farmers’ clubs or associations). The intention was to represent farmers’ broader interest in rural development, develop market linkages by their own mechanisms or even develop rural enterprises. The groups also serve(d) for continued learning and development of new crops and other products.

Under IFMC, the intention was to empower female and male farmers to form FOs, targeting them for additional training and linking up to service providers, and eventually benefiting from market actors and micro-finance organisations to increase farm profitability. According to the IFMC guide, termed ‘Transformation of IFM FFS to Marketing FO’, FOs in IFMC were planned to emerge directly from the group of FFS participants with a focus on marketing. It was the assumption that the exploratory/discovery learning in the original FFS approach would lead not only to good learning results but also to increased human and social assets. This was expected to have a large bearing on the quality and power of farmers’ organisations/clubs/associations emerging after a group of farmers would had worked together in a season-long training.

The appraisal of the AGEP programme (2012) highlighted that ‘Farmers’ Organisations play an important role in the AGEPs strategy and implementation framework. The aim and approach is to empower the farmers in groups for them to raise their voice, bulking production surplus, achieving better prices – and in this respect using the FOs as a tool in linking farmers to the market players (both regarding supplies and production)’, and the Programme Document for AGEP states: ‘Farmer Clubs and Farmers Organisations will be established and developed into sustainable organisations.

The intention of the FO component was to encourage first steps of FO development to enable a continued collaboration in the most functional FFS groups which would then get better access to markets.

The appraisal further noted that ‘It may prove difficult to recruit the needed number of qualified staff, especially in the field and with regards to building capacity in FOs. In parallel, the rolling out of activities in many new districts and Upazilas may pose a risk of overstretching the IFMC and DAE implementation capacity.’ Therefore, it was recommended that the support to development of FO and their market activities be treated as ‘testing the water’ with a gradual roll out and learning along the way. This was also reflected in the rather limited budget allocated for developing FOs.

With regards to FOs, the risk of elite capture (in the form of FOs becoming exclusive clubs for the local privileged groups) was also emphasised by the appraisal: “There is a potential trade-off between the wish to ensure continued group dynamic through FO membership to FFS participants and the risk of establishing exclusive clubs for the village elite, possibly leading to increased polarization and exclusion of the poorest households and women. Limited absorption capacity in the CBOs and obligations of payment of regular membership fees present a restriction to the access of the poorest FFS members to the FOs.

The appraisal report further emphasised that DAE had little capacity (experience and/or resources) in working with FOs, both at central level but also at lower levels. Therefore, considerable capacity building of DAE field staff was recommended if they should be able to assist the FOs to materialise into vibrant and sustainable FOs and further linking them (or “handing them over”) to other areas of support, such as credit and agribusiness development (e.g. Katalyst). While specialist knowledge and experience in building commercialised FOs was seen as highly needed, it was recommended to focus on sustainable capacity building within the existing GoB systems, and within DAE in particular, rather than outsourcing the FO capacity building activities to external agencies (e.g. NGOs).

4.2 FFS in IFMC and AFSP

There are notable differences in FFS in IFMC and AFSP; this section discusses the differences in terms of their programme design. FFS in AFSP was developed with support from master trainers from IFMC as well as support from FAO technical staff and DAE has therefore played a considerable part in establishing the UNDP project in CHT. Nevertheless, considerable differences prevail, not least due to the very different contexts. Table 7 below provides an overview of the differences in the design.

In order to consider the relevance of implementing a FFS in a specific village, the IFMC FFS register[59] clearly provides instructions on how to assess a potential village through a transect walk and a household survey.[60] The register mentions poverty prone areas that are generally free from floods, where communication systems are comparatively good and that areas with social conflict should be excluded.[61] According to the register, the number of households in the village was to be listed, accessibility in terms of roads, number of schools, mosques and ponds/ rivers in the area as well as the amount of cultivated and irrigated land are also to be included. The registration form includes a classification of farmers with clear definitions of landless, marginal, small, medium and large family farms[62] and the number of families within these categories which are to be included. Further, the registration includes information of families’ ownership of small and large ruminants and lists the number of female-headed households.

Following the transect walk a community meeting should be organised with a minimum of 30 households selected and facilitated by a Farmer Facilitator (FF) who is supported by a SAAO. It is emphasized in the Guidebook that participants must be landless, marginal or small farmers and that female headed households should be prioritised.[63] This means that households with access to land from 0-249 decimals (up to 2½ acres) are to be included for FFS but it is not specified whether the land needs to be owned, leased or sharecropped. Further it should be noted that, in a Bangladeshi context, a farmer with 2½ acres of land is a rather large farmer and therefore the definition does not fully support the pro-poor focus as set out in the AGEP design. Selection criteria therefore leave room for interpretation in terms of landownership and how many households from the different categories should be included. In the end, 25 households with around 50 participants are selected for FFS.

When farmers were selected for FFS, facilitators were required to register the composition of households in the FFS based on a household survey (including land category, male or female headed household, agricultural activities, etc.). However, there have been no requirements that the survey should include interested but non-selected households and it is therefore difficult to assess the extent to which suitable households may have been left out.

In AFSP, the guidelines for selecting a community clearly emphasizes that priorities should be given to reach underserved areas. Furthermore, participants were to be from more marginalised families in a village and, on average, 22 participants were included in one FFS due to the different individual approaches as mentioned above, hence resulting in much smaller groups compared to IFMC.

Another central difference concerns recruitment of Farm Facilitators. FFs under AFSP are recruited from local communities, whereas in IFMC FFs are recruited from FFS participants. In AFSP, FFs are key persons conducting FFS sessions at the community level on different issues relating to agriculture, including crop, horticulture, livestock, etc. It is a key strategy for AFSP to ensure ownership and engagement from FFs by selecting locally based members of the community to facilitate the FFS. Three government extension departments established links with FFSs for the delivery of coordinated extension services. Farmer facilitators and service providers in crops, livestock and aquaculture were trained and linked with the extension departments to enable the provision of extension services on demand.

Table 7. Differences between FFS in IFMC and AFSP




Implications of differences in FFS methods

Time period

Strictly seasonal, sometimes tied to the rice seasons.[64]

FFS runs for a full year. Afterc ompleting the FFS over the year, the FF provides follow-up support for another six months

Time frame is longer in AFSP with more follow-up support than in IFMC. Therefore, the support is also more costly in AFSP

Selection of communities

  • Poverty prone areas
  • Free from floods
  • Accessible
  • Good communication systems
  • No social conflict
  • Underserved areas (no GoB/NGOs)
  • Primarily farming communities
  • Remote but accessible
  • Food insecurity
  • Inclusion of all ethnicities
  • High food insecurity[65]
  • Where female HH are located

AFSP gives particular priority to remote, under-served communities. This is not explicitly mentioned in IFMC.

Selection of participants

  • Landless, marginal or small farmers (less than 250 decimals of land)
  • Female headed households
  • 50 participants per FFS, although not all attend all modules
  • Priority of disadvantaged and marginal if mixed community
  • Female headed households
  • In average 22 participants

AFSP has a more explicit focus on marginalised HHs, whereas IFMC operates with a broad target group based on access to land.

FFS training

Exploratory learning still exists in rice-module and homestead gardening module[66] but increasingly absent in newer additions (i.e. nutrition).

Longer time period allows for more explorative learning and all processes from seed treatment to post-harvesting explored.

FFS under IFMC has too little time to fully be exploratory although explorative elements are still included (i.e. trials)


51 sessions consisting of preparatory modules (4), rice production (14), homestead gardening (7), nutrition (3), poultry (4), small ruminants (4), large ruminants (5), aquaculture (5), FO and social issues (4)[67]

A total of 48 sessions – modules for FFS are selected through a series of consultations, and include vegetable production, poultry (chicken-duck), fish rearing, cow rearing, pig rearing, beef fattening, rice production, nutrition, compost preparation, etc.

In AFSP modules are selected based on participants’ wishes and needs. This is not done in the same participatory manner in IFMC.

Facilitation/ facilitators

  • FFS participant showing more motivation and engagement
  • Both married and single men/women to be considered
  • Literate
  • A local farmer between 25 and 45 years
  • Main occupation in agriculture and with acceptance from the community
  • FF is required to adopt the technology learnings in her/his farm for demonstration

In AFSP, locality of FFs is considered key. In IFMC FFs are selected among FFS participants who are then implementing FFS outside their own locality

Marketing and organisation

A model linking FOs and BFPs was introduced in IFMC. The intention was first to ensure linkages with extension services and access to additional training and, secondly, to link FOs to markets through the BFPs.

Marketing is addressed primarilythrough the Para Development Committee (PDC), as an organisational approach and FOs are not included in the support package.

The model is largely implemented as a prescribed model, with little flexibility and room for adjustment.

Institutional set-up

DAE: Central, regional, Upazila levels

UNDP: Project unit

Implementation through a large government institution (in IFMC) vs. a smaller project modality (in AFSP)

In order to understand these differences, the institutional set-up for IFMC is discussed below.

4.3 Institutional set-up for IFMC

The institutional set-up for IFMC comprised an inter-ministerial Component Steering Committee (CSC) chaired by the MoA, with participation from a number of government ministries, departments and organisations (including but not limited to DAE, DoF, Department of Livestock Services (DLS), a representative from the Ministry of CHT Affairs and the Danish embassy). The CSC was tasked with overall oversight as regards approval of work plans and budgets, etc. with an expectation that at least two meetings would be held per year. A Component Implementation Committee was also set up, chaired by the Director General of DAE, with the participation of the various wings of DAE, which should meet quarterly to review the progress of IFMC.

A Component Management Unit (CMU) was set up at the DAE headquarter, with the responsibility for the day-to-day management to be headed by a DAE-designated Project Director with assistance from a Senior Advisor. Responsibilities included facilitating, coordinating and supervising IFMC activities as well as preparation and adherence to the various guidelines, training curriculum, training of Master Facilitators (MFs) and Subject Matter Specialists, preparation of annual work plans, etc.

A key part of the set up was the six Regional Implementation Units (RIUs) that were overall responsible for implementation of field activities. The RIUs were to operate under the direct supervision of the CMU. For each RIU, a regional team was set up, consisting of GoB staff, a Regional Technical Coordinator, two Master Facilitators, a M&E officer and a team member was designated Gender Focal Point. The regional teams were responsible for training of the FFs, support to FOs, assessments of quality and standards of implementation, etc. The set-up was intended be based on co-management, both at the headquarter level and at the regional level, with collaboration, dual sign off, etc., to ensure an appropriate division of responsibility and authority between Danida and DAE. This is different than in the earlier phase, where programme management was lodged at a central Programme Management Unit, more fully under Danida authority.

The overall M&E arrangements follow the structure of AGEP, with programme monitoring following the components. For IFMC, an M&E approach was developed which contained various sub-elements, including a baseline study, results and performance monitoring (or progress), mid-term and end evaluations. With regards to the evaluations and results monitoring element of IFMC, this was largely to be carried out externally. The baseline report was prepared and has been important to guide the evaluation’s household survey, but the mid-term evaluation, although commissioned was never finalised due to poor quality of the work and has therefore not been considered in the current evaluation.

For the internal monitoring, the data was collected by DAE Upazila offices and IFMC monitoring staff, jointly with the small regional monitoring team (a Monitoring Officer and an Assistant Monitoring Officer) who were responsible for collecting and analysing the data at the regional level, and with the national M&E Advisor responsible for compiling the data and preparing the various progress reports. The emphasis was on tracking progress against targets, highlighting both the quantity and quality of the interventions in order to assess effectiveness and efficiency.

4.4 Institutional set-up for AFSP

The institutional set-up for AFSP mirrors the different context in which this component has been implemented. It must be kept in mind that the national institutional set-up in CHT is different from the rest of Bangladesh. All development activities are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA) and the Hill District Councils (HDCs). The line departments e.g. DAE, DLS, DoF etc. are transferred to HDCs following the agreements signed between the concerned ministries and respective HDCs.

The management and organisational arrangements for AGEP-AFSP were to a large degree directly transferred from AFSP I with only minor adjustments, as it was the assessment of involved actors that arrangements had functioned well under AFSP I. The interventions were managed by UNDP, through the CHT Development Facility (CHTDF) and the Community Empowerment Programme. Management structures were under the guidance of the National Steering Committee (NSC) with inputs from the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on Agriculture. The project proposal outlines UNDPs long presence in CHT and its long-term experience and credible relationships with HDCs and MoCHTA, the core institutions entrusted with delivering services in the CHT.[68]

At the national level, the NSC and the TAC were responsible, respectively, for the overall supervision of, and providing technical guidance to the project. At the district level, the District Managers had the responsibility for maintaining partnerships with relevant stakeholders. District FFS Experts were tasked with backstopping on FFS implementation and on capacity building of the relevant parties as well as ensuring the delivery of quality extension services in remote areas of the CHT, in close cooperation with HDC AFSP team, different line departments and Master Trainers.[69] This was one of the points of involvement between GoB line departments and the UNDP-led AFSP, with line departments such as DAE, DoF and DLS at district and Upazila level being connected to the AFSP project.

At the Upazila level, Upazila Field Supervisors were responsible for supervising the activities of the Upazila-based HDC staff, partner NGO staff (in some areas) and for providing support in community mobilization, PDC formation, fund management and monitoring of project activities, etc. The involvement of partner NGOs with specialist field staff providing follow up and technical training is one of the features where the AFSP has been distinct from IFMC.

For AFSP, M&E was delegated to UNDP, with the expectation that the overall approach and the indicators developed for the entire AGEP programme would also be relevant to capture support to CHT. The M&E system worked with participatory monitoring as well as progress and performance monitoring. The AFSP has not worked with sample-based impact monitoring in a manner similar to IFMC but has assessed impact through a baseline study and a follow-up survey, that has fed into an impact assessment as part of a project end-evaluation. AFSP established Progress Monitoring tools for assessing progress on planned activities and outputs. The project staff also conducted periodic case studies with participants in order to understand different levels of participation and progress of households.

[54] Danida 2013: AGEP, IFMC component description 2013, Danida version.

[55] Danida 2012: AGEP appraisal report.

[56] According to a 2017 overview, the DAE had a staff of approximately 26,000, with approximately 22,000 working in the field service wing.

[57] https://www.weadapt.org/organisation/department-of-agricultural-extension

[58] The share of marginal and small-scale farmers that was in contact with DAE extension services during 2015 was much lower than the share of medium and large-scale farmers (with 6% of marginal farmers having received services against 25% of the large farmers).

[59] Register Khata, IFM Farmer Field School, IFMC, version 24th August 2015.

[60] IFM FFS Session guidebook, November 2016. This is also confirmed by the FF curriculum where sessions of household survey and transect walk are included in the Detailed Day’s Plan of Farmer Facilitator-ToT on Integrated Farm Management (IFM) Farmer Field School (FFS).

[61] IFM FFS Session guidebook, November 2016.

[62] Landless: 0-49 decimal; Marginal: 50-99 decimal; Small: 100-249 decimal; Large: more than 700 decimal). Based on Register Khata, IFM Farmer Field School, IFMC, version 24th August 2015.

[63] IFM FFS Session guidebook, November 2016.

[64] Farmer Field Schools, Agricultural Extension Component (2006-2012), Integrated Crop Management: Learning by doing, learning by experience, 2011.

[65] AFSP Guideline for selection of communities (Annex 1).

[66] As evidenced in the Integrated Farm Management FFS Guidebook (Session Plan and Session Guide)’, IFMC 2015 and reported by farmers to the evaluation.

[67] Integrated Farm Management (IFM) FFS Curriculum, Integrated Farm Management Component (IFMC), January 2014.

[68] AFSP project document, 2013, p. XII.

[69] AFSP project document, 2013, p. 84.


This page forms part of the publication "Evaluation of Agricultural Growth & Employment Programme (AGEP), Bangladesh – October 2019" as chapter 4 of 8.
Version no. 1.0, 2020-01-16
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