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Executive Summary

The main purpose of this Evaluation was to analyse and to document – in a gender perspective – the results and the lessons learned from using the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach in the Agriculture Sector Programme Support Phase II (ASPS II) in Bangladesh.

The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) and the Danish Government (through Danida) initiated the first phase of the Agriculture Sector Programme Support (ASPS I) in 2000, based on a long history of bilateral cooperation in agriculture, livestock and fisheries. Following ASPS I, the cooperation continued into a second phase (ASPS II) starting from late 2006, with a five-year duration and a budget of Danish Kroner (DKK) 610 million.

The Evaluation has assessed FFS implementation within two ASPS II components: 1) The Agricultural Extension Component (AEC), implemented mainly through the Department of Agricultural Extension within the Ministry of Agriculture, and 2) The Regional Fisheries and Livestock Development Component (RFLDC), implemented mainly through the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock with the Department of Livestock and the Department of Fisheries being responsible for monitoring and managing of RFLDC activities.

The Evaluation has been carried out by an independent team of international and Bangladeshi experts organised by Orbicon A/S. It was conducted from March to September 2011. The overall approach to data collection and analysis has been based on a mixed-methods approach, combining rigorous analysis of existing quantitative data with qualitative information collected during a three-week fieldwork mission to North/North West Bangladesh, Barisal, Noakhali and Chittagong Foothills. The Evaluation also draws on a literature study covering experience with FFS in other regions and countries.

FFS within ASPS II

The FFS approach within both AEC and RFLDC is supposed to contribute to achievement of the overall development objective of ASPS II: ’Improved living conditions of poor, marginal and small farmer households through enhanced, integrated and sustainable agricultural productivity’. FFS within ASPS II aims at: i) incorporating a demand driven and integrated approach to agricultural extension; ii) promoting farmers’ organisations; and iii) presenting a holistic perspective to the sectors. The FFS approach within ASPS II has a solid emphasis on nutrition issues, which links ASPS II efforts in terms of agricultural diversification in particular into livestock and fishery/aquaculture with increased awareness about production, food use and nutrition linkages.

The overall purposes of FFS are common for both programme components in ASPS II (AEC and RFLDC): i) to provide an environment in which farmers acquire knowledge and skills to improve production and income from their agricultural field crops, homestead (vegetables, fruits, livestock, poultry) and fish cultivation through application of sound farm management decisions; ii) to sharpen farmers’ abilities to make critical and informed decisions that make their farming activities more profitable and sustainable; iii) to improve farmers’ problem solving abilities; iv) to allow farmers to discover benefits from group work and encourage group formation and activities, including development of farmers’ organisations for input and output deliveries and advocacy roles and; v) to empower farmers to become ’experts’ on their own farms and to be more confident in solving their own problems. However, although the purpose and principles of the FFS approach are the same, there are important differences in the methods used for FFS implementation within the two components:

FFS within AEC

AEC aims at developing improved extension systems to support poor, marginal and small farm households, by using FFS and group development concepts. AEC is mainly targeting the poor, marginal and small farmer households cultivating 0.2-1 hectare (ha) of land in the northern and north western region, although with a national coverage.

The FFS curriculum in AEC consists of a total of 20 sessions: 11 sessions (mainly male participants) on rice, four sessions (mainly female participants) on homestead issues (mainly vegetable and fruit gardening, but also nutrition and cooking) and an additional five sessions (mixed male and female) on group/club formation and some social issues. In addition, five follow-up sessions are offered the following season on topics selected by the farmers (e.g. livestock, poultry, fish-farming).

In AEC, the Agro-EcoSystem Analysis (AESA) methodology is applied for FFS. AESA includes a series of learning methods and tools to guide the participants through the learning process to master the skills of observation, evaluation, analysis and decision making. These skills they can use afterwards for other purposes. Methods, activities and tools applied in the AESA are carefully selected and are based on non-formal, participatory adult education principles.

In AEC the ’households’ are the FFS members, i.e. both the female and male members. Facilitation of FFS in AEC is mainly the work of trained Farmer Trainers, working in teams of two. AEC encourages FFS farmers to form Farmer Clubs at the end of the FFS season, in order to continue group dynamics and provide opportunities for organising other income generating and social activities within the communities as well as possibilities for group saving and provision of loans to the farmers. In those unions where there are at least three Farmer Clubs, the AEC is supporting formation of Union Farmer Associations (UNFAs).

FFS within RFLDC

FFS within RFLDC focuses on fisheries and livestock development in the District of Greater Noakhali and Barisal Division in the southern coastal area of Bangladesh. RFLDC focuses on remote and marginal coastal and char lands, characterised by high concentrations of poverty. During ASPS I, group/organisation formation was gradually incorporated, resulting in the establishment of Community Based Organisations (CBOs).

The FFS implemented RFLDC-Noakhali from 2007 has included common planning sessions for men and women. The curriculum has offered four main technical modules mainly related to homestead opportunities: poultry (chicken and ducks), livestock (cattle, goats and sheep), fishery/aquaculture and homestead gardening (vegetables and fruit). In addition, supplementary modules have been offered on health, nutrition and social issues. Each module has included three to 10 sessions. The total programme of up to 36 sessions has been offered over a period of 18 months at bi-weekly intervals. When not relevant for the participants, certain modules have been skipped or shortened. Only one of the household members has participated in each session, either the man or the women depending on the focus of the module. The group size and composition has varied according to the module.

RFLDC-Barisal started with household production system based FSS from 2007, addressing both male and female household members. Although not identical to the one in Noakhali, the FFS curriculum used in Barisal covered most of the same topics. The nutritional issues module was separated in three sessions for both men and women, while the fourth session was solely for women (specific women health issues). Though not mandatory, in general the fishery/aquaculture module was offered to male participants, and the livestock module to female participants. The whole programme was offered over a period of 10-12 months.

From 2010, RFLDC-Barisal has developed a common curriculum with RFLDC-Noakhali, offered over 18 months and which basically follows the existing Noakhali curriculum. The approach has moved away from the household-based participation (one man and one women from each household), into an individual-based approach (either man or woman from the household).

The FFS methodology used in RFLDC includes an Experiential Learning Cycle, but does not follow the AESA methods and structure as applied in AEC. Instead the ’Farm Management Analysis’ (FMA) is applied at each FFS session with the same objectives as AESA. The FFS sessions are run by Local Facilitators, who will, in between the FFS sessions, follow and advise the participants on application in their own field, pond or homestead.

Integrated Farm Management

Recently steps have been taken to promote unity between the different FFS curricula used in the ASPS components through development of an Integrated Farm Management (IFM)-FFS curriculum. This curriculum is presently on trial with AEC, RFLDC and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 68 locations (25 in North-West, 15 in Barisal and 28 in Noakhali). The objectives of the IFM-FFS are similar to the ongoing FFS in AEC and RFLDC. The developed draft curriculum combines the existing AEC and RFLDC curricula and consists of nine modules with 58 sessions.

Major Findings and Conclusions

This Evaluation has come to the following major findings and conclusions.

Results and impacts:

  1. Since 2006, around three million poor people (representing more than 500,000 households) in rural Bangladesh have benefitted directly from new knowledge and techniques related to agricultural production and nutrition provided through FFS in ASPS II. To this should be added what seems to be quite large (but not quantifiable) spill-over effects from FFS farmers to non-FFS farmers.
  2. The impact of FFS on household nutrition and food security is statistically highly significant, most notably among the households with the lowest income levels. FFS households have reduced their vulnerability and increased intake of most food items significantly more than control village households. Likewise, FFS households estimate that their probability of being hit by food shortage has decreased from 20% before FFS to 11% after FFS, compared to a slight decrease from 31% to 30% within control village households.
  3. The impact of FFS on household income is statistically highly significant. While income in FFS households on average has risen from BDT 52,000 before FFS (2007) to BDT 72,000 after FFS participation (2010), the increase within control village households within the same period was only from BDT 47,000 to BDT 57,000. The income increase within FFS households is most significant for the households with the lowest income levels.
  4. The impact of FFS on production diversification is a statistically highly significant. The total number of agricultural products produced is significantly larger for FFS households than for control village households.
  5. FFS, as applied through ASPS II in Bangladesh, has been demonstrated to be a very efficient development investment. When costs are compared with benefits from the FFS interventions at household level, it shows a pay-back time of less than a year from the investment. Compared to cost experiences from FFS interventions in other countries, FFS within ASPS II in Bangladesh appears to be at an average cost level.
  6. FFS has become an ’eye opener’ for the FFS participating women, their husbands and families, for what women are capable of producing and contributing to household income and food security, if they are given the chance and permission.
  7. The successful ’FFS women’ and their husbands have become role models for other farmers in their neighbourhoods and for their children. FFS has been a major boost to women’s self-confidence. FFS has contributed to improving inter-household relations between men and women and contributed to increasing gender equality in decision-making, at least on ’smaller issues’, in relation to production and income.
  8. There has not been any verifiable and measurable positive impacts or effects so far on persisting socio-cultural problems (e.g. child-marriage, child labour, dowry, polygamy, drug abuse, sexual and gender-based violence, suicide, divorces, child accidents and abuse) in the FFS communities compared to non-FFS communities.
  9. There are indications that some unintended negative impacts could be directly or indirectly linked to implementation of FFS (e.g. increased work load for children, reports of drowning accidents of small children during women FFS sessions, land disputes and further social exclusion of marginalised groups within the villages and negative environmental impacts related to boro rice cultivation).

Organisational issues:

  1. The main motivation for farmers to join FFS is the possibility of obtaining new knowledge on farming practices and technology, based on the desire to increase production and, potentially, cash income.
  2. The CBOs are in general operating at a more advanced level than the Farmer Clubs and UNFAs in terms of both input supplies and marketing. This is also a reflection of the rather different types and levels of support these organisations have received from, respectively, RFLDC (CBOs) and AEC (Farmer Clubs and UNFAs).
  3. Both Farmer Clubs and CBOs are becoming increasingly organised and able to identify opportunities and needs as well as creating links to local government structures at the Union level. Several of the Farmer Clubs and CBOs are also successfully involved in production and distribution of quality inputs among farmers. Progress is more limited in terms of establishing linkages to marketing and processing of the products.
  4. Women’s membership and participation in Farmer Clubs (village level) is much higher than in the case of the CBOs, which often meet or are located outside the villages where the CBO members live. Traditional restrictions on women’s mobility, combined with a generally decreasing absorption capacity for intake of new members in the CBOs and lack of proper information, is limiting women from participating in the CBOs. As for decision making and leadership of both Farmer Clubs and CBOs, it is a concern that the representation of women and minority groups in the executive committees is very limited, since this is where the more advanced marketing and other strategic activities are located. Women are therefore to a large extent excluded from these advanced activities.

Technical aspects and modalities:

  1. The FFS approach has been implemented through different modalities within ASPS II, which in general has been appropriate due to the differences among AEC and RFLDC target groups and focus areas. In terms of AEC, the use of AESA has in particular been shown to be highly relevant and well applied for the male sessions on field crops (rice), although it is seen as a limitation that no other field crops have been included. Given the relatively more limited initial level of own experience and resources among the FFS participants in RFLDC, the use of more demonstration-oriented methods appear to have been appropriate for achievement of the livelihoods and production targets within this component, but not yet for the development of farmers as skilled, informed independent decision making experts. The current IFM piloting will provide useful experience from combining elements from AEC and RFLDC.
  2. Time allocated to some of the topics in the joint male-female FFS sessions, in particular awareness raising on different socio-cultural issues, tends to be too short to generate notable impact. Presentations are too broad, Farmer Trainers/Facilitators are just ’touching’ on the issues and there is no proper coverage. Socio-cultural issues are seen as an add-on in need of awareness-raising, rather than intra-household dynamics being seen as an integral part of livelihood management, which farmers need to analyse and address through FFS.
  3. Farmer Trainers and Facilitators become model farmers who are appreciated as being easily accessible in the local areas where they are recruited and live. This ensures continued access for the farmers to training and knowledge on vegetable gardening, livestock and fish farming.
  4. Practical demonstration skills are reasonably well developed among Farmer Trainers/Facilitators. However, their skills to ensure active contribution by all participants and stimulate interaction between participants are often limited, also with regard to gender sensitivity.

Policy and institutional aspects:

  1. The application of the FFS Approach within ASPS II complies to a large extent with Danida’s key strategies and policies on household poverty alleviation and inclusion of women, indigenous peoples and minority groups. However, it only partially complies with the goal of full gender equality, mainly because the approach does not sufficiently take into account gender specific intra-household differences.
  2. In terms of GOB policies and strategies, the FFS approach is well reflected e.g. in relation to the ’Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II’ (2009) which focuses on poverty alleviation through increased targeting of the extremely poor and vulnerable groups, including women. The FFS approach is also well anchored in relation to the government’s new ’Country Investment Plan’ (2010) which focuses on sustainable and diversified agriculture through integrated research and extension, with particular importance given to crop sectors, livestock and fisheries. In addition, the FFS approach is fully congruent with the suggestion in the New Agricultural Extension Policy, to apply a group approach for delivery of extension services.

Institutional arrangements and Monitoring and Evaluation:

  1. The potential synergy effects between AEC and RFLDC activities have only been achieved to a limited extent. Even within the two RFLDC sub-components, it has been difficult to coordinate activities.
  2. Although the set-up of AEC is more linked to existing GOB structures than RFLDC is, both components are to some extent implemented as ’projects’ with separate management units and procedures. The institutional sustainability of the FFS modality, applied within ASPS II, lies therefore mainly with the capacity that has been built at the local level with farmers, Farmer Trainers/Facilitators, CBOs/ Farmer Clubs/UNFAs as well as the local level Department of Agricultural Extension staff that has been trained (within AEC).
  3. After experiencing some initial constraints and shortcomings, the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework for the FFS interventions has recently been improved within ASPS II. Data are now being collected more strategically within both AEC and RFLDC and are to some extent being used for analysis of progress. Limited efforts have however been made within the components to: i) gender dis-aggregate data; ii) collect data on socio-cultural, employment and spill-over effects from FFS interventions; and iii) trace Farmer Trainers/Facilitators.

Lessons learned and recommendations

The evaluation findings and conclusions lead to the following lessons learned and recommendations.

Wider implications from experiences with FFS in ASPS II, Bangladesh:

Lesson 1: The FFS approach, as practiced in ASPS II, is a cost-effective mechanism for lifting poor rural households, including landless and often excluded and marginalised population groups, out of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. In addition to the direct effects, the level of spill-over effects appears to be of large magnitude.

Recommendation 1: Future development interventions, aiming at reducing vulnerability and improving food security, nutrition and livelihoods among poor rural households should strongly consider using the FFS approach, incorporating the other recommendations given here. Although not directly evidenced by the Evaluation, the results from FFS may have the additional potential of contributing to social stabilisation within countries like Bangladesh, characterised by relatively high inequality and poverty.

Lesson 2: Increases in micro-level growth and self-employment (at the household level) due to FFS interventions in ASPS II, have been considerable. In addition to increased market production among small-scale farmers with land access, it has been demonstrated that, through FFS, even hard-core poor households with very little or no land are capable of increasing their income from producing for the markets.

Recommendation 2: Future development interventions aiming at stimulating growth and employment within the agricultural sector should target small-scale farmers as well as hard-core poor and marginalised famers as core FFS members. Even among the poorest and marginalised farmers, there is a potential to contribute with a range of services and agricultural/food products to the markets and for value-chain and enterprise development. Female farmers can also make a substantial contribution.

Gender and other social aspects:

Lesson 3: It is possible within Bangladesh, through rather simple but targeted FFS interventions, to effectively involve and benefit large numbers of women (including young women, female-headed households, widows and women from indigenous populations), increasing their confidence, ability to earn an income, to contribute to food security and participate in decision-making on smaller production issues. However, women’s income remains relatively low and they still do not participate equally in important household decisions. This is largely due to the household approach in FFS which does not explicitly address intra-household relations.

Recommendation 3: Future FFS interventions in Bangladesh should be planned with a view to exploring its potential to build on the achievements, and aim at bringing about more significant changes through more explicit attention to intra-household issues as an integral part of livelihood and farming systems (e.g. it could be considered to incorporate aspects from some other proven methodologies, like the Gender Action Learning System (GALS), where farming is seen as a family business and where gender inequalities are addressed in a cooperative manner with women and men).

Lesson 4: FFS interventions, with their current household-level focus, are not sufficient to notably influence traditional restrictions on women’s mobility, nor do they effectively challenge socio-cultural problems and harmful practices within the villages. This is because these gender/socio-cultural issues are perceived as add-ons and not an integral part of addressing poverty.

Recommendation 4: Future FFS interventions should be much clearer about the interrelationships between different dimensions of gender, social inequality and household poverty and aim at incorporating gender analysis into the technical training. Some of the more in-depth training and supporting activities might need to be taken up by other interventions (e.g. awareness raising through non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Lesson 5: If no additional preventive procedures and mitigations are taken, FFS may in some cases cause negative, unintended social and environmental impacts within and outside the villages.

Recommendation 5: Future FFS interventions should include a participatory pre-assessment of the potential social and environmental risks related to FFS interventions and, based on this assessment, an Action Plan should be prepared on how to prevent and mitigate these risks.

Organisational issues:

Lesson 6: Farmer organisations have proved to be useful entry points for production/ distribution of various forms of input supplies (quality seeds, vaccines etc.) to the farmers and they possess a strong potential for further expanding their role in marketing and partnerships with private enterprises. Special attention will be required to ensure sustainability of these processes. Sustainability does not come automatically from forming groups and organisations and providing block grants/seed money.

Recommendation 6: Future support to the agricultural sector in Bangladesh should pay attention to consolidating and expanding the role and involvement of farmer organisations (CBOs and UNFAs) in terms of input supplies, marketing and further processing of agricultural products (produced within the villages). The more developed CBOs (from RFLDC) could be used as ’mentors’ for the UNFAs. There needs to be much more focus on including women in decision-making and planning/implementation of women activities.

Lesson 7: There is a risk that farmer organisations established from FFS turn into exclusive clubs for the village elite, possibly leading to increased polarisation and exclusion of the poorest households and women. Limited absorption capacity in the CBOs and obligations of payment of regular membership fees are barriers for the poorest FFS members, including many women, to become members of the farmer organisations.

Recommendation 7: It is recommended that current procedures and criteria for selection of participants for FFS and membership of farmer organisations be reconsidered, in view of the potential risk for exclusion of groups of women and men from participating in FFS/farmer organisation related activities.

Lesson 8: When farmer organisation offices (CBO/UNFA offices) are located outside the village neighbourhood, women’s participation is dramatically reduced. Having physical access to, and being member of the organisation does not automatically promote women’s leadership and give them voice or benefits, equal to those of their male counterparts.

Recommendation 8: As an interim measure to address this, it should be considered establishing temporary quotas for women’s participation in farmer organisations and leadership/leading positions in the executive committees (e.g. established in by-laws). This should be accompanied by explicit discussion of ways of enabling more active involvement and benefitting of women in farmer organisation activities.

FFS approach and facilitation:

Lesson 9: There is not only one ’blueprint’ FFS approach that works. Rather, it is possible, through a demand-driven focus, to adapt the traditional FFS approach efficiently and effectively to different contexts and target groups.

Recommendation 9: Future FFS curricula should be developed with sufficient flexibility to ensure that each FFS can be adjusted to different target groups and local conditions (e.g. in the case of the most resource-poor groups of households, including women, it may be possible through an initial use of demonstration-oriented methods to improve the participants’ FFS ’skills’ to a level where they subsequently can be treated topics using a ’full’ FFS methodology). The curricula should also be flexible enough to address different climate change and other risk parameters within the main agro-ecological zones. More attention should be paid to the potentials for increasing the value-added to the agricultural production through FFS (e.g. through introduction of other, higher valued, crops than rice). Explicit attention to the gender dimensions of these issues needs to be incorporated.

Lesson 10: The preparation and performance of the Farmer Trainers/Facilitators is of key importance to the quality of the FFS. Personal attitude, facilitation skills, previous FFS experience and gender sensitivity are more important skills for the trainers/facilitators than formal education. Female trainers/facilitators, especially young women, find it often hard to work in a male-dominated society.

Recommendation 10: During the training of the Farmer Trainers/Facilitators more explicit attention should be given to improve their facilitation skills, including how to work with illiterate women and incorporate gender issues as an integral part of other training. Possibilities to increase the incentives for women to become trainer/facilitator should be further explored (e.g. use of married couples).

Institutional arrangements and M&E:

Lesson 11: It is difficult to assess sustainability aspects and extract learning as long as financing, technical support and backstopping is still in progress. Supported organisations/ institutions are not able to demonstrate their ability to continue activities until interventions are completed.

Recommendation 11: Future FFS interventions in Bangladesh should address more explicitly sustainability aspects, including increased country ownership and financial sustainability. Different models for sustainability (e.g. establishing of FFS networks, commercialization of services and income-generating activities for the organisations to become self-financing) and stronger collaboration and harmonisation with other extension service interventions should be explored at an early stage through the GOB. Strengthening peer training networks should also be considered a key element in sustainability.

Lesson 12: When the M&E framework is not properly designed or in place on time, this limits the opportunity for continuous extracting of learning and experiences from FFS interventions with the aim of improving the services provided.

Recommendations 12: In relation to planning future FFS interventions, it is recommended to carry out the following in terms of M&E: i) an assessment of experiences and best practices for designing the baseline studies and M&E frameworks for FFS interventions, including gender disaggregation and indicators; ii) a proper evaluation of the current pilot IFM phase before final decision on possible up-scaling, including gender analysis; iii) a systematic assessment of the experiences and learning from the support provided to the CBOs in Noakhali/Barisal (through RFLDC); iv) establish a system for tracing Farmer Trainers/Facilitators that leave their position; v) establish a common UNFA/CBO/Farmer Club performance monitoring system based on a few, easily collected indicators ; and vi) better monitoring of potential employment and spill-over effects from FFS.

This page forms part of the publication 'Evaluation of the Farmer Field School Approach in the Agriculture Sector Programme Support Phase II, Bangladesh' as chapter 4 of 14
Version 1.0. 22-12-2011
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