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3 Background and Context

The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) and the Danish Government (through the Danish International Development Assistance – Danida) initiated the first phase of the ASPS in July 2000 based on a long history of bilateral cooperation in agriculture, livestock and fisheries. ASPS I comprised components within the crops, fisheries, livestock, seeds and horticulture sub-sectors, as well as support to policy development. It had an overall development objective of optimised, integrated, and sustainable smallholder agricultural production for improved living conditions.

During the implementation of ASPS I, the two countries agreed to continue the cooperation into a second phase (ASPS II), starting from late 2006 with five-year duration[4] and a budget of Danish Kroner (DKK) 610 million[5].

3.1 Strategy and Policy Context

ASPS II has been implemented in a period during which Bangladesh has experienced a remarkable drop in poverty levels and improvement in living standards since 2005 (see Annex 1), despite the global economic shock and natural calamities.

Agricultural policy development

Agricultural extension in Bangladesh has followed an evolutionary process of experimentation, with components of several recognised extension approaches. The Training and Visit Approach, which was established during the late seventies, formed the backbone of the extension practices applied by the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) within the Ministry of Agriculture in Bangladesh.

To increase its effectiveness and efficiency DAE has sought to develop its own more pertinent approach to extension, the Revised Extension Approach (1999), which specifically embraces the Department’s Mission within the context of the New Agricultural Extension Policy (1996). DAE is committed to a full role in implementing the policy. The DAE has been implementing the New Agricultural Extension Policy principles through different programmes/projects funded jointly by the GOB and donor agencies like Danida, World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The Revised Extension Approach has retained many of the primary elements of the Training and Visit Approach, in combination with relevant features developed locally with Bangladesh extension partners. The result is an approach to extension which is largely demand driven, reliant on client participation, based on working with groups and integrated among different extension providers. The Revised Extension Approach is designed to continue to change in appropriate ways over time. It encourages flexibility and adaptation, incorporating the process of continuing change as an integral part of the extension approach.

Government strategies

The GOB started implementation of the second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP II)[6] in 2010. The PRSP II is promoting food diversification for the poor. In addition, the GOB has recently (April 2011) completed the formulation of the ’Country Investment Plan (CIP) – A road map towards investment in agriculture, nutrition and food security’. It is called the ’Mega Plan’ for the country with a total budget of USD 7.0 billion. The present GOB Vision 2021 envisaged the CIP for poverty reduction. GOB has announced its willingness to finance around 50% of the total CIP budget, from which more than 50% resources will be allocated for agriculture sectors.

Denmark remains committed to assist Bangladesh achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, implementing the Paris Declaration, and fulfilling Bangladesh’s own growth and poverty reduction strategies and plans. Since ASPS II was formulated there has been a reorientation of priorities and focus for Danish development assistance, with an increased emphasis on economic growth and employment, through private sector and business development. However, poverty reduction, gender equality, empowerment of women, support to poor and marginalised groups and indigenous people, sustainable development and good governance, all remain within the overall goal of Danish development cooperation[7].

3.2 FFS within ASPS II in Bangladesh

ASPS II is composed of three Programme Components: i) AEC; ii) RFLDC; and iii) the Rural Roads and Market Access Component (RRMAC). Only FFS interventions under AEC and RFLDC are covered by this Evaluation[8].

AEC aims at developing improved extension systems to support poor, marginal and small farmer 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.

AEC is implemented by the DAE as lead agency in collaboration with three associate agencies: the Seed Wing within the Ministry of Agriculture, the On-Farm Research Division within the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (OFRD/BARI) and the Agricultural Information Services.

RFLDC focuses on fisheries and livestock development in the District of Greater Noakhali and Barisal Division in the southern coastal area of Bangladesh[9]. RFLDC builds on previous efforts under ASPS I in the same region, with an added focus on the more remote and marginal coastal and char lands, characterised by high concentrations of poverty. RFLDC is implemented by the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock as lead agency. Line departments, the Department of Livestock (DLS) and the Department of Fisheries (DOF), are responsible for monitoring and managing of RFLDC activities.

The FFS approach is being implemented within both AEC and RFLDC and is intended 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”. Through FFS, ASPS II aims at incorporating a demand driven and integrated approach to agricultural extension, focusing additionally on involving rural poor women as well as on promoting farmer organisations and presenting a holistic perspective to the sectors covering primary producers as well as processing and marketing. Moreover, 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):

  • to provide an environment in which farmers acquire the 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;
  • to sharpen farmers’ abilities to make critical and informed decisions that make their farming activities more profitable and sustainable;
  • to improve farmers’ problem solving abilities;
  • to allow farmers to discover the benefits of working in groups and encourage group activities and group formation, including the development of farmers organisations for input and output deliveries and advocacy roles; and
  • to empower farmers to become ’experts’ on their own farms and to be more confident in solving their own problems.

FFS within the two components follows the same principles (Box 3.1)

Box 3.1 Key Principles followed in FFS within AEC and RFLDC

  1. Farmer centred: 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, and provides learning material. Farmers’ experimentation is part of the discovery learning. Farmers are encouraged to experiment 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 backstopping 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 (FMA) 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.

Even though the same FFS approach is followed in the components (same purpose and key principles) there are important differences in the methods used for FFS implementation within AEC and RFLDC. These will be discussed in Section 3.3 and 3.4.

3.3 FFS Methodology in ASPS II

The FFS methodology was originally developed in conjunction with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes with the objective of helping farmers to understand the ecological interactions in their crop production system, to enable them to manage this system, making use of the natural resilience of the system and limiting the disturbing influence of outside factors.

FFS started with rice, in order to promote the use of biological and integrated pest management as an alternative to chemical control, but has gradually been applied to other crops, livestock, fisheries, non-’agricultural’ production, general livelihood issues and environmental management. The curricula of agricultural FFSs has broadened to include all aspects of farm management e.g. soil and nutrient management, post harvest management and marketing.

Mastering those skills requires a learning process, which is best/only achieved ’on the spot’ using an experiential learning cycle methodology. To achieve this, thorough observations in the ’field’ over a substantial period of time (the ’production’ season) at regular intervals and with continuous analysis of developments and effects of management interventions is required. As the learning takes place in the field, and the field provides the learning opportunities, the term ’Farmer Field School’ was introduced. To guide this learning process in the field the AESA methodology was developed[10].

As the FFS is a group-based learning approach, a strengthening of the group and social skills is important, also in view of the intention of the FFS approach to encourage group formation for continuation, sustainability and further development of the acquired knowledge and skills of the individuals and the community.

Although transfer and introduction of improved technologies take place during FFS sessions, FFS is primarily considered a learning methodology, whereby the ’extension agent’ acts as facilitator of the learning process rather than as trainer.

FFS within AEC

FFS in AEC within ASPS II is a continuation of the FFS approach as applied and developed during the previous programme support phase, ASPS I, where the FFS Integrated Crop Management (ICM) was piloted focusing on a Season-Long Learning using one (field) crop, such as rice (different seasons) and vegetables.

In AEC there has been a continuation with ICM-FFS on rice, but the curriculum has been adjusted to include sessions related to homestead activities of women and the formation of Farmer Clubs as a structure where the farmers can continue group dynamics and interaction on ICM related activities. The clubs also provide opportunities for organising income generating and social activities within the communities, as well as possibilities for group saving and provision of loans to the farmers[11]. AEC applies the AESA as Experiential Learning Cycle methodology in the rice sessions and, to a lesser extent, in the homestead related topics.

Towards the end of the season each FFS organises a Field Day where the FFS farmers get the opportunity to show what they have learned to other farmers in their community. Often they also invite some key persons (e.g. local politicians, school teachers, etc.) who can help promote IPM/ICM and who can play a role in assisting the Farmers Club.

After completion of the FFS sessions, AEC continues to support the FFS farmers/Farmer Clubs with five follow-up sessions throughout the next season on topics selected by the farmers themselves (e.g. livestock, poultry, fish-farming) during the previous club sessions of the FFS. In AEC the ’households’ are the FFS members[12], addressing both the female and male members (generally husband and wife)[13].

In those Unions where there are at least three Farmer Clubs, the AEC supports the formation of Union Farmer Associations (UNFAs), with the objectives to continue activities generated by the FFS process, to build local institutions for FFS implementation, to strengthen marketing activities and to benefit from becoming a larger voice in articulating farmers’ demands (economy of scale).

Three different categories of trainers are responsible for FFS training within AEC:

  1. Eight Master Trainers who are among the key technical staff contracted and financed by AEC. They are responsible for monitoring FFS activities, training of the Departmental Trainers, and they take part in the development of curricula and supervision of the FFS activities.
  2. 684 active Departmental Trainers, of whom only 22 are women. Departmental Trainers are all local (Upazila/Union level) DAE staff[14]. In ASPS I and during the early days of AEC, the Departmental Trainers ran FFS, but presently they are mainly backstopping the Farmer Trainers and in charge of Upazila and District level coordination.
  3. 1,390 active Farmer Trainers, of whom 200 are women. The Farmer Trainers are all previous FFS participants. They are selected by the Departmental Trainers during the FFS and stand out on performance, enthusiasm, eagerness and initiative. After they have been proposed by the Departmental Trainer, the potential Farmer Trainer is interviewed by the Master Trainer who then makes the final selection. AEC aims at giving preference to women to become Farmer Trainers.

FFS within RFLDC

There are different historical experiences with FFS within Noakhali and Barisal, which have influenced the development of FFS in the two sub-components.

In Noakhali, the Greater Noakhali Aquaculture Extension Component (GNAEC) started in 2002 with a Participatory Action Learning method on Integrated Prawn Farming with Integrated Prawn Farming Groups. Although called FFS, the learning sessions did not follow the above-described FFS AESA methodology and were open for any member of the community. Along with the development of the participatory extension method, GNAEC also experimented with group/organisation formation, resulting in the establishment of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) as service providers.

The main difference between the FFS implemented by GNAEC and the one being implemented by RFLDC-Noakhali from 2007 has been the learning scope. The FFS implemented in RFLDC-Noakhali started with common planning sessions for men and women, including needs assessments. The curriculum 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 were offered on health, nutrition and social issues. Each module included three to 10 sessions. The total programme of up to 36 sessions was offered over a period of 18 months at bi-weekly intervals. When not relevant for the participants, certain modules were skipped or shortened. This means that group size and composition could vary according to the module. Only one of the household members (male or female) participated in each session, depending on the focus of the module.

In Barisal there were no formalised FFS activities prior to ASPS II, although Patuakhali and Barguna Aquaculture Extension Component (PBAEC) conducted, from 1998, Integrated Prawn and Gher Farming, which included the integration of participatory methods and practical demonstrations that resembled the FFS-principles. In 2007, RFLDC-Barisal began household production-system based FSS, addressing both male and female household members based on the experiences from the PBAEC. 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 woman 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, it applies FMA, which is, according to the FFS guidelines, applied at each FFS session with the same objectives as AESA.

The FFS is facilitated by Local Facilitators. RFLDC-Barisal currently has a total of 432 Local Facilitators, of which 82 are women, and RFLDC-Noakhali a total of 465 Local Facilitators, of which 221 are women. All facilitators are from rural families, but normally they do not have personal experience as an FFS participant. Although men are still in the majority, priority is given to bring the team of facilitators more in balance with the composition of the FFS participants. The facilitators are employed by a CBO and apply for the job when it is advertised by the CBO. They then have to pass a written and oral test with the CBO representative and the Upazila Programme Coordinator.

3.4 Comparison of FFS Methods in AEC and RFLDC

As stated earlier, there is, in view of the Evaluation, no fundamental difference in the FFS approach (purpose, principles and even basic methodology) between the two components. However, they differ in the actual methods used. The main differences in FFS methods between the two components are illustrated in Table 3.2.

Table 3.2 Main differences in FFS methods between AEC and RFLDC
Topic AEC RFLDC Implications of differences in FFS methods between the components
Season The FFS season covers 20 weeks with 20 sessions The FFS season covers 18 months with a maximum of 36 sessions AEC: FFS participants receive training and support during two seasons: the first season with intensive training and practice during weekly sessions, the following season through support for experiments, practising FFS learned skills on other crops, income generating activities and field studies.

RFLDC: FFS participants receive training and support over an 18 month period, although not constantly and not for all members in the same intensity. The support consists of ’formal’ FFS ’learning’ sessions and advice during implementation in their own ’field’.
Training One main crop addressed (rice) with 11 (bi) weekly sessions (for men) spread over the cultivation season, with six sessions using an intensive AESA. Participants are a ’fixed’ group of 25 men. Six different modules[15] offered with different topics. The duration of the individual modules varies between three and 10 sessions The male AEC FFS participants have undergone an intensive, season-long training on improved rice cultivation and spend a substantial amount of time on mastering and practising through AESA; the female AEC FFS participants will have received only superficial experience with AESA and therefore will have had less opportunity to develop their problem solving and decision-making skills.

The FMA, applied in RFLDC, is in theory applied in each session but, as understood by the Evaluation, in practice only at the beginning as participatory problem and opportunity analysis for the topic of the module, and at the end of the module to evaluate the suitability of what was learned during the module sessions.

The RFLDC participants will, through FFS, have received training on several aspects of their household enterprise. The coverage will have been more superficial compared to the rice sessions in AEC.
Four homestead sessions are attended by a fixed group of 25 women only and include a variety of topics, with emphasis on poultry, small livestock and homestead vegetables. There seems to be a limited AESA for the vegetable sessions. Each module is attended by a maximum of 25 participants from different households (men or women). The group is fixed for the duration of the module. Different modules may have different participants (but have to come from the member households)
Five sessions on group formation and general and social issues are attended by all 50 participants from the 25 households There are no sessions attended by all participating (male plus female) household members together.
Hours The FFS sessions last for 3.5-4 hours. The FFS meetings are bi-weekly and last for 2-2,5 hours Although the number of AEC FFS sessions is less than those of RFLDC, the duration of the AEC FFS sessions is longer. The total number of ’contact hours’ is therefore similar for the two components.
The FFS is facilitated by a team of two Farmer Trainers2 (both men or a woman plus a man) The FFS is facilitated by one Local Facilitator, either a man or a woman. The AEC FFS communities can depend on, and have build trust with, two Farmer Trainers during the training and for support afterwards. The RFLDC communities have only one Local Facilitator they are familiar with (although each CBO has two Local Facilitators available).
Group formation Group formation is integrated in the FFS curriculum and capacity building starts early in the FFS season. Group formulation/ CBO is discussed as a sub-topic in one of the modules, but not in a systematic way and not with a focus on capacity building AEC encourages FFS farmers to form Farmer Clubs at the end of the FFS season. The Farmer Club is ’owned’ by the households who participated together in the FFS. The RFLDC graduates have (sometimes) the opportunity to join a CBO for which they feel less ownership as individual and as group.[16]

Towards an Integrated Farm Management curriculum[17]

To address the interest and needs of the small, sometimes landless, Bangladeshi farmers, and to bring unity in the different FFS curricula used in the ASPS components, an IFM-FFS curriculum was developed by the AEC, RFLDC-Noakhali and RFLDC-Barisal[18]. The IFM-FFS is presently being piloted at 68 locations (AEC is implementing 25 in north and northwest Bangladesh; RFLDC-Noakhali and AEC are together implementing 28 in Noakhali; and FAO is implementing 15 in the area of Barisal). The objectives of the IFM-FFS are similar to the ongoing FFS.

The developed draft curriculum combines the existing AEC and RFLDC curricula and consists of nine modules with 58 sessions related to preparation, introduction and evaluation, club formation, nutrition, ’other social issues’, and production related topics: homestead vegetables & fruits, poultry, aquaculture, cattle fattening, dairy farming, small ruminants and rice cultivation.

Farmers with the same resources will select those modules that are relevant to their needs. Common modules for all farmers include participatory baseline, monitoring and evaluation and food safety, health and nutrition. FFS participants will make a choice of 2-3 modules and an FFS will cover 20-25 sessions.

The curriculum is offered to 25 households, whereby men and women can participate in mixed or gender separated groups. The maximum number of participants is 25 per module and the same person is expected to attend all sessions of one module. To run a specific module in a feasible manner a minimum of 12-15 individuals should participate.

AEC has recently revised the initial IFM draft curriculum to a two-phase curriculum including a FFS phase (six months with 47 sessions) and a club phase (three months with 11 sessions), spread over a period of about nine months. AEC has started piloting this revised model of the IFM-FFS curriculum in north and northwest Bangladesh

Evaluation of the pilot IFM-FFS will have to show whether the implementation of FFS, with such a complex integrated curriculum, is feasible and practical. The AEC Farmer Trainers and RFLDC Local Facilitators receive a four week refresher course through Season-Long Learning sessions to prepare them for the new curriculum.

[4] The implementation period has since been extended for another two years.

[5] DKK 531 million as Danida contribution and DKK 79 million as GOB contribution.

[6] Steps Towards Change: National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction (FY 2009-11)’.

[7] The Danish strategy for development assistance: ’Freedom from poverty – freedom to change’ (2010).

[8] The FFS sessions for RRMAC participants are carried out as a separate activity within RFLDC, and represent a somehow special, added-on case. In addition, the RRMAC FFS sessions compose only a relatively minor proportion of the total amount of FFS’ carried out within RFLDC and they have only been implemented more recently, which would make it difficult to assess any results yet from these interventions.

[9] Although differences appear between FFS in respectively, Barisal and Noakhali, for the analytical purpose of this evaluation, FFS within RFLDC will be considered as one. Reference to possible differences between Barisal and Noakhali will be made during the analysis if deemed necessary and important for interpretation of results.

[10] 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. Methods, activities and tools applied in the AESA are carefully and purposely selected and are based on non-formal, participatory adult education principles. AESA is not only practiced in the field: processing the collected information, discussions on the observations and analysis of the outcome is a group process generally performed in the ’classroom’ (a shed, a big tree or just an open space close to the field/pond/stable/pen). Usually, an AESA will take 1.5-2 hours per FFS session.

[11] Requirements for club membership vary from club to club and are set by the members with guidance from AEC.

[12] This is different from FFS in ASPS I where it was one member per household only.

[13] The AEC requirement of one male and one female participant may have, inadvertently, excluded female-headed households in the past, but, during the current and future seasons, AEC appears to be making efforts to change this bias and include female-headed households as well.

[14] There are very few female staff at the field level of DAE.

[15] Since 2010, RFLDC-Barisal and RFLDC-Noakhali use a common curriculum, based on the curriculum already applied in Noakhali.

[16] An approach started during ASPS I where selected previous FFS participants were gradually trained to replace the governmental Departmental Trainers.

[17] Mainly based on available information from ’Draft Curriculum Framework FFS on IFM’.

[18] Together with the technical support from FAOs regional office in Bangkok.

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 7 of 14
Version 1.0. 22-12-2011
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