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4 Key Findings from Application of the FFS Approach within AEC

4.1 Relevance

Bangladeshi and Danish policies and strategies for economic development and food security

The Evaluation finds that FFS, as implemented within AEC, is well in line with the national strategies for economic development and food security in Bangladesh. In particular, the FFS interventions are well aligned to the GOBs implementation of the PRSP II of Bangladesh (2010) and the Actionable Policy Brief (2004)[19], especially on major issues such as pro-poor economic growth and improved human nutrition through agricultural development and related issues. Moreover, the AEC fully supports the GOB targets on increased rice production for achieving national food security.

FFS within AEC is also in accordance with relevant national policies, including the National Agricultural Policy. In particular, it is noted that 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.

Finally, the AEC FFS interventions are considered relevant in view of the CIP for Bangladesh, which gives priority to sustainable and diversified agriculture through integrated research and extension, addressing crop, livestock and fisheries sectors as key areas for increasing production, food security and nutrition assurance for the poor people in the country. Moreover, the FFS interventions also fit very well with the intentions of the CIP to extend the existing extension services through community based learning approaches for the farmers. The CIP is also giving thrust to value chain development.

In terms of Danish strategies and policies, the Evaluation finds that, to a large extent, the FFS modality applied in AEC is relevant, in view of the prevailing Danida strategies and policies at the time of programme formulation[20]. Danida’s overall goal at the time of ASPS formulation was poverty alleviation, which is clearly reflected in the AEC approach of targeting poor farming households, although the target group does not include the poorest people without access to land (such as day labourers).

In terms of gender equality, the Evaluation finds that strong efforts are resulting in progress being made by AEC to promote women’s rights to education, new technology, and economic empowerment, on equitable terms with male farmers, through (non-formal FFS) education, savings and credits (through the Farmer Clubs), and by providing ’equal’ job opportunities for local women and men as FFS facilitators. In practice however, there is still some way to go before the women are able to take equal advantage of these opportunities.

AEC implements FFS in a few ethnic minorities’ and indigenous people’s (’Adivasi’) communities in geographical pockets in north and northwest Bangladesh, which is a small, but important, attempt to meet key Danida principles and objectives of support to indigenous peoples, outlined in the ’Strategy for Danish Support to Indigenous Peoples’ (2004). Likewise, as a support to Adivasi communities, AEC offered one of seven Adaptive Research Projects available to a project on ’Adivasi Livelihood Improvement’ through development knowledge and conservation methods in the Barind region of Bangladesh through a local NGO.

FFS content

The Evaluation finds that in general the FFS content is appropriate for the objectives of AEC: i) it allows farmers to gain the knowledge and skills they need to improve their production and income through application of informed crop management decisions;

ii) it improved the farmers’ problem solving abilities; and iii) it allows the participants to discover the benefits of working in groups, and it encourages group activities and group formation. Recently, AEC has included few discussion points on climate change adaptation in club session. However, more attention to the climate change issue is given in the Farmers Clubs where OFRD/BARI is conducting adaptive research trials and demonstrations on new technologies with participation of the Farmers Clubs[21]. The addition of special sessions to prepare and assist the participants in club formation is considered an asset to the establishment of sustainable and effective groups and an improvement of the practices used under ASPS I.

Farmers’ motivation for participation in FFS was claimed by farmers themselves to be a desire to become better farmers, learn new skills and technologies to improve their production and income, to reduce poverty, and to gain access to safe group saving facilities and attractive loans as members of a Farmer Club. The interest the farmers show in learning more after the FFS, on previously covered topics or on new topics, seems to be more an interest in further improving knowledge and skills, than a sign of lack of coverage of the topics in the FFS. The five allocated follow-up sessions in the following season are therefore an important addition to the FFS curriculum.

FFS technologies

The majority of the technologies presented and discussed during FFS appeared to be very relevant: almost all FFS participants stated that they apply/would apply what they have learned. An exception was the Improved Cooking Stove model, which is introduced to female FFS participants as a separate session. This had a very limited application and appreciation among the women: it was deemed to be technically inappropriate (wrong model not matching their needs) and too expensive. In addition, spare parts were not easily available and some husbands were against spending money on a stove.

4.2 Efficiency

FFS methodology

From the interviews carried out with Farmer Trainers it appeared that they have a clear understanding of the objectives of AESA and recognise the importance of it in the training of the farmers to become capable decision makers. When visiting the rice field with male FFS participants, it was evident that in the rice FFS sessions AESA was practiced and that the participants understood the concept quite well.

Training approaches

From the observations made by the Evaluation, it was found that AESA is ’properly’ applied in, and applicable for, the 11-sessions lasting field crop (rice) FFS, but not in the short four sessions on homestead for women, where it appeared more difficult to apply the AESA. It appears that this is partly due to the set-up of the ’women’ sessions, in which the content is too diverse and time allocated to each topic is limited, and partly due to limitations of the Farmer Trainers to ’translate’ the rice AESA adequately for use in other topics[22]. Moreover, it is a limitation that the FFS approach is only thoroughly applied with male participants for rice and that no other crops are included, which may have a potentially high economic interest (higher than rice).

Selection of farmers for FFS

Discussions with Farmer Trainers and FFS households indicated that selection of FFS participants within the villages is mostly done through the following procedure: A village meeting is organised, conducted by the Farmer Trainers, with presentation and discussion of the possibility to become participants in FFS. This is followed by a listing of those village households that express interest in participating and fulfil the selection criteria. According to the Farmer Trainers and villagers, this process often leads to listing of exactly 25 households for the FFS. It was never fully clear to the Evaluation how significant the self-selection factor and the excluding factor (by other village farmers) were in these processes.

Given the AEC selection criteria for FFS participants there was some tendency during the first years of implementation of AEC within ASPS II, for young widows and other women from female-headed households, to be excluded from participating together with landless and some of the share-croppers[23]. In addition, there appears to be an element of self-exclusion among the male day labourers who own small land plots, but cannot afford to allocate time to participate in FFS, themselves, and would not allow their wives to participate with other men in the rice FFS.

Trainers for FFS – selection and delivery

In terms of trainers, the current gender and ethnic imbalance in the team of Master Trainers, Department Trainers and Farmer Trainers is providing limitations to the FFS approach. The eight Master Trainers are all men and all from the government system. The fact that none of the Master Trainers are women and none from a private sector background is, by the Evaluation, considered to be a contributing factor to AEC’s challenges in terms of attracting female trainers and supporting marketing activities (see discussion in Section 4.3).

It seems inappropriate to have native Bangla speaking (Muslim male) Farmer Trainers for indigenous women (and their husbands) in the northern and north-western plain areas (such as the Hindu ’Santal’ communities). Important messages may be lost in translation from Bangla to local languages, at least to elderly women that don’t understand and speak Bangla well, and important cultural/religious differences between the FFS participants and the Farmer Trainers may be hampering the results of the FFS sessions.

Farmer Trainers

Many of the Farmer Trainers regarded their job as an opportunity to improve their personal agricultural production skills and to increase their status in the community and as a kind of (voluntary) service to the community. Female Farmer Trainers also considered the job an opportunity to expand their social life and mobility. Only very few women, however, show interest in becoming a Farmer Trainer. The main reason appears to be that women’s household responsibilities do not permit them to spend the 5-6 hours per FFS day which are required if they want to become Farmer Trainers.

The condition within AEC that Farmer Trainers should be former FFS participants is considered positively by the Evaluation, as it appears to give them a clear advantage in the ’teaching’ situation. The Farmer Trainers interviewed by the Evaluation were generally slightly better educated than the AEC requirements of “having at least grade 8, but not be too highly educated”. Given the general level of education of the farmers in north and northwest Bangladesh (many of them had primary school) the actual level of education of the Farmer Trainers is considered to be appropriate here.

The Evaluation also fully agrees with the consideration of AEC that the personal facilitation, organisational and leadership skills are crucial for a good Farmer Trainer and are important selection criteria. As these skills and related personal attitudes can only be properly assessed by observations in real situations, the observations and opinions of the Departmental Trainers in charge of the FFS and a personal assessment by the Master Trainers are essential. This may introduce a personal bias, but in this case a positive bias towards assuring that the Farmer Trainers with most potential for success will be selected. The interviewed Farmer Trainers confirmed that this process was followed, and that their personal commitments and social skills had been important in the selection. AEC should be cautious though about potential personal preferences of Departmental Trainers and Master Trainers, in particular gender bias. However, the condition that each team should consist of a male and female Farmer Trainer forces the selection of women in case of remaining imbalance.

Farmer Trainers are expected to have a strong interest in, and be committed to, their community. AEC also encourages this by requiring the Farmer Trainers to be active Farmer Club members. All of the interviewed Farmer Trainers were Farmer Club members and were active in their community in general. They considered the service they provided to their community as an important incentive of the Farmer Trainer job.

The training delivered to the Farmer Trainers is found to be useful[24] and efficient. The Evaluation especially supports the set-up of having the Farmer Trainers, after a three week basic introductory course, enrolled in a season-long ’practice’ FFS as apprentice to an experienced and highly qualified Departmental Trainer. The Farmer Trainers will only graduate, and receive the certificate, after successful completion of the apprenticeship. The basic course of three weeks may suffice to start with, as all Farmer Trainers are already familiar with the FFS approach and the used methodologies and methods. However, additional training is required for new topics and as a refresher of existing topics.

Departmental Trainers

The ToT for Departmental Trainers (conducted by Master Trainers) consists of 70 days intensive, residential training given during six ’spells’ of two weeks each over a period of six months: (two weeks ’on’, two weeks ’off’). The Evaluation finds this a useful set-up as it allows the DAE staff to participate in an intensive, season-long training, including a full season supervised practice FFS, and still allows them to do their other departmental duties in the off-weeks.

The ToT curriculum includes all aspects of preparing, running and evaluating a season-long FFS. One observation made by the Evaluation, however, is that the ToT curriculum appears rather technically biased, with limited focus on socio-cultural issues and facilitation skills. In terms of the latter, it was argued by the trainers that the participants all have received facilitation and communication training during their formal agricultural college or university education. Even though the Master Trainers themselves apply participatory facilitation skills as much as possible during the ToT, there is doubt whether that training really caters sufficiently for the specific participatory facilitation skills needed by the trainees in FFS. This is especially important as being a ’facilitator’ instead of a ’trainer/teacher’ is the most difficult skill for people educated in a traditional top-down schooling system.

The Evaluation observed that the programme for the ToT training only allocated half an afternoon (approx. 1.5 hour) to monitoring, backstopping and coaching of Farmer Trainers, which is considered very little compared to the importance of these aspects in the current and future tasks of the Departmental Trainers in the FFS implementation.

4.3 Effectiveness

Achievement of intended outcomes and outputs

Outcome indicators

The Immediate Objective of the AEC related to FFS interventions is: Improved, demand driven, integrated, and decentralised extension systems developed to support poor, marginal and small farmer households. The following targets have been established for AEC FFS interventions:

  • income increase of target groups: 15%;
     
  • percentage of households with food deficit in four deficit months of the year: 10%; and
     
  • increase in crop yields in target households: 10%.

Based on the indicative results from the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data (see below), the Evaluation finds good indications that the established targets for AEC FFS interventions at the outcome level will be met.

As an indicative result, the AEC Baseline Study[25] indicated that the average monthly income of farm households was BDT 7,102 compared to BDT 12,017 for FFS households in the AEC Midterm Evaluation. This gives an income increase of 69% (current prices)[26] as compared to the established target of 15%.

The AEC Farmer Survey, carried out in 2009, included a question on whether the farmers’ income had increased, decreased or stayed at the same level as it was before FFS. According to the survey, 95% felt that their income had increased after joining the FFS[27]. In terms of yield, the Farmer Survey indicated that 87% of the trained farmers had increased their crop (rice) yield (no indication of the size of this increase). It must be noted that other factors than FFS have stimulated rice production development during this period, such as increases in rice prices and harvested land (see Annex 1).

In terms of food insecurity, while the AEC Baseline Survey indicated that 10% of the households had food insecurity in four deficit months (mid-September to mid-November and mid-March to mid-April), the comparable figure was 5% in the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation for FFS households. In terms of food supply at household level, the AEC Baseline Survey indicated that 37% of the households were secured of food supply from their own farm or from income they earned through economic activities compared to a proportion of 91% in the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation. This means that around half of the surveyed FFS households had improved their food security.

With regard to production, rice production was estimated to 22.5 kg/decimal in the AEC Baseline Survey compared to a figure of 24 kg/decimal in the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation, or an indicative 7% increase. From the AEC Farmer Survey it was found that production of rice had increased among FFS farmers, mainly due to the use of higher yielding varieties and more appropriate application of fertilizers and pest management. The FFS farmers also applied the new techniques to other crops, notably vegetables. It was also found that these cultivation practices were replicated by other farmers in the area to a large extent.

Output indicators

Table 4.1 provides an overview of the number of FFSs and farmers reached through AEC (targets and achievements).

Table 4.1 Number of FFS and farmers reached through AEC (by December 2010)
Indicators Programme targets
(AEC)*
Planned by end of
December 2010
Achieved by end of
December 2010
Total number of FFS established/completed 10,484 9,121 8,837
Number of male and female farmers trained through integrated Crop Management Male: 262,100 Male: 228,025 Male: 220,925
FFS for one cropping season (20 session days) Female: 262,100 Female: 228,025 Female: 220,925

Source: Data provided by AEC. *For the period 2006-12.

According to AEC data from December 2010, AEC is only deviating slightly from the planned target numbers for established/completed FFS. The main reasons that the planned number of FFS has not been fully achieved include lack of facilitators, flood and disaster and cancellation by the Master Trainers of some FFS considered to be below standard. AEC is however expecting to catch up and be able to achieve the target by the end of the programme period. This means that, by that time, more than 10,000 FFS will have been established and sessions completed.

In terms of the number of farmers reached through FFS, the progress has also been satisfactory so far[28]. Progress is expected to continue, meaning that by the end of the programme period, more than 250,000 families will have participated in FFS organised by AEC. The programme target of 25 households per FFS has so far been achieved, with one male and one female participant from each household.

Group formation

Table 4.2 Number of Farmer Clubs and UNFAs (by December 2010)

Indicators Programme target
(AEC)*
Planned by end of
December 2010
Achieved by end of
December 2010
Number of new Farmer Clubs established and existing Farmer Clubs organised into UNFAs Farmer Clubs: 7,338
UNFAs: 2,000
Farmer Clubs: 6,384
UNFAs: 1,519
Farmer Clubs: 6,367
UNFAs: 1,469

Source: Data provided by AEC. *For the period 2006-12.

In total, 6,367 Farmer Clubs had been established by the end of 2010, and this was only a very minor deviation from the target. All Farmer Clubs formed from FFS during ASPS II include both male and female members.

Estimates from AEC indicate that on average 72% of the FFS will end up establishing Farmer Clubs (from which not all end up being sustainable, see also Section 4.5). The Evaluation has not found indications that other type of group structures than Farmer Clubs and UNFAs have been established due to FFS within AEC.

All FFS members, both men and women, are encouraged to become members of the Farmer Club. However, it appears that the clubs have not contributed significantly to gender equality in leadership and decision-making, except for a few women-only Farmer Clubs[29]. Electing or appointing female members to chair, treasurer, secretary or ordinary member positions in the executive committees or boards, based on an established minimum 30% quota, does not necessarily give women more decision-making power. Nor is that quota fair to women and promoting gender equality.

The discussions carried out with Farmer Club members during fieldwork pointed clearly towards club activities mainly decided and driven by men. In case of the credits provided by the clubs, even though they are provided to the ’households’ (and not specifically to either men or women), they seemed in most cases to be managed entirely by the men. The Farmer Clubs do not operate with ’gender-budgeting’, which could have ensured a certain share for women activities, to be decided by women, for women.

It was observed from the qualitative fieldwork that those farmers from FFS villages that have not participated in FFS are not usually allowed club membership. This is supported by data from the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation, where only 12% of the Farmer Club members state that they have members in their own club, who have not participated in FFS. The (official) explanation for this exclusion is a presumed lack of discipline (e.g. for savings) and lack of technical knowledge that the FFS participants had obtained through their learning sessions.

Close to 1,500 UNFAs had been formed by the end of 2010. This was only slightly below the target. During the last couple of years the UNFAs have been established on a large scale simultaneously at the Union levels.

The Evaluation found limited progress in most of the UNFAs visited during the fieldwork. Although the UNFAs had existed for 2-3 years, the level of activities they were performing was rather basic and not adding much value to what the Farmer Clubs were already doing. Compared to the support that has often been provided by AEC to establishing, organising and, to some extent, also financing the clubs, the support provided to the UNFAs so far has been at a much lower and more ad-hoc oriented level.

In addition, the UNFAs visited by the Evaluation were strongly male-biased, reflecting that it is normally the President of the Farmer Clubs that attends the UNFA meetings.

Marketing

The AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data (Table 4.3) strongly indicates that FFS is being supportive to the farmers with information on marketing. A significantly larger share of FFS farmers than control farmers is referring to Agricultural Extension Officers and Farmer Trainers as a ’most common’ or ’common’ source of marketing information.

Table 4.3 Farmers sources of marketing information (%)
  Neighbours/friends Agr. extension staff  Farmer Trainers
  Control villages FFS villages Control villages FFS villages Control villages FFS villages
Most common 41.3 48.0 14.5 19.0 18.9 28.1
Common 45.9 42.2 44.3 60.2 36.9 58.3
Rare 4.1 1.7 20.6 14.4 9.0 5.7
Never 8.7 8.1 20.6 6.3 35.3 7.9

Source: AEC Mid-Term Evaluation.

Note: Main significant (10% level) differences between FFS participating and control households highlighted with bold and italics.

On the other hand, FFS does not seem to have contributed significantly to establishing market linkages and/or joint product marketing/selling among farmers. The qualitative fieldwork revealed that nearly all farmers, FFS farmers as well as control village farmers, are selling their products on an individual household basis and not through, for example, the Farmer Clubs and the UNFAs. In some cases UNFA members’ personal contacts have facilitated linkages to research institutions and larger companies for buying farmers production (better prices and more stable demand). In other cases, the UNFAs are still operating at a rather basic level, without any important market connections and functions.

Access to production inputs and services

From the qualitative fieldwork it was found that a number of the Farmer Clubs are involved in seed business. Members from 118 Farmer Clubs have been trained in production of quality seeds (by the Seed Wing within the Ministry of Agriculture) and this appears to have contributed to an increased availability of seeds within these villages, as well as being an income generating activity for the Farmer Clubs. Besides seed production, the Evaluation found no evidence of joint marketing of farmer products in the Farmer Clubs from the visits to AEC activities in north and northwest Bangladesh, although Farmer Club members have been trained in ’Organisation and Business Management’[30].

In general, it was found that the farmers, FFS farmers as well as control farmers, were very much aware of the importance of quality inputs and their sources. The FFS interventions often appear to have resulted in closer and better connections between FFS villages and government institutions, in particular the extension services from the Upazila Offices. A number of the Farmer Clubs consulted during the qualitative fieldwork, could provide examples of extensions officers assisting Farmer Clubs (after the FFS training had been completed) with relevant information and facilitating contact to input suppliers and service providers. However, in many cases the farmers are still unable to get hold of these inputs on their own. This is either because farmers lack easy access and money to pay for inputs and services, or, they have bad experiences of being cheated on the quantity and quality, when they approach service providers and pay for services.

The UNFAs could have the potential to become an entry point for input supplies and marketing for the Farmer Clubs and thereby providing incentive for maintaining and further developing these structures. However, for this to happen, a much more strategic and targeted approach towards the UNFAs will be needed in the future.

Education and awareness

According to the ToT and FFS curriculum, the FFS is supposed to address socio-cultural issues (such as child education, child-marriage, dowry, gender discrimination and women’s rights, HIV/AIDS, family planning, domestic violence etc.) in the club sessions, which are attended by both men and women. The Evaluation found, however, that these issues were sometimes brought up and discussed in the women’s ’nutrition’ sessions, and not equally with the men’s group.

The Evaluation found that the degree of awareness of the above issues varies among both male and female FFS participants, and seems to depend a lot on the attention and importance that the individual Farmer Trainer pays to those non-technical issues (and also on the importance paid to that during the ToT). The Evaluation also found that just bringing up the mentioned socio-cultural issues during the FFS sessions, has contributed to ’breaking the silence’ and spreading the word on sensitive issues and taboos, which most rural women and children are very much victims of, or concerned about as part of their reality.

On the other hand, the Evaluation found no clear evidence from the information provided during fieldwork that FFS household members were notably more aware of these social and socio-cultural issues than household members from control villages. First of all, it was clear from the FGDs that awareness raising goes on at many different levels by many different means, such as radio, TV, newspapers, NGO programmes, schools, markets, and any other exposure to the outside-village world of any family member. This obviously is impacting positively on the awareness of FFS and control village household members, and both referred to major increases in awareness taking place over the last few years due to improved communication, campaigns etc.

Even though the Evaluation found clear indications of increased awareness, there is obviously still a long way from awareness raising to changing practice and abandoning traditions. E.g. school enrolment is determined by many other factors than awareness (and income) of the parents, such as availability of nearby schools and teachers, parents attitude[31] and willingness to invest in child education. Especially girls’ secondary education is an issue, since the GOB pays scholarships for poor girls’ lower secondary school education only, and parents’ fear for their daughters’ security on the road to school and in the schools, with good reason[32].

4.4 Impact

Income and food security

The data show an average annual income of BDT 144,201 among FFS farmers compared to BDT 134,931 for control village households. The difference estimate is significant only without controls. When controls for household characteristics[33] are included, the estimate becomes statistically insignificant and the difference can therefore not be attributed to the FFS interventions. It is not possible, by using the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data, to attribute observed income increases within AEC FFS households to FFS interventions (Table 4.4).

Table 4.4 Annual income and expenditures (BDT)
  Without controls Without land/assets controls Including all controls Averages
  ATE ATE ATE FFS Control
Total income 9,269* 7,043 1,692 144,201 134,931
Total expenditures 9,636* 8,049 4,892 111,416 101,779
Expenditures on education 1,510* 1,381 1,067 5,849 4,338
Expenditures on health 783** 777** 706 4,359 3,575

Source: AEC Mid-Term Evaluation.

Note: The Average Treatment Effect (ATE), indicates the effect from participation in FFS compared to those that have not participated (control village households). * and ** indicate significance at a 10% and 5% level, respectively.

The same applies for total expenditures and the share of expenditures used for education and health purposes: as averages (without controlling for household characteristics), these estimates become statistically significant. However, when control for differences in household characteristics is carried out, the estimates become statistically insignificant.

The AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data also provide indications, although not significant, that the relative increases in terms of income and expenditures are higher for the poorer households than for the relatively better-off households.

The AEC Mid-Term survey data indicate a strong production diversification effect from FFS. The total number of agricultural products produced by FFS households is 3.7 compared to 3.1 within control village households. When these figures are controlled for household characteristics, the estimate becomes highly statistically significant (at the 1%) level. This provides a strong indication that the observed difference in diversification between FFS and control village households can be attributed to FFS.

Table 4.5 Sources of total household consumption and income (%)
  FFS villages Control villages
Home consumption share 46.1 48.1
Crop share of household income 51.2 51.1
Vegetables/fruits share of household income 4.6 3.3
Livestock share of household income 5.4 3.4
Poultry share of household income 1.0 0.7
Wage share of household income 2.9 3.9

Source: AEC Mid-Term Evaluation.

In line with the above mentioned production diversification effect, the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data also provide indications that FFS has contributed to a change in the relative contributions of sources to total household income (Table 4.5). The FFS households generate their income to a larger extent from livestock[34] and vegetable/fruit production than the control village households do. On the other hand, the wage share of household income is larger for control village households than for FFS households.

It is also observed, that while close to 50% of total household income is generated from crop production, both for FFS households and control village households, the income from sale of vegetable and fruit production only contributes 3-5% to total household income.

The results from the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data are strongly supported by the findings from the qualitative fieldwork. The discussions conducted with both male and female FFS farmer groups confirmed that main household income still comes from the field crop and that the income generated by the women (mainly from vegetable/fruit production) is extra, but still small. It was reported however, that income of the women had increased more than income of the men and that the contribution of women’s income to the family income had increased percentage wise.

The qualitative fieldwork also provided indications that FFS households have more cash available and higher capability of spending more cash than before FFS, because they can now save money that they would normally spend on buying food; they are likely to have fewer loans to repay because they earn more money and take less loans (or they take more attractive loans with lower interests, from the Farmer Club), and they can afford to invest more in production or meet urgent consumption needs, such as medical treatment, repayment of debt, child education, and social obligations in the family and community.

Migration/off-farm labour

The qualitative fieldwork provided indications that FFS in AEC has had two (opposing) direct effects on seasonal male labour migration and off-farm employment among some of the FFS households. On the one hand, for those who have managed to lease more land for production or have increased production on the land (due to FFS), this has contributed to reducing male labour migration and off-farm day labouring, because male farmers can now earn the same or more income from rice production on their own land than they earn from labouring. On the other hand, the most successful FFS households, which have increased their land-leasing and production, are employing day labourers, seasonally. This can be considered a positive spin-off effect on the community, in general.

It was confirmed, from the FGDs with control village households that local employment opportunities had increased over the last years. Sometimes, poor ethnic minority and indigenous people (Adivasis) and women are being employed to work in the field during planting and harvesting. However, it appears that the Adivasi female day labourers, like all female day labourers in Bangladesh, are paid less than men for working longer hours with the same work.

Food security

From the qualitative fieldwork, the Evaluation found clear indications that the increased food production (and the increased income from food production) within FFS villages is contributing to increased food security within the FFS households during the annual food deficit periods (mainly the monsoon period and before the rice harvest in October-November). Within the control villages, the Evaluation also found tendencies towards increased food security, however to less extent than within the FFS villages.

Work load and employment

The Evaluation found that for both FFS participants and control village households consulted, men’s and women’s work loads have increased due to increased production of rice and vegetables etc. Informants found the increased work load a positive thing, because it has led to a better life in terms of increased food security and income, and because before FFS, they were under-employed, the women in particular. Thus, a direct, positive effect of the increased production is increased work loads of farmers.

Status of family members

The AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data indicates strong impact from FFS on women’s self-confidence and their role in household decision-making: 98% of the surveyed FFS participating women felt more confident in speaking publicly and that their role in household decision making had increased after participation in FFS.

From FGDs and interviews carried out during fieldwork, the Evaluation also found strong indications that FFS is contributing to increasing women’s productive role, their self-confidence, and their status in the family and community. Becoming a member of a group and being given the opportunity to learn, in itself is a major positive experience for the (illiterate) rural women in north and northwest Bangladesh.

Depending on how conservative the communities are, according to the female FFS participants themselves, the relationship with their husbands has improved and they now have more decision-making power in the households in general, especially over small scale investments in production, food, and children’s issues, child education and other reproductive responsibilities, including family planning (in communities where family planning programmes have been launched). They explained that the main reason for this was that they now, after having participated in FFS, have more knowledge and can contribute to household income, food security and improved nutrition.

However, the FFS seem to have had minimal impact on the gender division of who gets the last word in ’big decision-making’ on larger agricultural investments and land ownership, child-marriage, child labour, polygamy, male employment and migration. Men still make the final decision on those issues, although women seem to be more consulted now, than before.

There is no evidence that FFS has had any positive impacts, or led to any significant changes, regarding women’s mobility and access to markets and the public sphere in general. To be able to participate in the FFS, the women had to be ’pulled’ out of their comfort zone/homestead and obliged to break conservative Purdah[35] rules, often initially against their husbands will, but still within the village. In fact most women said, that if FFS had been held outside their own village area, they would not have been allowed to participate.

Replication by members of the surrounding community

According to the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation data, more than 90% of the control village farmers reported that they had never attended a Field Day. This is an indication that field days are more effective in disseminating the FFS experiences among farmers in the same (FFS) village than to farmers in the further away control villages. From the FGDs it was clear that in villages where there had been a FFS, or in a neighbouring village, the interest of others to participate in a future FFS had definitely increased.

Table 4.6 Sources of agricultural production information* (%)
  Neighbours/friends Agriculture extension staff Farmer Trainers
  Control villages FFS villages Control villages FFS villages Control villages FFS villages
Most common 43.9 55.9 24.5 25.3 21.8 32.1
Common 50.3 39.5 37.8 58.3 25.5 60.3
Rare 1.2 0.9 18.2 10.2 8.2 3.4
Never 4.6 3.7 19.6 6.2 44.6 4.2

* E.g. fertilizer dose, selection of seeds/saplings, pest management, new variety, new technology etc.

Source: AEC Mid-Term Evaluation.

Note: Main significant differences between FFS participants and control households highlighted with bold and italics.

The strong potential spill-over effects from FFS are again noted from Table 4.6. Neighbours/friends are referred as being either a ’most common’ or ’common’ source of agricultural production information by, respectively, 94.2% of the control farmers and 95.4% of the FFS farmers. Another interesting observation is that nearly 50% of the control farmers answered that they consulted the Farmer Trainers on a ’common’ or a ’most common’ basis. The fact that the FFS village coverage within some Upazilas in north and northwest Bangladesh is more than 50% helps to explain large spill-over effects within these areas.

Income and income distribution at intra, and at inter household level

From the FGDs and interviews carried out during fieldwork, the Evaluation found that women now contribute more to household production and income on a small scale. In some cases, among single women or some of the Adivasi, Hindu women, or the elderly Muslim women in better-off households, the women controlled their own small income. However, in the majority of the cases women were not allowed to control income from their vegetable production and needed permission from their husbands before spending it, or would have to hand over the income to their husbands, who would then decide how to spend it.

The Evaluation found clear indications that women, after participating in FFS, are becoming more involved in trading small quantities from their own production. Before FFS, women’s production was often only for home consumption. After FFS, more women are able to produce for sale as well. As is the case for women in most of rural Bangladesh, FFS participating women are still not allowed to go to the markets (bazaar) themselves. Therefore, either their husband or sons will sell at the market, or the women will sell their products at the farm gate, to neighbours, other villagers, or vendors and traders passing by, or change their products to other products or services (non-monetary trading).

In terms of savings, relatively few of the FFS women consulted by the Evaluation were saving their own income with a Farmer Club in their own name. In most cases, women’s income is spent on daily household consumption purposes, clothes, food, medicine, children’s education. This very often leaves the women with no savings of their own, and still dependent on other people in case of divorce, or being abandoned or becoming a widow, although they now produce and earn cash income themselves and therefore could be more economically independent.

Likewise in terms of loans, the Evaluation found that, the women who are members of a Farmer Club, and can take loans from there, in most cases seem to take loans and hand them over to their husbands who decide how to spend the money. The only exception to this was the women in female-headed households. In the control villages women take loans for their husbands through NGOs (since no Farmer Club exists in the control villages). From the control villages it was reported that if husbands fail to return the loans to their wives, women are forced to take other loans to repay the defaulted ones to the NGOs. The Farmer Club loans appear more attractive to the farmers because there are more flexible in terms of repayment conditions, as compared to NGO loans.

Nutrition and health

Nutrition

Through the qualitative fieldwork, the Evaluation found good indications that, in comparison with women from control villages, women from FFS households showed remarkably more awareness and knowledge of improved nutrition, including better nutrition for pregnant women and infants, improved cooking methods, and health among others. Basically all women consulted from FFS claimed to apply the different vegetable cooking techniques, such as rinsing vegetables before cutting them, use of lids, boiling drinking water etc. According to the FGDs with FFS women, the households’ diet has changed from a diet of almost only rice (bhat) and lentil soup (dal) to a diet, richer in vegetables, (more vitamins, minerals, and iron).

There are also indications of positive replication and spin-off effects from nutrition and cooking sessions. Discussion with non-FFS households in the FFS villages indicated, that some of the women, who are related to FFS participants or have frequent interactions with women who participated in FFS, have learned and copied from them, concerning improved cooking techniques and also changed/improved diets. To the extent possible some have planted fruit trees or sown more vegetable seed on the homestead or land; seeds that they in many cases had purchased from FFS women.

Contribution to improved health

A number of the female and male FFS participants claimed during the FGDs that now there was less illness in their families than before, and that they have less medical expenditures. Others claimed that with the increased cash available in the households, they can afford to spend more money on medical care and medicine to maintain health, than before FFS.

Although other factors than nutrition and absence of hunger affect people’s health, there seems no doubt that FFS is contributing to improved health among the target group due to the increased food security and improved nutrition. Indirectly, the improved nutrition and health status among FFS households have contributed to family members’ improved work capacity (see also discussion under ’employment and work loads’).

Unplanned/unintended impacts

In terms of child labour, the Evaluation found indications from fieldwork that the work load of the children has also increased, directly or indirectly linked with household’s production activities. This was reported from both FFS households and from control village households. One reason given for this was that the size of the families is decreasing. In most cases, it appears that the children will help their parents when they come back from school. In some cases examples were provided of children (primarily boys) being taken out of secondary school to assist their fathers in the fields.

There were widespread indications, that child-marriage prevails among households, including female farmers households, in FFS and non-FFS villages, and that many families are willing to pay, and feel obliged to pay, an increasing dowry. It appears that FFS has not had any impact on changing these practices, at most only increasing awareness on the issues. Likewise, according to the FFS participants consulted, the level of polygamy, abandoning of women, divorces, sexual and gender-based violence, drug abuse among the youth and adult men, and suicide cases had notably not changed for the better since FFS began in their villages, despite increased awareness. Also from non-FFS villages, there were no notable changes reported in these indicators.

Land dispute and further exclusion of the poor

Access to land for production is a major issue in north and northwest Bangladesh (as all over the country), where landlords take advantage of the growing demand, and sell, lease or share-crop land out for very short periods at a time (often only one season at a time) to increasingly high prices.

From discussions with both FFS participating and non-participating households in the FFS villages, it was reported that those farmers who participated in FFS/Farmer Clubs have been able to take loans from the clubs and/or increase yields on small plots of land to an extent that they can sell off the surplus and afford to expand their cultivation area. This increases the economic and bargaining power of the FFS farmers vs. the landlords.

On the other hand, the Evaluation also found indications that the focus on improved rice production has had negative impacts on the land tenure situation in the FFS villages. There appears to be a risk for a potential polarisation of households within the FFS villages, where FFS/Farmer Club members compete with poor and non-FFS members for the same land. This may lead to a widening of the gap between the relatively (and increasingly) better off FFS farmers/Farmer Club members and the poorer non-FFS farmers/non-Farmer Club members.

Child care and safety

Another unintended negative impact of FFS was found to be child accidents during women’s (mothers’) participation in FFS sessions. In two of the FFS villages, the Evaluation heard about child drowning accidents that have taken place during women’s FFS sessions, due to lack of proper child care and baby-sitting. In many cases, the women choose to bring the children to the FFS sessions. Interviews with the Farmer Trainers confirmed that children do indeed disturb the sessions, and when/if the children are chased away, they seem to be left on their own and are exposed to abuse and accidents.

Negative environmental impacts

A combination of factors, including the relatively high dryness in north and northwest Bangladesh, the current focus of the FFS on boro-rice production and the increasing expansion of FFS farmers’ land-holdings and their production of irrigated boro rice, is reportedly having negative impacts on ground water levels and creating water shortage within some areas. It is noted that AEC has introduced water-saving monitoring devices in the rice FFS, to make more efficient use of the scarce water.

The GOB is realising the problem of increased drought. Therefore, more attention has recently been given to bring more land in the southern part of the country under rice cultivation (boro rice) and release more land in the north (Barind area) from irrigated crops for the cultivation of short duration and drought tolerant crops.

4.5 Sustainability

The Evaluation found indications of a number of positive sustainability aspects from the modality of the FFS approach currently applied within AEC. In particular, it found that the FFS approach, to a large extent, is leading to increased knowledge among the farmers on the topics covered and that the knowledge is being applied and practiced afterwards.

AEC has trained effectively a large number of Farmer Trainers who constitute an important pillar in terms of future sustaining the FFS approach, in a scenario without Danida and/or GOB staff and funds. The establishment of the Farmer Clubs is having a positive effect on maintaining and further developing the skills of the individual FFS farming households. Many have attended additional training. Some Farmer Clubs have even introduced a system where they actively look for training opportunities for members, based on their interest and previous training.

From the discussions with Farmer Club members, it was the impression of the Evaluation that the clubs, in many cases, constitute rather solid organisational structures within the villages, although with some gender issues. While most of the male members would continue to be active in the clubs, typically only around 15-20% of the female club members remain actively involved. One positive aspect of the Farmer Clubs in relation to women’s participation is that the club house is located within the village which will not limit women’s participation because of mobility restrictions.

It appears, first of all, to be the motivation and resources of the Farmer Club members that sustain the clubs. Apart from the FFS participants ’snack’ money[36], which are in some cases used for joint buying of inputs, the clubs have only access to limited financial support from AEC, including a ’seed’ money contribution[37] .

It can be argued that the use of ’snack’ and ’seed’ money is not contributing to the financial sustainability of the Farmer Clubs. On the other hand, the ’snack’ money seems to have some positive aspects in terms of sustainability. Firstly, it appears to positively influence the group dynamics of the farmers through common discussions on how to invest the ’snack’ money most effectively. Secondly, it allows the farmers to buy a limited amount of inputs to practice, on their own land, the skills they have learnt on FFS. Although no official data is available on this, the general opinion is that the majority of the FFS participants are using their ’snack’ money for buying inputs.

Less than 10% of the clubs (1,000 out of more than 10,000 IPM/ICM Clubs) are registered. The process of registration is very cumbersome and lengthy, and in most cases the Farmer Clubs cannot meet the official and unofficial requirements of the registration authorities[38]. In terms of registration, which may be important for sustainability of the clubs in the future, AEC is currently assisting the clubs with the registration process. However, for a future scenario (without AEC), it will be necessary to consider how these registration processes can be made less complicated for the clubs to handle. The clubs seek official registration mainly for two reasons. Firstly, without an official registration the clubs would be at risk for being harassed by the government, in particular in a future scenario without AEC as ’protection’ mechanism. Secondly, registration is important for the clubs as it will provide additional and better opportunities for applying for different types of services/support from private and governmental institutions and service providers.

An important incentive for the farmers to maintain the Farmer Club structures and continue with regular club meetings appears in many cases to be the participating farmers’ possibility to obtain loans through a saving plan established by the clubs. The savings are generated from club members own weekly/monthly contributions (member fees) and from a limited number of income generating activities organised by the clubs. Besides being invested in activities within the communities, including some social activities, the savings are mainly used to provide (small) loans to club member households, mainly to support financing of production related activities. The terms and conditions for repayment of the Farmer Club loans differ from one club to another, but do normally include a kind of interest rate, which could be either in cash or in kind.

For the farmers, the loans from the club appear to be preferable to loans obtained from other sources like NGO and money lenders, where they often have to pay higher interest and have shorter and less flexible repayment conditions (see impacts, above). An added advantage of the Farmer Club loan system is that the interest paid by the farmers remains within their own club instead of going to people/organisations from outside the community. This helps to ensure the cohesion and sustainability of the clubs. The clubs appear to have a high capability in terms of collecting and administrating the member fees.

Estimates from AEC suggest that around half of the FFS lead to sustainable Farmer Clubs[39]. Since AEC is only ’encouraging’ and not ’demanding’ that the FFS will lead to establishing of a Farmer Club, it is obviously not all FFS that turn into clubs. During the discussions carried out with UNFA and Farmer Club members, it was emphasised that the sustainability of the clubs was largely dependent on the leadership within the group. In order to be successful, it was considered very important for the clubs to have members, who could take a lead in planning and organising of activities. Another critical factor for the sustainability of the clubs seems to be the extent to which they manage to avoid becoming politicised.


[19] Prioritize immediate medium-term and long-term policy measures with respect to seed, fertilizer, land, irrigation, mechanization, marketing, agricultural research and extension with a view to increasing labour and water productivity, investment in agriculture and improve risk management.

[20] Danida’s ’Partnership 2000’ strategy.

[21] This was a recommendation from the “Climate Change Screening of ASPS II, Bangladesh”, conducted by Orbicon A/S in 2009.

[22] In one of the attended FFS sessions the women went a few minutes into the vegetable plot and sat down to record their findings on sheets, but what they observed and what they recorded and reported was far from being a useful AESA: it definitely did not assist the participants to develop their observation and analytical skills, let alone presentation and discussion skills.

[23] Since 2010 AEC is emphasizing the inclusion of women from female-headed households and also widows in the FFS.

[24] The Farmer Trainer Survey (2009) and the District Trainer Survey (2009) pointed towards a large satisfaction with the training provided.

[25] As mentioned in the evaluation methodology in Chapter 2 and further explained in Annex 2, the data collected through the AEC Baseline Study and the AEC Mid-Term Evaluation are not directly comparable in a strict statistical sense although indicative results may be drawn.

[26] 36% in real terms (adjusted for inflation). According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the Consumer Price Index rose by 24% between 2007 and 2010.

[27] It should be noted that 36% of the surveyed farmers received ICM training while 64% received IPM training.

[28] There is no reliable data available on the actual number of participants per FFS session, but the impression by the Evaluation is that the actual participation rate is high for both men and women.

[29] 15-20 female Farmer Clubs were formed during ASPS I.

[30] According to information from AEC, there are a few UNFAs and Farmer Clubs in the southern part of the country doing joint marketing of their products.

[31] Still, according to the latest Millennium Development Goal monitoring reports in Bangladesh, almost 50% of children in Bangladesh drop out of primary school for various reasons, and primarily, to work, get married or because of unsatisfying school facilities and services, or poor parents’ lack of capacity/willingness to pay for books, pens, uniforms etc. Poor parents seem to prefer to save the money for the girls’ marriage and dowry.

[32] In Bangladesh, according to the media, police statistics, NGO reports and data from the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, there is an alarming increase in verbal and physical sexual harassment of girls and young women in school and other educational institutions: rape of school girls on the way to school and by teachers and classmates, abductions, kidnapping, blackmailing of parents, and murder of girls after rape, harassment by mobile phone by ’boyfriends’ etc.

[33] See also Chapter 2 on Evaluation Methodology.

[34] Based on relative few observations.

[35] Muslim rules for female seclusion/women’s restricted mobility.

[36] Each FFS participant is entitled to BDT 15 per FFS session he/she participates in.

[37] Each club can request a BDT 8-10,000 ’seed’ money contribution from AEC. In order to qualify for this seed money the club need to fulfil certain criteria to demonstrate that it is functioning well. This includes that the club should document that it is planning and organising meetings regularly, that it has participation and that the club has a bank account. The Upazila Agricultural Officer will then decide on whether the club qualifies for the seed money. In addition to the seed money, AEC offers follow-up training (for an amount of BDT 4,000) and training in business management to the clubs.

[38] Recently the Social Welfare Department issued a circular to all of their district and Upazila officers not to give registration to any IPM/ICM clubs.

[39] In some cases it can be difficult to define whether a club is sustainable or not, since some clubs may still formally exist although they, in practice, don’t organise regular meetings or carry out club activities. In relation to this unofficial estimate from AEC, the term ’sustainable’ refers to clubs that are deemed to be ’well functioning’.




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 8 of 14
Version 1.0. 22-12-2011
Publication may be found at the address http://www.netpublikationer.dk/um/11112/index.htm

 

 
 
 
 
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