Field School Helping to Boost Farm Yields

Photo: Rudranath Fraser Acting Principal Director, Technical Services, at Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Marina Young.

Story Highlights

  • The European Union (EU)-funded Farmer Field School (FFS) programme is helping to boost the yield of the country’s farmers, by scaling up best practices in agricultural production.
  • Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Acting Principal Director for Technical Services at RADA, Marina Young, says the FFS, introduced over six years ago, assists farmers to learn within their own environment.
  • She says that the programme is improving the agricultural knowledge and skills of the farmers, who will pass on these techniques to others, benefitting the sector for generations to come.

The European Union (EU)-funded Farmer Field School (FFS) programme is helping to boost the yield of the country’s farmers, by scaling up best practices in agricultural production.

Dubbed the “school without walls,” the initiative, being implemented by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), engages farmers in areas such as crop management and integrated pest control, among others.

It is part of the European Union Caribbean Agriculture and Fisheries Programme (EU CAFP).

Speaking in an interview with JIS News, Acting Principal Director for Technical Services at RADA, Marina Young, says the FFS, introduced over six years ago, assists farmers to learn within their own environment.

“The FFS is very important… in transmitting the knowledge and skills and most importantly cause a change in attitudes in adopting new methods and technologies in farming,” she notes.

“All of the learning takes place in the field, which is the key to the success of the programme,” she says, noting that the farmers gain hands-on experience.

She says the farmers are able to share their knowledge of farming and make the link between what they know and what the facilitators are imparting.

“During the FFS, there are no teachers and there are no students, we are all at the same level… all ideas are accepted during the FFS. However, the school is facilitated by trained practitioners… to ensure that a particular target and outcome is achieved,” Mrs. Young points out.

She notes that the “learning by doing method” employed in the training serves to validate the information that the facilitators are teaching.

“Farmers are witnessing how a particular method works and using the information as they get it. Therefore, their adoption methods are much higher in comparison to traditional training methods,” she points out.

Mrs. Young tells JIS News that the impact of the initiative to the country and the economy is one of the most rewarding outcomes of the FFS.

She says as a result of the programme productivity is more than two times higher than average.

There have been significant improvements in the growth of healthy crops, farmers have a greater appreciation for the weekly management of fields, there is a more managed approach when using pesticides and a better understanding of the ecosystem and how it impacts the field.

Mrs. Young informs that there is a higher mitigation rate against diseases, but admits that more needs to be done in this area.

In addition, models have been developed for agro forestry; climate change; hot pepper, onion and scallion production; beet army worm management; and cultivation of sweet potato, Irish potato and many more.

“We also recently completed two major graduations and we conducted FFS in land husbandry, climate smart agriculture in the watershed areas of Hope River and Yallahs and hundreds of farmers left with better skills of land management,” Mrs. Young informs.

She says that the programme is improving the agricultural knowledge and skills of the farmers, who will pass on these techniques to others, benefitting the sector for generations to come.

“The farmers are from the community, and the FFS gives them a chance to have a sustainable crop rotation, timely harvests and steady income. These farmers are chosen with the aim that they will return to their community and in turn, they are supposed to transfer the knowledge through their farmers’ networks that are administratively organised,” she shares.

New Forest, Manchester farmer, Clinton Ocsar, who is a recent graduate of the programme, shares that the through the FFS, he has gained valuable skills to improve the productivity of his onion and scallion farm.

“We looked forward to Wednesdays, which was the day we meet up at the agro park. I enjoy the learning and the socialising with the other farmers,” Mr. Oscar shares.

He says a typical day at the FFS starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at noon. The day includes the checking of the attendance registry, field observation which includes agro- ecosystem analysis, activities for team building, special topics to address issues affecting farmers, and evaluation of the day’s session and recommendations.

“Everything starts from the beginning; learning was not difficult because we were doing what we always do, we just add newer things to the methods. For example, to grow a pepper tree, the soil would have to be soft. We would mulch, then fertilise it and ensure that it is planted at a certain stage. So the FFS teaches the techniques,” he points out.

Mr. Oscar says through the FFS, he has gained “another level of understanding of agriculture,” which has enabled him to increase yields. He notes that productivity of his farm was hindered due to lack of good farming techniques and failure to take into account changes in weather patterns caused by climate change.

He says the FFS equipped the participants with a climate-smart approach, which is essential as farmers increasingly face climate-driven hazards that oftentimes threaten the crops, food security and incomes of many rural households.

“Knowledge is power and the FFS is where I got the opportunity to improve my knowledge of agriculture. I know what to look for when I am going out in the field as well as other technicalities when you are scouting and these things help to prevent (disease) outbreaks,” he shares.

Mr. Oscar tells JIS News that he also learnt the correct way to use chemicals. “They also taught us not to use sprays during harvest …because they can be hurtful to those who consumes (the crop). There are signs on the spray bottle that I did not know, to tell you how dangerous this amount is…” he notes.

There are signs on the spray bottle that I did not know, to tell you how dangerous this amount is…” he notes.

“It really hurt me to see a man spraying the field unprotected; some in shorts, the breeze blowing and he is using a mist blower with nothing over his face. That to me is like death,” he laments.

Mr. Oscar says he also learnt how to properly dispose of chemicals so as not to harm the environment. He says he will be practising what he has learnt and sharing the information with others.
For further information on the FFS, persons are encouraged to contact the RADA main office at 977-1158-64.

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