15-18 February 2016: Sophors (national agronomist) together with 2 other project team members, Iean Russel (international consultant) and Joaquin Barata (intern student) conducted a field mission to the three provinces mentioned above. Objectives of the mission were: 1) To discuss cooperation between the Life and Nature project with directors of the Provincial Department of Agriculture (PDA) in Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, and Kampong Thom, and 2) To organize first training session for the pilot FFS in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces.
Pilot Farmer Field School (FFS) is one among other activities firstly started by the Life and Nature project in its target areas. It is to note that the FFS will be implemented in cooperation between the project and Provincial Department of Agriculture (PDA)/District Office of Agriculture (DOA). During the field mission, the mission team met PDA Siem Reap and Preah Vihear to discuss this cooperation. PDA-Siem Reap and Preah Vihear have gained more understanding of the project and they are happy to cooperate with the project. PDA agreed to assign their staff at provincial and district level to jointly implement the farmer field schools. The mission team discussed payment guideline (daily subsistence allowance, accommodation, transport) with the PDAs and in general they are okay with the guideline.
Besides, the meetings with PDA, the mission team organized 3 training sessions for the pilot FFS in Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, and Kampong Thom provinces. Majority of participants were women. The number of men was much lower than women. The reason was that the men might be busy with cassava harvesting on their farms that is why they could not attend the FFS training. In Siem Reap, the participants seemed more active if compared to other provinces. Most of them are women, young and involved in growing vegetables. This is good potential to form them into vegetable producer groups for the collective selling activity. Training materials/equipment such as whiteboard, tarpaulin lining is needed for improving the training venues. Facilitator or trainer will be easier to facilitate the training if they have whiteboard to draw or write something during the training. Tarpaulin lining can be used for the participants to sit on it.
During the field visit, water shortage was the common issue faced by the farmers during this period of time. Therefore, improving water storage and supply system is much needed to improve vegetable production, especially for the commercial purpose. It is also aligned with the suggestion/recommendation from the PDA. “Small scale water reservoirs should be considered and it should respond real need of the farmers” PDA director of Preah Vihear said. Pest insects was another issue affecting vegetable production and capacity of the farmers to cope with this problem was still limited. To solve this problem, they need more technical support from specialized agencies such as the project, PDA or GDA, etc.
In general, it is concluded that the mission was achieved as planned. The project counterparts/PDAs get clear information about the project, especially their roles / engagement in the project implementation. The FFS members have gained more technical understanding of climate change concept. Some of them are able to transfer what they have learned to their family members and neighbouring families in their communities.
Various recommendations for improvement are listed below and persons responsible for specific tasks are shown in brackets where relevant.
Selection of FFS Participants
- Each of the Extension Officers was able to recruit a suitable number of participants for the training. Some have current vegetable growing activity but some want to start up the activity. Those who are currently engaged in vegetable growing are much more useful in the FFS then those who have no experience or demonstrated motivation to grow vegetables. The trainers should not be concerned if some participants drop out of the school when they learn that there is no plan for free materials to be distributed to members.
- Under no circumstances should farmers be paid to attend the sessions.
- Selection criteria to be recorded and shared with other team members
FFS Record Keeping
- FFS Record books should be created for immediate use. These records are critical for project M&E and for the group to develop their own planning and learning capabilities.
- Participant evaluation of the sessions must be conducted on a regular basis and recorded
- Gender disaggregated attendance figures and data on practice change and land areas affected must also be recorded.
FFS Training and Budget
- Some visual tools and training materials should be developed for the training to increase interest and understanding and to share the information more widely. Video display might be good for the farmers to understand some key concepts related to climate change, for example greenhouse gas emission, increase of sea water level and intrusion of salinity. The climate change materials delivered by Sophors are very useful as an introductory module for our project work and should be converted to a PowerPoint presentation for wider dissemination and for use in training (Sophors). These materials can be expanded with audio-visual materials.
- Better equipment in the form of portable speakers and larger screens are required for showing audio-visual materials in a FFS setting but this is feasible and would be very effective.
- Notebooks should be provided to all the FFS members, so they can take notes or make drawings of the key training topics for their learning purposes.
- White boards, pin boards and other equipment is required to improve training effectiveness. These are investments that will serve many purposes over the life of the project (subject to approval of expenditure).
- Handouts of the key points of training should be prepared and delivered to the FFS members during the training. Handouts should also be used to allow participants to have a record of essential information without wasting time copying information during the sessions.
- FFS members should be encouraged to help in venue arrangement such as cleaning the venue, preparing refreshments and ensuring that members arrive on time. This is to increase their participation, commitment and feeling of ownership of the FFS. It is important to ask the farmers to elect farmer leaders for the school (Provincial Extension Officers) and we should provide them with a phone card so the job is not a personal cost to them (subject to approval of expenditure).
Field Visits and Improvements
- Any problems identified during field visits should be followed up immediately by the team and farmers helped with practical solutions. This is critical to establish a good reputation for competent technical abilities. The team should practice use of web resources for identification of pests and researching information and develop a menu of web resources that help us to be more effective in delivering good advice to farmers. This is a work habit that we can teach the PDA and GDA partners to increase their effectiveness in the delivery of remote assistance for FFS.
- Visiting the water sources is needed to understand the scope for improvement. The project might support something to ensure that the water can be easily collected or any activities to support rainwater harvesting. The project can initially carry out small interventions for small scale improvement of the water supply that will be helpful for the farmers.
- Improvements should be accompanied by scientific testing of soil and water quality to ensure that good quality advice is given to farmers and project investments are based on sound agronomy and water management.
- Provision of inputs to FFS participants should be minimal to ensure that the participants are motivated by genuine interest and involvement in farming not in search of free materials.
Demonstration Farms and Visibility
- Farms should be selected and planning of improvements to commence in readiness for the FFS .
- The demonstration farms need commitment on the part of the selected farm family not simply a wish to obtain free materials.
- Demonstration farms should be close to the FFS but are not the main focus of the school. They are an additional resource. The purpose of the FFS is to encourage improvements by all of the farmer participants on their own farms.
- Project sign boards should be put in place at the training venues and at the commune hall to increase community awareness of the project and to ensure visitors are aware that the project is working in the target sites.
- The news article on commencement of the FFS prepared by Joaquin should be translated into Khmer and printed in colour for distribution to stakeholders at Ministry, provincial level and to communities so as to increase visibility, maintain routine information flow and generate interest in project activities.
Training of Facilitators
- The pilot FFS serve as opportunities for staff training. Routine debriefing and sharing of information with Extension Officers is required, in addition to some formal training. The sessions are to serve as training for the District Officers and project staff are responsible for ensuring that a process of continuous improvement is implemented in the FFS.
- Regular communication with provincial staff and occasional visits from GDA staff will ensure that lessons learned are incorporated into MAFF procedures and that the project follows MAFF guidelines for extension work.