Fundamentals of farmers field schools – a cotton IPM FFS as an example

What is Farmers Field School (FFS)?

As the name suggests Farmer’s Field Schools (FFS) are the schools for the farmers beyond the boundaries of formal structures.  It operates with the principles of the non-formal education and most of the session / contents area based or the adult learning principles.

What are the objectives of an FFS?

In an FFS, the emphasis is on holistic crop management wherein pest management is considered as a part of the overall crop management. Thus the pest management is not the be all and end all of FFS. Each FFS has four basic objectives which are as follows:

  • Grow a healthy crop
  • Conserve natural enemies
  • Conduct regular field observations
  • Make farmers expert in their own field

The Field Schools differs from other prevailing extension methods by having the following characteristics:

  • FFS are season-long crop and field based training based on pre-identified problem and curriculums.
  • FFS assist each participating farmers to learn deeper insights regarding their crop ecosystem through individual evaluation.
  • Assist farmers in discovering knowledge and also on the methodology as to how to learn more regarding a problem.
  • Developing capacities in the participating farmers for farmers – farmer’s dissemination of the technologies.
  • Developing learning momentum and reduction in dependency on expert advice.

Cotton FFS is usually 24 weeks long and covers the topics from field preparation to harvesting.  The trainers for these FFS have been trained and are fully exposed to the field problems.

IPM develops the capabilities of the farmers in making informed decision regarding crop and field management based on crop ecology.  Regular field monitoring are done through AESA (Agro-Ecosystems Analysis ) and after that decisions are made and implemented to the crop.

Selected from village farmers, groups of 25 to 30 farmers participating in the Field School meet once a week for 3-6 hours and go through a series of activities including field monitoring, analysis, discussion on technical topics and other group dynamics exercises.

The Field School provides an intensive opportunity for these farmers to master the basic skill that will enable them to make informed field management decision.  Over 600 farmers have completed full season field school activities as on March of 2002, while 5000 others have attended local `Field Days’, IPM People Theaters (Kala Jatras) and other field school sponsored activities.


A typical FFS session is presented as follows:

7: 30 AM

Going to the field in groups and observe general field conditions, collect sample plants and insects, make notes and gather live specimens.

8: 30 AM – Agro-ecosystem Analysis (AESA):

This activity is the core of the weekly process.  Each team uses their field samples and notes to create visual analytical tool combining key factors such as pests, predators’ population, plant health, field conditions, weather and current management treatments.

9:30 AM – Decision making:

The output of analysis is a set of field management decision thoroughly discussed in small groups and defended in open discussion in the presence of all the participants.  “What if …” scenarios further hone analytical skills during the discussion among groups.  Through right kind of questioning skills, the trainers facilitate each and every aspect of field activity.

10: 00 AM – Special topics:

These topics are linked to crop stage and/or specific local problems.  This part of the curriculum is tailored for each `Farmers Guide Activities’ mastered by facilitators during their extensive training.  These exercises require more fieldwork.  Topics covered include pest management, INM, IDM, marketing, post-harvest, crop physiology, health and safety, economic analysis, and water/fertilizer management.

11: 30 AM – Group dynamics:

Activities in problem solving, communication, leadership and team building are conducted weekly to strengthen group cohesion and to help participants develop organizational skills.

12: 00 Noon – Review and Planning :

Each school maintains an IPM and a Local Practice Plot of cotton for comparison of IPM field management versus a consensually drawn local practice package.  Weekly summaries of developments in the field are conducted by reviewing results of the agro-ecosystem analysis.  At the end of the season the group does final yield and economic analysis. Other long-term activities are reviewed during this session.  Such activities may include the development of `Insect Zoos’ for learning about plants-insect and insect-insect interactions; dry insect collection, INM trials and defoliation studies.  Planning future field school activities and post– FFS activities also takes place at this time


Directly related to the programme’s IPM principles is a set of quality benchmarks indicators.  At the end of the Farmers Field School programme, an IPM farmer growing cotton crop should be able to perform the following tasks.

Grow a healthy Crop :

  1. Choose a variety resistant or tolerant to local disease and insect complexes that yields well under local soil and micro-climatic conditions.
  2. Prepare a rich soil and build healthy early crop stand of cotton by proper seed treatment with appropriate chemicals and other biological agents like Trichoderma etc. to prevent damage by the early sucking pests
  3. Apply correct amounts and combination of organic manure and chemical fertilizers (N, P, K and Zn) based upon soil conditions using the principles of Integrated Nutrient Management.
  4. Correctly identify the various insect-pests and their life stages and also be able to monitor their early builds-ups to take appropriate preventive actions to reduce the load of pesticides.
  5. Safe and tested botanicals form an integral part of the pest management options along with local and indigenous experiences of the farmers.

Conserve Natural Enemies :

  1. Recognise natural enemies in the field
  2. Explain the effects of pesticides on natural enemies.
  3. Promote survivorship of predators by managing habitats either through inter-cropping, row planting etc.

Observe field on a weekly basis

  1. Recognise crop eating insects, diseases and rat’s damage in the field
  2. Know that population density of an insect in relation to its natural enemy density defines pests.
  3. Accurately gauge field conditions of insect populations, diseases, weeds to initiate a timely decision making process.
  4. Analyse the density of insects and natural enemies taking into consideration crop health, potential yield, water supply and other factors affecting yield. The analysis should lead to a field management decision including agro-economic and pest management practices.
  5. When specific insect densities must be reduced by use of insecticide, apply the insecticide with proper dosage and delivery and with minimum exposure to self and non-target species.
  6. When diseases or insect population are high, adjust varietal choice for the ensuing season.


Do farmers attend?  Attendance rates are high; in fact, many field schools have recorded a “drop in” rate of non-registered participants rather than “drop-out”.   The goal of each school is that every participant thoroughly masters the skills and principles of IPM farm management.  To accomplish this farmers are encouraged to draw on their experience and knowledge of local agro-eco-systems.  The result of this is an intensive participatory learning environment.  The farmers recognize that they have the opportunity to learn and want to take advantage of it.  Participants are selected in consultation with village leaders who officially announce those selected as participants.  This official recognition of field school participants tends to increase their feeling of pride and desire to do well in school activities.

Do farmers learn?  Broad based studies indicate that not only do farmers learn, but they change their attitudes related to farm inputs including chemical use and field management decision. Studies are underway to quantify the successes, however experience in one of the FFS in Raichur, Karnataka proved that farmers could save more than Rs.1400 /Unit area by making informed decision regarding the crop management compared to local / farmers practice plot.

Normally each participating farmers are evaluated at the beginning, middle season and towards the end of the FFS and based on this periodic evaluation trainers attend to the individuals needs and interest.

Do trainers learn?  With passage of time and experience of conducting FFS, normally trainers sharpen their questioning skills, skills for conducting session and converting a field problem to a learning opportunity. That is the reason for which an experienced trainer is assisted by a new trainer in conducting FFS.  It is a two-way empowerment process, where farmers are assisted to be empowered by the trainers and in turn trainers get empowered.

What Do Farmers Do After Their Field School ?

Besides improving their farming practices, farmers’ tend to follow-up their field schools with additional activities that benefit themselves as well as the community. In several countries the learning momentum that is generated through the FFS process provides additional force to form an informal forum for farmers to share their experiences and problems.  However, the current FFS on cotton has just started picking up the right momentum and it would take sometime to reach to that height.


  1. Farmers Archive

Consistent constant monitoring, high level of motivation, team work, problem solving ability, extensive facilitators preparation, and a fast moving logistics / management support team is needed to achieve wide spread implementation of Farmer’s Field School. There are several activities that the farmers group could take up once they have learned the basics of crop ecosystems and system approach of looking in to the problem.

  1. Farmer to Farmers Spread of Success

The selected outstanding farmers from these FFS could be selected, grouped and re-trained to act as a Farmer Trainers to further take the newly acquired knowledge and skills to others in their community. Normally two weeks of focused training aimed at strengthening the following are required for a farmers training of trainers (TOT ) :

  • Processes of the Learning
  • Evaluation and Monitoring
  • Baseline Survey and Curriculum development
  • Converting problems into a learning opportunities
  • Fundamentals of Ecosystems
  • Agro-Ecosystems Analysis
  • Discovery Learning Tools

Once the farmers are through the F-TOT, during first season of training they are usually tied up with an experienced trainer to further brush up their training skills and once they have full confidence they can start their own FFS.

  1. More experiments to learn more

Another important aspect that normally farmers group do after the FFS is that they continue to work on some key areas like management of a key insect-pest, biological and non-chemical options for diseases and pest management, learning more agronomic parameters and participatory breeding program. The group normally requires some regular follow-ups, in terms of monitoring and technical assistance, to keep going.

The author is a former Senior Team Member – Farming Systems, AME – Bangalore

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