Women led Farmer Field Schools

The shift to agroecological farming started with a small step in Kalamunda in Odisha. With multiple agencies support, women farmers learnt the techniques of natural farming and made the transition towards safe food production. Farmer Field School was the stepping stone for this change to happen.


Droughts and flash floods are two main climatic events that occur during alternate years in Kalamunda in Odisha. Insufficient and unevenly distributed rainfall, transition from millet cropping system to cash cropping, increased use of fertilisers and pesticides have resulted in reduced crop yields and biodiversity, enhanced cost of cultivation and indebtedness. Chemical input intensive farming especially excessive use of chemical fertilisers, insecticides, and pesticides in crops often has a negative impact on women.

There was a need to shift towards agroecological farming methods. Agro-ecological farming is a holistic and integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems. It promotes diversified, resilient, and sustainable production system with year-round integrated production of healthy and nutritious foods. It helps boost the livelihoods of family farmers and reduces farmers’ dependence on external inputs.

In this backdrop, IGSSS implemented a project “Climate Resilience Adaptive Farming in Tribal Communities in Kalahandi” (CRAFT-K). The overall aim is to build resilience of small and marginal farmers against drought and other climate variability through adoption of agro ecological farming practices. The main objectives of the project are:

  • Reducing the costs of cultivation and risks, and stabilising productivity of the small and marginal farmers and generating year-round livelihood opportunities and the flow of income by reducing climatic risks in
  • Producing more healthy and nutritious food that are free from chemical
  • Enhancing soil health, water conservation and regenerating biodiversity.

The Farmer’s Field School was envisioned as a means to improve the abilities of women farmers and to exchange knowledge on agro ecological farming.  The programme strategy included Knowledge dissemination and handholding support regularly through farmer- driven extension system (FFS) led by champion women farmers as master trainers. Setting up Bio Pesticide Production Units was also a part of the strategy to enhance the use of biological inputs.

Critical reflection

During 2017, IGSSS organized a series of knowledge exchange campaigns and demonstration cum trainings on climate resilient farming system. Most of the farmers, through their critical reflection brought forth many issues, like lack of awareness on traditional techniques for pest and disease management; youth no more interested in farming etc.  They also listed down the reasons for this change, like, easy accessibility of pesticides; belief that chemicals can control pests effectively; chemicals being pushed by traders and government through various schemes; lack of awareness on biologicals and how to prepare them etc.

Based on the community’s reflections and the need to shift to natural farming methods, IGSSS initiated Farmers Field School for interactive and participatory learning on integrated insect pest and nutrient management.

Falguni Bhoi and Jayanti Bhoi started this farmer’s field school. Around 10 women farmers interested in ecological farming were identified and groups formed. Initially, social, cultural and environmental issues were mapped. The members met regularly during the growing season/productive cycle – often on a weekly basis. Carried out experiments where farmers identify production problems, brainstorm potential solutions, then set up study plots to compare chemical input intensive farming practices and ecological farming practices.

Box 2 – Development matrix of FFS

SL No Activities Processes
1 Identification of crop wise major diseases, insects and weeds affected farmers field ·         Meeting with farmers and experts on identification of crop wise major diseases, insects and weeds and solution.
2 Identifying types of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides used by farmers in different crops. ·         Meeting with farmers on use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides in farmer’s field.·         Cost analysis – crop wise fertilizer, compost and herbicides used by farmers.
3 ·         Identifying experienced farmers having knowledge for recognizing crops wise diseases, insect, weeds, predators, species used in bio pesticides·         Developing crop wise diseases, insect, weeds profile. ·         Development of crop wise diseases, insect, weeds database·         Development of beneficial insects (predators) database and their status·         Identification of experienced farmers on integrated insect and pest management·         Identification of species traditionally used in diseases, insect and pest management
4 ·         Identifying interested farmers for preparation and use of bio pesticides·         Identifying key persons and strengthen their capacity to prepare, use and impact documentation. ·         Selecting land for demonstration ·         Meeting with farmers and VDC leaders for selection of farmers for preparation, use and demonstration of bio pesticides.
5 ·         Developing guidelines on preparation of compost, bio pesticides and hormones.·         (Compost: – Vermin compost, Green manures, Bijamruta, Handikhata, Jibamruta)·         (Bio pesticides- Nimastra, Brahmastra, Dasparniarka, Agneyastra, Mahuastra, Mathastra)·         (Hormone- Fish tonic, Egg tonic) ·         Meeting with experienced farmers, technical experts and review of different literatures for developing guidelines on preparation compost, bio pesticides and hormones.
·         Meeting with agriculture officials and KVK scientists for collection of data on preparation and use of bio pesticides
6 ·         Identifying nutrient deficiency symptoms of crops through joint meeting of technical expert and farmers ·         Meeting with technical experts of agricultural department and KVK scientists for identification of nutrient deficiency symptoms in crops and traditional management system. 
7 ·         Identifying sample plot for preparation, use, demonstration, learning and exchange knowledge among farmers on bio pesticides ·         Selection of sample for preparation, use and demonstration of composts, bio pesticides and hormones.
8 ·         Preparing compost, bio pesticides and hormones by farmer’s following the guidelines.·         Compost: – Vermicompost, Green manures, Bijamruta, Handikhata, Jibamruta.·         Bio pesticides- Nimastra, Brahmastra, Dasparniarka, Agneyastra, Mahuastra, Mathastra·         Hormone- Fish tonic, Egg tonic·         Preparing database and sharing with farmers for faith building ·         Organising capacity building training of farmers on preparation and use of different types of composts, bio pesticides and hormones.·         Monitoring of sample plots for use of bio pesticides and impact assessment.·         Preparation of crop wise database after use of bio pesticides·         Knowledge exchange meetings with farmers for sharing experiences.
9 ·         Identifying weekly market for demonstration of bio pesticides for sharing of experience on different composts, bio pesticides and hormones with farmers for popularization.·         Sharing of farmers experience in different fairs and exhibitions for networking and rapport building. ·         Preparation of weekly market database for demonstration and sharing of bio pesticides.·         Meeting with farmers in villages and local weekly markets for positive impact of bio pesticides·         Demonstration of compost, bio pesticides and hormones in different fairs and exhibitions.


In the first phase, two FFS with 20 women farmers were established in Dhanrakhman and Kansil villages. Ten women farmers from each FFS selected 20 sample patches of land for critical observation of chemical input intensive farming and natural farming. During the land selection process, priority was given to the land type, soil type, irrigation facilities, crop variety, seed variety seasonal crop calendar, and agricultural equipment to be used.

The women farmers experimented with the techniques they had learned for integrated pest and disease management of crops in the FFS. These two farmer’s schools started experimenting with integrated pest and disease management for high-yielding paddy, traditional paddy, green gram, black gram, arhar and seasonal vegetables.

In a joint effort of 20 women farmers with experienced farmers of the village and Krushak Sati of Agriculture Department, a manual cum Package of Practices was prepared. This included topics like preparation and use of compost, liquid manure, pest repellent, natural hormone and impact assessment of integrated insect pest and disease management. An action plan was developed for field demonstration with techniques such as protection for beneficial insects as well as prevention of secondary pest outbreaks and resurgence through biological control, habitat manipulation, changing of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties.

By 2022, six hundred women farmers had already joined the campaign, launched by just 20 farmers in 2018. Odisha Livelihood Mission, Kalahandi (Odisha) provided business capital and eco-friendly machinery to make this effort of women farmers a collective, through the formation of farmer producer groups.

IGSSS supported 600 women farmers to produce vermicompost and bio pesticides. Representatives of the Karlamunda block agriculture and horticulture department provided technical know-how at the field days being organised at farmers field school. This joint effort and cooperation have helped in the marketing of vermicompost, pest repellents, hormones, vegetable saplings and seasonal crops through the farmers producers’ group.

Box 1 – The FFS approach

  • Builds on local knowledge systems while testing and validating scientific concepts developed elsewhere.
  • Enhances participants’ skills for critical analysis and problem-solving.
  • Develops observation skills transforming them into scientific evidence.
  • Promotes collective action, fostering group cohesion and community decision-making to improve agriculture and livelihoods.
  • Helps farmers transform current production systems, driving changes towards more sustainable practices and systems.


The first year’s effort brought many successes to the farmers. Firstly, farmers stopped buying chemical fertilizers, pesticides and hormones from the market. Bhanumati Bhoi, principal of the Sabuja Farmers Field School, says, “We had been buying chemical fertilisers and pesticides from shopkeepers for many years. A farmer used to buy fertilizers and pesticides worth around Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 18,000 a year. After learning integrated pest and disease control in a natural way in the farmers’ field school, we used organic manure, disease and insect repellents that we prepared. So, we first closed the credit register (Baki Khata) that we had opened at the shopkeeper. This success doubled our courage. More than 600 farmers joined us after hearing our success.”

The impact is clearly visible in terms of the increasing number of farmers adopting organic methods for pest control. Around 600 farmers have adopted organic methods for pest control after visiting the bio pesticide learning centres, getting trained on preparation of different types of manures and bio-pesticides and sharing of experiences.

As per the data collected during the FGD conducted by VDC, every year Sabuja Farmers Field School has produced 20120 kilograms/ liters of compost and pest repellents. It is found that 310 farmers have not at all applied chemical fertilizer or pesticide in their paddy crop of kharif season and pulses and vegetables of rabi season and 290 have applied chemical fertilizer and pesticide partially.

A small farmer spends between Rs. 12,000 and Rs. 18,000 a year to buy chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and hormones during the kharif and rabi seasons. Based on this estimate, around 310 farmers who did not use chemicals, saved around Rs.55,80,000/- in a year.  Farmers having acquired new knowledge, can now prepare green manure, vermicompost, pest repellants and hormones, using locally available materials. After applying these on their own land, he or she can earn Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,000 by selling 20 to 30 percent of the inputs produced. The Farmers Field School has therefore helped in making the farmers self-reliant besides producing safe food and conserving agricultural biodiversity.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, farmers understood even more of the good impact of the farmers field school. Shops selling agricultural inputs and materials were often closed during this period. The 310 organic farmers have not faced any difficulty in collecting materials for vegetable cultivation in their Gharbadi (kitchen garden) and farmland.  The data clearly shows that the production of compost, liquid manures, bio pest repellents and hormones produced, increased over a period of four years by the Sabuja Chai Pathashala.

These four-year efforts of women farmers are slowly becoming successful. The women farmers, who are part of the farmers’ school, are now exchanging knowledge with various NGOs and interested farmers on integrated pest management, soil health improvement and conservation of agricultural biodiversity. Now the block and district administrations have also appreciated this achievement and have given due recognition to the farmers.


We acknowledge the cooperation of the staff, the community representatives and the farmers in the intervention areas for their cooperation. The observations are from the field visits and interaction with the farmers.

Amar Kumar Gouda

Capacity Building Coordinator, Livelihood, Climate Change and Natural Farming,

Indo-Global Social service society, 28 Institutional Area, Lodhi Road,

New Delhi

Email: amar@igsss.net


Krushna Chandra Sahu


Email: sahu@igsss.net ( 8328952675)

Information and Photographs

Pradeep Kumar Sahu ,  (pradip@igsss.net)

Jagadish Prasad Rana ( jagadish@igsss.net )



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