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Farmer Field Schools

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 15: Sustainable Farming > Farmer Field Schools

Farmer field schools are teaching programs that help farmers find solutions to common problems. Together with a trained facilitator, farmers ask questions, experiment, and talk about what they are learning. Farmer field schools also help farmers develop skills in solving problems, organization, and leadership. When they are encouraged to value their own knowledge and skills, farmers are better able to build on traditional farming methods to make farming more sustainable.

People standing in a field of crops listen as a woman holding a plant speaks.
Farmers find solutions to their problems in their own experience and in their fields.

Farmer field schools build skills and confidence

Hoa and Khanh live in Dong Phi Village, Vietnam. Their husbands help prepare the land for sowing, and they harvest crops at the end of the season. The rest of the year, Hoa and Khanh manage their family lands alone because their husbands work outside the village. When Hoa noticed she was harvesting less rice each year for several years in a row, her husband suggested buying more fertilizer. But Hoa knew there was no money for fertilizer. When a government agricultural agent told the villagers about farmer field schools, Hoa and her neighbor Khanh decided to join.

As soon as they began attending sessions, they saw this school was different from any school they had known. Together with other farmers, Hoa and Khanh talked about crops, insects, weather, and soil. They experimented with different farming methods and decided which ones they liked and which ones they did not like. Hoa invited all the farmers to her land to help her understand why her rice harvest had gone down.

Khanh was shy and had never spoken in front of a group before. But after the first season at the farmer field school, she felt more confident and she tried leading some experiments. When Khanh tried new things in her field, she had the other farmers visit. She explained what she was doing and why. The other farmers listened, asked questions, and shared their opinions and experiences.

2 people bend to tend a rice paddy which is labelled with a sign reading "Experiment #2."

As Hoa and Khanh began changing the way they farmed, they realized they had to teach their husbands as well. “I had to make sure my husband would not be afraid because I stopped using chemical pesticides,” Hoa said. “When he came home from work, I took him to the field to show him the different insects and talk to him about natural pest controls.” When Hoa’s husband saw there was more rice, he did not question his wife’s wisdom. And when she used money saved from fertilizers and pesticides to buy a motorcycle for the family, he was convinced that farmer field schools helped.

Now Hoa and Khanh have started training women farmers all over their region. “I think we women work better as a group apart from the men. Our discussions are more open and we make sure everybody gets to say what she sees in the field and what she thinks about it. Knowing about pests, fertilizers, and how to care for our crops helps us take control of our lives. This makes me sleep easier,” said Khanh. “If it helps me, I’m sure it can help everyone.”