Farmers First was a five-year Food Security program designed to improve and diversify the on-farm production of rural farming households in support of their efforts to protect their livelihoods, health and well-being.
The program’s core strategy was CPAR’s adapted Farmer Field School (FFS) approach. FFS are ‘schools without walls’ that use a group-based, experiential learning approach to build on farmers’ existing knowledge and expertise. FFS brings farmers of both genders together on experimental plots to test farming practices using practical, hands-on methods that emphasize observation, discussion, analysis and collective decision-making around adapting farming methods to suit their particular environment.
To further enhance discovery learning, the FFS curriculum included ‘special topics’, such as human rights, gender equality, family planning, gender-based violence, HIV and AIDS, as well as other issues that affect the quality of life for farmers, particularly female farmers.
To help mitigate risks associated with unpredictable rainfall patterns and changing growing seasons as a result of climate change, CPAR promoted Conservation Agriculture in the FFS setting.
As part of its gender strategy, the program set a target participation rate for women of at least 50 per cent to ensure that female-led households would have the tools and support so often denied to them through government agricultural extension programs.
Some featured results:
- Production levels of staple food crops at least doubled and in some cases tripled in both male-headed and female-headed households
- Income levels overall increased on average by 301 per cent in male-headed households and 296 per cent in female-headed households
- 87 per cent of male-headed households and 63 percent of female-headed households reported storing an adequate amount of food between harvests, representing a 50 per cent increase overall in the percentage of farmers storing adequate food between harvests.
- The average number of meals eaten per day during the lean season increased among vulnerable populations by 65 per cent
- 126 tree nurseries were established and over one million trees were planted in community reforestation activities, for both personal and commercial use
Adapting program activities to local needs and opportunities - Malawi
CPAR modified Farmers First project activities to meet local needs and opportunities.
Rooted in agriculture, the Farmer Field School approach stimulates a desire for continued learning and strengthens social and political skills, which can prompt a range of local activities and relationships. For example, in Malawi, rather than visit each individual house to monitor malnutrition and provide education on growth monitoring for children under the age of five, Health Surveillance Assistants were able to visit Farmer Field School groups to provide group training and recruit growth monitoring volunteers who took on the responsibility of monitoring malnutrition at the household level.
To address the high prevalence of HIV and its impact on families, a registered Community Based Organization (CBO) called the Chifundo group was created to offer training to community members so they could provide high quality home-based health care services to chronically ill HIV infected patients.
The Chifundo group, with CPAR’s support, prepared itself for an assessment that was carried out by a team of three officers from the Lilongwe District Social Welfare Office. The Chifundo group satisfied the requirements and officially registered as a CBO. CPAR facilitated follow-up training to strengthen the management structure of the new CBO. Four men and six women took part in a week-long training session provided by the District Council. Topics covered included organization management, project design and proposal writing skills. As a formally registered CBO, Chifundo continues to offer services within the community.