Rural development is a global concern and Pakistan is not an exception. All countries have adopted models for development to address the indigenous problems and build the capacity of rural communities. Since independence, various models and programmes have been launched to strengthen the farming community in Pakistan. These models and programmes include Village-Agricultural-Industrial-Development (V-AID) Programme, Basic Democracy System (BDS), Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), Inputs at farmers? doorstep approach, Training and Visit System (T&V) and modified T&V system, i.e. post-devolution decentralised approach. These programmes were launched and abolished one after the other in the succeeding decades of the 20th century. These programmes were intended to educate farmers, build rural infrastructure, adopt modern agricultural technology and ultimately to increase the farm yield by minimising the gap between potential and average yield of the indigenous varieties. All the social studies conducted to evaluate the impact showed that these programmes met with partial success, as the per-acre yield of Pakistan is still much lower as compared to the world average yield. Even, an imported model, i.e. the T&V System, which was designed and funded by the World Bank, could not have significant impact on the yield gap and the living standard of Pakistan?s farming community.
In the 1980s, when the T&V System was in full swing in Pakistan, a new approach or model to farmers training emerged in Indonesia, called the ?Farmer Field School.? The Farmer Field School (FFS) is a group based learning process that has been used by a number of governments, NGOs and international agencies to educate farmers with special emphasis on Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The first FFSs were designed and launched by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Indonesia in 1989. To date, more than two million farmers across Asia have participated in this type of learning. Farmers learn about crop management by understanding the agro-ecology particularly the relationship between insect-pest and beneficial insects. More interesting is the fact that FFSs are inclined toward biological control and organic farming, with a clear objective to minimise the excessive use of pesticides that are serious health hazards for human and animal. To understand the impact of FFS, it is imperative to elaborate a typical farmer field school.
The FFS curriculum is designed to help the farmers in developing skills to identify their localised issues, formulate and test solutions, conduct analysis, and draw conclusions to test which solutions are the most appropriate under their respective conditions. It can be safely stated that FFS build the capacity and induce the power of decision making in farmers by mitigating the dependency on external sources of expertise to solve the problems relating to the farming system. Farmer field schools have been successfully conducted in many countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Peru and Bolivia, Burkina Faso and Kenya, etc to promote the integrated pest management practices particularly among rice growers.
A general estimate shows that the cost of conducting a season-long field school for 25 farmers has ranged from $150 to $1,000 depending on the country and the organisation. In some cases, the trained farmers of FFS have saved $40 per hectare per season by eliminating pesticides without any loss of yield. In other cases, trained farmers did not experience any savings because they were not previously using any pesticides, but yields increased by as much as 25 percent as a result of adopting other practices learnt during the FFS, such as improved varieties, better water management and enhanced plant nutrition.
The policy makers of the last government were also convinced by the progressive results of the FFS around the world and different projects were launched based on the FFS approach, in the various selected districts of southern, northern and central Punjab in the last few years. The FFSs are conducted on fruits, vegetables and cotton crops. The FAO-EU IPM Programme for Cotton in Asia, worth US$ 12.4 million, promoted this approach to pest-management between 1999 and 2004, in Bangladesh, China, India, Philippines, Vietnam and Pakistan. Since 2004, the Pakistan government has committed US$ 7.7 million in public funds to integrate the crop management efforts into public policy, university curricula, provincial extension services and research and development. Projects at both the national and provincial level are well on their way to using farmer field schools to train 167,000 farmers over five years.
The present government also seems ambitious regarding the FFS. In the existing department of agricultural extension, farmer meetings are now being conducting on FFS pattern (agricultural hub) by the combined efforts of field assistants and agricultural officer as per notification by the government of the Punjab since last week. It could be a transitional phase in paradigm shift from traditional, top-down to modern and participatory mode of technology dissemination in the department of agricultural extension. Regarding the FFS, initially, national data shows dramatic decline in pesticide use in the project areas. Judicious use of pesticides directs to the way of higher profit and better health of the society.
It is important to put a question that whether this investment in the public sector and the running projects would yield the desired results or these projects would be abolished like others in the past. It is the need of the hour to ensure the efficiency of the investment by strict monitoring and evolution. It is important to produce high quality commodities to meet the WTO standards and to ensure the high farm yield to overcome the food security crisis through farmers? education in farmer field schools.