Empowering farmers for a sustainable agricultural transformation in Rwanda

The Farmer Field School (FFS) is a group-based learning process widely used by development actors to promote integrated pest management (IPM). Introduced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Indonesia in 1989, FFS was first fully used in Rwanda in 2009 as an agriculture extension approach to promote the use of IPM technology.

I have been able to produce enough for my family, sell a portion to buy necessities, pay for subscription to community medical insurance and cater for my children,’ said Nyirabapagasi Veneranda, mother of 4, widow and member of Ituze Association, in rural northern Rwanda. Ituze Association is one of the farmers’ groups whose members have been trained through Farmer Field School.

The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach in agriculture gives trainee farmers the opportunity to try and discover by themselves the difference between traditional and improved practices, hence facilitating the adoption of new techniques.

Nyirabapagasi and 23 other women (out of 32 participants) went through season-long intensive practice (from planting to harvesting). ‘It is like in a normal classroom. The difference is that the seed is the teacher and the blackboard is the field where we practice,’ said Sindahwera Elkana, 46, after receiving his certificate on completion of the four-month training.

The participatory approach introduces farmers to techniques of preparing fields, selecting appropriate seeds, crop rotation and diagnosing and controlling crop diseases and pests.

In 2007, the Government of Rwanda adopted a ‘Crop intensification programme’, which aims at increasing agricultural productivity in high-potential food crops and ensuring food security and self-sufficiency. Furthermore, to make better use of arable land, the Government has adopted the land use consolidation policy to bring together small pieces of family lands with a view to increase production. A number of benefits include promotion of modern farming practices and greater access to investments.

Undoubtedly, the FFS is a contribution to agriculture transformation in Rwanda.

The agriculture administration reckons that trained farmers are models to emulate. ‘Some of those who have been trained are members of the agriculture extension committee and we use them in our campaigns. Farmers are now responsive to our programmes, since they identify with their peers,’ confided Jean-Pierre Munyambaraga, agronomist of Muko sector.

Rwanda’s agriculture transformation strategy challenges farmers to practice market-oriented farming. Thus, farmers have to use fertilisers and pesticides, sometimes in abusive ways. They invest a lot of money in pesticides, which contribute to environmental degradation beside being a risk for high toxicity in yields. FFS training emphasises low and efficient utilisation of pesticides.

‘In one of our family fields, we used to plant 100 kg of Irish potatoes and spray pesticides 19 times to harvest only 400 kg. But last season, with the knowledge my wife gained from the training, we planted the same quantity but sprayed only three times to harvest 1,000 kg,’ testified Munyaburanga Janvier who had accompanied his wife for graduation recently.

Residents of Muko sector have started turning to these new local experts for advice. FFS graduates are in the process of creating a cooperative to multiply and distribute improved seeds in a bid to respond to increasing demand from peer farmers.

The full scale of farmer training through FFS is coordinated under the Support project for Integrated Pest Management. The project contributes to the increase of agricultural production and protection of the environment by putting in place integrated pest management for priority crops in Rwanda. The selected priority crops include Irish potatoes, maize, banana, cassava, tomatoes and passion fruits.

The project trains facilitators and co-facilitators who, in turn, train farmers in cooperatives and associations in different parts of the country.