— By Buddhiram Kumal & Dinanath Bhandari
Building on the strength of the farmers’ field schools (FFS), Nepal Flood Resilience Project has devised the FFS to train and help farmers further to adopt flood resilient technologies, strategies and approaches to transform their vulnerability into resilience. Here’s how we are making farmers flood resilient through this academy for flood resilience.
1. Organising to learn
Farmers’ field schools are proven approaches and strategies to help farmers learn and adopt new technologies and skills. The FFS are discussion, practice and demonstration forums promoting learning by doing. Farmers from the community organise into a group and assemble together with a facilitator in regular interval, often weekly or fortnightly based on the need to discuss, learn and practice on growing crops of their choice. It is practised in the farmers’ field as a school to learn throughout the crop cycle, generally for a year and then follow up. Acquiring knowledge and skills is the crucial element of transformation. Farmers’ livelihoods and disaster resilience capacities are affected by the access of people to knowledge and skills on their livelihoods that would prevent, avoid and successfully cope with the impacts of floods they are exposed to.
2. Empowering women
In the project area, agriculture technicians have been facilitating each FFS where multiple strategies have been introduced to enhance access of marginal farmers to knowledge, skills and technologies on growing crops in different seasons. These FFS are particularly focused to flood prone communities in Karnali flood plains in Bardiya and Kailali districts. They are smallholders and utilising the seasonal window-the winter-and non-flooding season is important to complement loss of crops from flood (however not always) and increase income utilising to grow cash crop in the land which potentially remained fallow in the past. So far in last two and half years, the project facilitated 31 FFS each in a community where 621 (Men: 85, women: 536) people – one from each family- participated and learned on technologies and skills to growing usual crops and new crops and varieties that could be sold instantly for cash income. Each field school consisted of 20 to 25 people mostly women. Since male migrate out seasonally in search of work in India or abroad, the agriculture is feminised. Therefore, participation by more number of women in the FFS contributed to enhance production and family income in particular.
Apart from learning to better grow crops and livestock, the participants discuss on the strategies to prevent losses from the flood and better recover if losses were unavoidable. For example: one group near Tikapur town adopted growing mushroom and selling them into local market during winter which surpassed the loss of crops by flood during summer. The group discusses on the hazards, risks and potential interventions to reduce the risk and successfully overcome the disaster losses. The FFS have become like a Flood Resilience Academy fostering culture of learning, doing and sharing among farmers. The FFS have become instrumental to vulnerable people to change their cultivation practices to produce more yields of usual crops and multi-seasonal production has additional income that creates opportunity and confidence for resilience thinking. Many farmers’ group have developed into a formal institution with agreed group functioning protocols and registered with the respective government institution-District Agriculture Development Office or its Area Service Centre. This provides them better access to government services, information on technologies and practices. The service centres try to reach farmers through such groups.
3. Academy of practice
The FFS comprises of theory and practice on the subject matter. The course follows the crop cycle from soil preparation to post harvest and even further to marketing or final consumption/utilisation. A facilitator supports organization of farmers’ into the ‘School’. Farmers learn on concepts and practices and then they practice. For example, if they learn on nursery bed preparation, they prepare a nursery bed. The next week they would discuss on transplanting and would do transplanting in their demonstration plot, and so forth towards the end of crop cycle. Usually the facilitator designs and conducts the classes; however it is ensured that farmers have access to interact with a range of experts relevant to crops and other livelihoods of the farmers. In our case farmers also discussed on problems associated with flooding, health and social issues reflecting on the past to improve future. Demonstration and practice is priority for learning by doing.
4. Building up confidence on technical knowledge and skill
Each crop or livestock have different requirement, they are sensitive to a number of hazards and adversities. Therefore, technical knowledge and skills are important to build on confidence. Strategy, therefore, is to help farmers learn and do soil management, seed/breed/variety selection suitable to local climatic conditions, market potential and farmer’s individual preference. Later on, the process goes on to learn and apply growing seeds, transplanting, weeding, pruning, top dressing- the intercultural operations through harvesting and selling of particular crop, variety or breed. Passing through a cycle of crop, farmers build up skills and confidence potentially becoming able to go for higher yield, greater in scale and more confident to prevent or recover the losses. They also build on confidence to utilise seasonal opportunities and switch to better crops or options.
5. Improvement and changes in practices
The strategy is both to improve existing practice and adopt new practices and technologies. Few farmers were engaged in the commercial farming in the past. Farmers have lost crops not only from flood but also from different diseases in crops like rice, wheat, maize etc. But now after a cycle of FFS in the community, the farmers have selecting improved varieties of vegetables (to name: Snow crown, Silver cup and Kathmandu local varieties of cauliflower; Madhuri, Manisha, Himsona and Shreejana varieties of tomatoes) to increase production. They also learned techniques to protect crops and vegetables from diseases and adverse weather effects. Considering the market and value of product, farmers have initiated grading of potatoes to increase the sale of good quality produce at higher prices.
6. Enhanced skills, increased production and improved livelihoods
Farmers’ field schools have been helping farmers to develop systemic thinking. At least 174 (28%) farmers in a FFS were growing mushroom which is new crop for them, 286 farmers have been growing green vegetables as new winter crop to most of them and selling them in local markets. In rainy season some members in the FFS tried planting flood tolerant rice variety Swarna Sub-1 recommended by research but new to them.
Furthermore, FFS helped to improve community access to agriculture advisory services and weather information. Better access to reliable weather prediction services helps them to plan activities. Some farmers have altered input dates like preparing nursery bed or harvesting produce. The change in time depends upon the weather forecast of that period although not true for every time. FFS also changed farmers understanding on irrigation at vegetables. Farmers irrigate vegetables more efficiently comparing to past. Due to these knowledge and information, farmers are producing more and getting more income.
7. Leveraging benefits to enhance flood resilience
The FFS has been helping farmers grow different crops and increase income. Farmers have invested the income on their children’s formal education, health and fulfilling family’s daily needs. Some of them are saving for future. For instance, Mrs. Manju Chaudhary – a member of Navajagaran farmer group at Bangaun of Dhansinghpur Village Development Committee (VDC) is growing vegetables. She learned from FFS and made income NPR 85,000 (approximately $770) in the past two seasons. She has built her new home with a 2 feet 3 inches raised platform to avoid the flood impact, investing NPR 40,000. She has invested NPR 13,000 as a premium for insurance of her son. She has been paying monthly educational fee amounting NPR 1,500 for her two children and also constructed a biogas plant for NPR25,000.
The FFS outcomes contribute to enhance family’s flood resilience making their economy and livelihood assets robust and resourceful and contributing to many themes that contribute to flood resilience. The learning process helps to find and adopt a number of choices and opportunity to innovate thereby building redundancy and enhancing rapidity to contain losses if any disastrous hazard hit them.
8. Fostering flood resilience
Sustainability of preventing losses of lives, assets and livelihoods is the prime outcome of flood resilience. This comes through a range of themes in at least five different livelihood capitals. The knowledge/skills and technologies gained by each farmer helps to maintain continuity of their household income even during ups and downs which will also influence other choices and decision making. The linkages developed with the local government and government service providers will be continued beyond project periods. The institutional set up and linkage will help access support to recover the losses faster. These assemblies provide avenue for farmers to discuss with each other and learn together by doing and demonstrating. The approach has been instrumental in the area particularly for women to utilise time window of winter and dry season to grow lucrative crops and overcome the losses by flood during monsoon. Even during the flooding season, farmers have adopted flood tolerant varieties, different species mix and switching to different crops to diversify income sources. The farmers’ field school lasts for a year generally, however, enhanced confidence and learning sharing culture and access to their service providers and market will continue to improve fostering farmers’ resilience to flooding.
Buddhiram Kumal is Project Officer, Nepal Flood Resilience Project and Dinanath Bhandari is Programme Coordinator, DRR and Climate Change, Practical Action South Asia Regional Office.