A typical farmer field school (FFS) group comprises 25 to 30 farmers and the approach focuses on ‘learning by doing’, taking into account both innovation and indigenous knowledge.
Enelesi and Maria John have learned how to manage an intercropped field of maize, okra and tomatoes. The Phalombe Farm Field School in Malawi is where they learn about practices which increase resilience to climate change impacts. Local farming communities work together at the farmer field school study plots where trainers like Beatrice Kapone demonstrate and facilitate how solar irrigation for land management works.
Phalombe is in one of four districts (Phalombe, Zomba, Neno and Blantyre) where the EU-funded Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) initiative supports community resilience practices such as redirecting water to the fields, as is done at the Tikondane Farm Field School.
Malawi is one of the most vulnerable countries in sub-Saharan Africa to the impacts of climate change. According to a 2014 FAO report, floods, dry spells, heavy storms and hailstorms are the main climate-related hazards in a country where half of the population lives below the poverty line.
Local solutions to global problems
The Farm Field Schools approach is a participatory and complementary way of reinforcing the traditional provision of agricultural advisory services, helping smallholder farmers in particular to acquire new skills and knowledge and to become more resilient to climate change. Farmers learn how to analyse the problems they face and to make appropriate decisions on how to adapt their practices according to local conditions and contexts.
A typical FFS group comprises 25 to 30 farmers and the approach focuses on learning-by-doing principles which take into consideration various innovations and indigenous knowledge. By analysing and understanding the local agro-ecosystem through regular agro-ecosystem analysis (AESA) combined with consideration of the existing capacities enables them to implement informed decisions. As the communities and villages in Malawi vary across the country, their vulnerability and susceptibility to the impacts of climate change are experienced in different ways. This calls for a holistic and transformative process for educating farmers which aims to empower vulnerable communities to manage and use natural resources in a sustainable way and to encourage diversification.
Malawi’s economy is largely dependent on its natural resources with rain-fed agriculture being the pillar of the country's agro-based economy. It accounts for 30 to 40 % of its GDP and employs 85 % of the country's workforce. Moreover, 90 % of the population practise subsistence agriculture.
GCCA in Malawi
The GCCA programme in Malawi, started in 2015. It is part of a GCCA action being implemented by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in partnership with Total LandCare, the Evangelical Association of Malawi, and the Malawi government. Community resilience practices are taught in four districts: Zomba, Neno, Phalombe and Blantyre.