Farmers First was a five-year Food Security program that took place from 2010-2015 that was designed to improve and diversify the on-farm production of rural farming households, helping these households protect their livelihoods, health and well-being.
Some featured results:
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 and other issues that affect the quality of life for farmers, particularly female farmers.
To help mitigate the risks associated with unpredictable rainfall patterns and changing growing seasons as a result of climate change, CPAR promoted Conservation Agriculture in the FFS setting.
The program set a target participation rate for women of at least 50 per cent to ensure that women and female-led households would be equipped with the tools and support that’s so often denied to them by government agricultural extension programs.
Adapting program activities to meet local needs in Ethiopia
- 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 by an average 301 per cent in male-headed households and 296 per cent in female-headed households
- 87 per cent of male-headed households and 63 per cent 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 by 65 per cent among vulnerable populations
- 126 tree nurseries were established and over one million trees were planted in community reforestation activities, for both personal and commercial use
CPAR modified Farmers First project activities to meet local needs and to take advantage of local opportunities.
In Ethiopia, the development of infrastructure for irrigation and domestic consumption of water was critical in order to help overcome the challenges of water shortages in that country. The water systems constructed provided protected water sources to 209 households in seven villages and farmers were able to produce vegetables for household consumption or sale.
Improving market access for farmers is critical to supporting farmers’ efforts to move beyond subsistence farming. This was achieved through training on collective marketing, market access, price negotiation and entrepreneurship. As a result, FFS participants gained an increased understanding of local markets. In Ethiopia, supporting the organization of farmers into cooperatives was a particularly effective means of improving market access. Three cooperatives were established – together, these farmers are able to access broader markets, attracting buyers who are willing to come to them for their large quantity of quality goods.