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How farmers' field schools transform the lives of farmers in Zanzibar

Teaching poor farmers better ways to produce poultry and vegetables helps them increase their incomes and improve their families’ living conditions


Through farmer's field schools, small-scale producers learn new methods and share useful experiences, joining in groups to make the most of their agricultural potential. Two IFAD-funded programmes support more than 200 farmers’ field schools in Zanzibar, working to empower small-scale farmers to overcome poverty.

Over centuries, the Zanzibar Archipelago has been an important trading centre, where many types of commodities such as ivory and gold, mainly from the Tanzanian mainland, were traded on the flourishing local market and also found their way to foreign markets. Although the islands have been a magnet for trade, the profits have not benefited many islanders because the key business players were foreigners, mainly from Oman and other Arab countries. To date, a large proportion of the population of the archipelago remains poor.

Increasing productivity

To improve their livelihood and help increase agricultural productivity, an IFAD supported programme, the Agricultural Services Support Programme and the Agricultural Sector Development Programme - Livestock (ASSP/ASDP-L) implemented an innovative adult education approach, Farmer Field Schools (FFS). Unlike traditional approaches, which rely on extension workers providing advice to farmers, FFS enable groups of farmers to find out the answers for themselves. That means farmers can develop solutions to their own problems.

They are far more likely to put what they have learned into practice than if they had been presented with ready-made but possibly inappropriate solutions. FFS have proven to be a very useful approach for helping African farmers improve how they manage their land and water. Numerous projects throughout Africa have shown that they result in improved soils, better yields and higher income for farmers. The approach was first developed in Southeast Asia in the late 1980s for pest management.


Better seeds

In Zanzibar, FFS were set up for both livestock and crop growing to improve farming techniques. By the end of 2008, the ASSP/ASDP-L had established 217 farmer field schools, with a total membership of 4,192 farmers. The training is given by facilitators who are professional agricultural extension officers working with the ASSP/ASDP-L, and ranges from the management of farming activities in livestock to the selection of better seeds that will yield a good harvest.

The farmer field school’s members engage in a farming activity that depends on the type of crop grown in the area.


Half are women

Some schools are involved in cultivating bananas, paddy, cassava or vegetables, while others are engaged in livestock husbandry. Just over half of the farmers attending farmer field schools are women. “Most of these FFS are led by women, in an effort to ensure the high participation of women in economic activities,” said Zaki Khamis, coordinator for the ASSP/ASDP-L programme in Zanzibar.

Mwajina Hassan Nassib, the wife of a retired soldier, grows vegetables and keeps a dairy goat at her vegetable farm in Kitope, about 20 km north of Zanzibar Town. Her farm plot is about one hectare. She grows tomatoes, amaranth, onions, eggplants and other produce, which she sells locally to individual consumers and nearby hotels. She is one of the farmers who have benefited from the FFS training offered by ASSP/ASDP-L. Likewise, her neighbours have also adopted the new farming methods.


Water scarcity

“I am earning more than before,” she said. “I can now pay school fees for my children and I am able to support other extended family members.” Mwajina’s goat provides manure for her farm, thus she does not have to buy industrial fertiliser. She earns money by selling vegetables, which she can use to buy medicine and feed for her goat. In her view, marketing is not a problem as the market is not saturated. But she faces other challenges. One is the scarcity of water to irrigate her farm during the dry season. “I sometimes use tap water for irrigation but it is too expensive, as I have to pay a monthly bill for it. And that reduces the profit margin on the produce,” she explained.

Poultry provides an important source of income for smallholders on Zanzibar. Farmers were previously using a free range method whereby chickens were free to roam about in search of food. They didn’t have proper housing and feed, resulting in low poultry production and loss of income. The FFS established groups of 15 to 20 farmers to provide them with the knowledge and skills to better manage their farming activities. They learnt to develop a semi-intensive system and build a poultry house.


Sharing skills

Mwashamba Alhaji is a poultry farmer. She also heads a farmers’ group named Nguvu Sawa, literally ‘Equal Opportunity for All’, based in Jumbi in the outskirts of Stone Town. “For years I have been practising a free-range system, but I did not make as much profit as I am now earning through the use of improved poultry farming technology,” she said.

“Under the old method, if you wanted to sell your chickens it was difficult to catch them. Now, the chickens are partially confined so it is easier to manage them. Likewise, if you keep them free range there are a lot of disadvantages, such as vermin, theft and even disease transmission,” she added. Her neighbours have become aware of the good income she is earning from poultry farming. They, too, have started to adopt the new method. “I organised my neighbours into a group, and collectively we gathered building materials for our poultry house, which serves as a training centre for the group where we learn new farming practices and share skills with others,” she explained.