Despite the tremendous need for extension approaches that contribute to poverty reduction in rural sub-Saharan Africa, many extension models have been tried with only limited success. A popular model at the moment is the farmer field schools (FFS) approach, based on adult education principles such as experiential learning. Farmer field schools are intensive, season-long programs where farmers meet regularly to learn and experiment on a given topic. Farmer field schools have shown remarkable impacts in terms of reducing farmers’ use of pesticides for environmental and health benefits, increasing their on-farm productivity, improving knowledge gain among farmers, and empowering rural communities. However, these impacts have not translated into changes beyond the local level; several studies suggest that FFS are having limited or no effect on the agricultural sector’s economic performance, sustainable use of the environment, on rural health, and on dissemination of information by FFS participants to other farmers. There are also many questions about their sustainability. This paper examines the FFS approach in detail. Findings suggest that many of the issues inherent in the approach are not being addressed, even though the approach is being aggressively promoted by donors, governments, and non-governmental organizations as the next best thing in extension. The paper concludes that what is needed is not a “one size fits all” approach, but rather local solutions for local problems.
Keywords: Extension, farmer field schools, sub-Saharan Africa, sustainability, development