The continuing efforts to stimulate economic growth in Africa through agricultural development reflect the rise and fall of the different ‘fads and fashions’ in international development over the past 50 years. As the ‘poor cousin’ in most agricultural development strategies, agricultural extension and education has been particularly affected by the changing trends in external financing. Following the failure of rural development projects to significantly improve the welfare of the rural poor through the mid-1980s, the region witnessed a widespread abandonment of support for large-scale, state-run extension programs; the exception to this being the continued promotion of the Training & Visit (T&V) system by the World Bank. After pursuing alternative policies, such as the support of non-governmental organizations, the ‘invisible hand of the marketplace’ and, to a lesser extent, producer associations, a growing number of donors and governments have shown a renewed interest in once again backing state- sponsored agricultural extension programs.
Recently, interest has begun to coalesce around the potentials offered by the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach. Drawing upon field data collected from the two oldest FFS programs in Africa, this paper takes a brief look at the main elements in the FFS approach and its transfer to Africa. The results and conclusions center around six key issues: the responsiveness of the FFS approach to local conditions; FFS achievements in facilitating ‘systems learning’ on the part of farmers and supporting their increased involvement in knowledge generation; facilitation of farmer-to-farmer information exchange; local organizational development and the institutionalization of integrated pest and production management practices; positive impacts on the relationships between farmers, extension, and other stakeholders; and the specific challenges faced by extension in integrating the FFS approach into their programs. Some concluding observations are made on the progress, pitfalls, and potentials of the FFS approach to play a significant role in the revitalization of national extension programs within the region.