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A plea for Climate Field Schools in China

Last modified November 19, 2010 10:16

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Farmer Field School (FFS) approach, that was first tried in Indonesia and the Philippines just more than 20 years ago, is a success story. It has been mentioned in hundreds of scientific papers, many text books and newspaper articles and some documentaries.

Part I: Fitting the Farmer Field School history

Kees Stigter (Agromet Vision, Indonesia and the Netherlands,


The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Farmer Field School (FFS) approach, that was first tried in Indonesia and the Philippines just more than 20 years ago, is a success story. It has been mentioned in hundreds of scientific papers, many text books and newspaper articles and some documentaries. The agro-ecological content and the experiential methodology of the FFS have influenced extension programmes in dozens of countries. There are a number of important social outcomes from such trainings. Farmers gain self-confidence, they start to work together to solve community problems, and they develop a different relationship with local government. The term ‘empowerment’ is often used to describe these changes (Bartlett, 2005).

The FFS, covering the pre-sowing preparedness period and the growing season, including drying, storage and transport of yields, should perhaps not only be viewed as a model for extension. It is rather “an educational instrument with the specific purpose of tackling some of the shortcomings of agricultural modernization” (Van den Berg and Jiggins, 2007). Hence FFSs can be considered a public service with a potentially high economic rate of return due to private field-level benefits and public multiplier effects.

The recognition of these impacts at the field level and in the social and political domains would justify increased investment in the approach as well as broadening of its institutional basis by involving other sectors in FFS-type educational programs (Van den Berg and Jiggins, 2007). Urged by increasing climate variability and climate change, agrometeorology and agroclimatology do jointly form such a sector for establishing Climate Field Schools (Stigter, 2009; 2010).


A meagre history of FFS in China

A recent small study in China on cotton farmers concluded that farmers still over-used pesticides on pest-resistant crops. It found that farmers in small-scale production systems require training in identification of pests, natural predators (beneficials), basic ecology and integrated pest management in order to ensure sustainable production (Yang et al., 2005).

A more detailed study in China described how learning concepts evolved after FFS education. During a period after training, farmers gradually increased their concepts about the agroecosystem. In comparison, a declining trend was found for message-based classroom-trained farmers. Hence, the learning approach based on field experience and observation of the FFS was found to encourage continued learning in contrast to message-based training (Van den Berg, 2004). However, in a recent book on community participation in China (Plummer and Taylor, 2004), only twice are FFSs mentioned.

The FAO China IPM programme has on a pilot project scale been training FFS alumni to be farmer IPM trainers since 1998. Also in China, women who have gone through FFSs are organizing FFSs for other women, to improve their IPM and farming skills. This is in response to the increased farming-related responsibilities that women have had to take on as their husbands seek higher income in urban areas (Pontius et al., 2002). From the above and other searches we may conclude that there is indeed only some history of FFS trials in IPM in China. They can’t be considered an established educational or extension approach.

To understand this, it must be pointed out that farmers trained in the FFS model had very little support for their new IPM techniques from the official Chinese extension system when compared with other farmers. The Chinese crop protection system is based upon tracking pest trends at Plant Protection Service sample fields, which are then used for county level pest forecasts. Pest warnings are broadcast to farmers via an electrical loudspeaker system present in virtually every village. These announcements convey warnings from the forecast station about pest danger and announce spray indexes. They do not contain any advice to take note of the presence of beneficial organisms or to conserve them. Farmers generally interpret such announcements as instructions to spray their crop (Mangan and Mangan, 1998).

FFS farmers had to deliberately ignore extension messages containing information inconsistent with their training in order to make their own decisions based upon presence of beneficial organisms as well as pests. FFSs clearly triggered a kind of learning 'take off'. FFS farmers' concepts grew in strength --probably as a result of continued field observation -- despite their receiving incongruous extension messages throughout the intervening crop season. Learning based upon internally consistent scientific concepts achieved through trainee experiences and reinforced by group discussion is far more powerful than learning based upon memorized instructions or inconsistent explanations. However, interviews of farmers in Indonesia two years after FFS training showed that understanding acquired in the FFS had regressed because there was no effort by the extension system to maintain or augment it (Mangan and Mangan, 1998).


The future of FFSs

Recently new attempts were reported on introducing IPM FFSs in China on a larger scale in the context of creating a new country side (FAO, 2008). The coverage that FFS programmes have achieved in Asian countries has been only 1- 5% of all farmer households and it is even lower in China. In general, two strategies to reach substantially more farmers with FFSs can be distinguished (Van den Berg and Jiggins, 2007). The first strategy is to scale up the number of FFSs offered, with increased support from public services or donors, for example making use of locally distinguishable farmer differentiation (for China see Stigter et al., 2007).

In this strategy, farmer-led (and (partial) self-funded) FFSs are seen as a low-cost means of expanding a national program. Secondly, there is these days a so called community strategy. This approach regards farmer-trainers and farmer-led FFSs as vital elements in the emergence of farmer-driven programmes and local institutions. For the present strictly top/down situation in China, the first strategy appears a more suitable attempt. In a country where after all only scaling up is determining success, interest in other FFS use, such as in climate related matters, is then also crucial.


Climate Field Schools

The need to use climate information is increasing. Investment in ways to cope with weather and climate extremes and with changing patterns of weather and climate must be an integral part of adaptation. Climate information provides a foundation for identifying vulnerable regions and resources and to fight degradation of resources and improve their use. A recent report from the impacts of climate change on Chinese agriculture predicts that China will see a reduction in yields of key crops, including wheat, rice and maize, as early as the 2020s due solely to climate change pressures. The net effect of climate change, combined with other pressures such as increased demand, land-use change and water availability, that is also controlled by climate, is driving the need for new sustainable farming practices (WMO et al., 2009).

Rahimi (2003), in an early discussion on the INSAM website then just established, argued that only very few of our products are useful and accessible to farmers. Some of the main reasons are:

- most farmers don’t know agrometeorology and its products and services;

- many (agro)meteorological products/services are not understandable for farmers, because of their complexity;

- agrometeorologists don’t know the actual meteorological information/services needed by farmers;

- farmers getting to know meteorology don’t believe in the usefulness of agrometeorological information for increasing and protecting yields;

- because of lack of suitable, fast and extensive transmission methods, useful information is received by the potential users with too much delay; even the most accurate data when expired will not be useful for anybody.


In this situation an extension approach could help agrometeorology and we could form a new field of application named “extension agrometeorology”. In that same discussion, Stigter (2003) argued that extension is often failing because those that deliver extension messages are not aware of the culture of the end users. While it are cultural aspects that very often determine the possibilities for male and female farmers as decision makers to apply extension messages (in our case agrometeorological services and information).

This is the reason why I have at several occasions proposed that intermediaries are used between those generating/carrying agrometeorological services messages and the end users. Such intermediaries need training. They need to be equipped with feasible agrometeorological services as well as with knowledge on the culture of the end users. Such intermediaries could teach at Climate Field Schools (CFSs). CFSs may be based on the successful experience of the FFS extension approach. In Indonesia, experimental CFSs were set up, to increase farmers’ knowledge on the climate to improve their response to it (Winarto et al., 2008).

Besides improving farmers’ understanding of climate change and variability, moves towards building up even greater resilience in their farming form a good basis for a CFS curriculum (see also BOX 1). While following the same methods and approach as FFSs, urgent climate-related issues become their point of departure (Winarto et al., 2008). Just like FFSs, the CFSs should be active before and over extended growing seasons, which in many parts of the tropics would mean all year round. They would therefore become educational commitments in a better organized peasantry livelihood. Agrometeorological extension would be part of this.

Farmers have always responded to climatic variability, particularly to changes in rainfall, by constantly adapting their practices throughout the seasons. This involves adapting their choice of crops, crop varieties, planting and other cultural measures, while at the same time managing and manipulating the soil, water and microclimate where possible. Climate change complicates this so-called “response farming” but it does not change the principles of the approach (Winarto et al., 2008). However, because of this complication, there is much more need for farmers to get organized around climate related issues. CFSs should address these issues, also in China.

An enlightening book (that we used abundantly in Stigter et al., 2007) is that of CAU’s Ye Jingzhong (2002). He writes near the end that in addition to formal education, his farmers had equal access to the training and community learning organized by certain County and Township technical agencies, “though in recent years these have barely functioned”. The establishment and improvement of agrometeorological services should definitely be part of genuine efforts to improve on this extension situation in the context of building a new countryside. Climate Field Schools (CFSs) could do this.


  • Bartlett, Andrew, 2005. Farmer Field Schools to promote Integrated Pest Management in Asia: the FAO experience. Workshop on Scaling Up Case Studies in Agriculture. IRRI, Los Banos, Philippines.
  • FAO, 2008. China/FAO project to reduce pesticide risk by IPM Farmer Field School training in full swing in Guangxi.
  • Mangan, J. and M.S. Mangan, 1998. A comparison of two IPM training strategies in China: the importance of concepts or the rice ecosystem for sustainable insect pest management. Agriculture and Human Values 15: 209-221.
  • Plummer, Janelle and John G. Taylor, 2004. Community participation in China: Issues and processes. Earthscan, London.
  • Pontius, J., R. Dilts and A. Bartlett, 2002. Ten years of IPM training in Asia - From Farmer Field School to Community IPM. FAO, Rome.
  • Rahimi, Mohammad, 2003. Extension in agrometeorology through the right type of intermediaries.
  • Stigter, Kees, 2003. Discussion contributed to INSAM’s Agromet Market Place.
  • Stigter, C.J., 2009. Scientific support to the establishment and validation of agrometeorological services. SciTopics. Research summaries by experts. Elsevier.
  • Stigter, Kees (Ed.), 2010. Applied agrometeorology. Springer, Heidelberg etc., in press.
  • Stigter C.J., Tan Ying, H.P. Das, Zheng Dawei, R.E. Rivero Vega, Nguyen van Viet, N.I. Bakheit and Y.M. Abdullahi, 2007. Complying with farmers' conditions and needs using new weather and climate information approaches and technologies. In: M.V.K. Sivakumar and R.P. Motha (Eds.), Managing weather and climate risks in agriculture. Springer, New York, pp 171-190.
  • Van den Berg, Henk, 2004. IPM Farmer Field Schools, A synthesis of 25 impact evaluations. Prepared for the Global IPM Facility. Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
  • Van den Berg, Henk and Janice Jiggins, 2007. Farmer filed schools reap long-term rewards. Pesticide News 78: 6-7.
  • Winarto, Yunita T., Kees Stigter, Esti Anantasari and Siti Nur Hidayah (2008). Climate Field Schools in Indonesia: coping with climate change and beyond. Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) Magazine 24(4):16-18.
  • WMO/FAO/IFAD/UNCCD/WFP, 2009. Climate information for securing food. Fact sheet #4, prepared for the 3rd World Climate Conference, Geneva, 4 pp.
  • Yang, P., M. Iles, S. Yan, F. Jolliffe, 2005. Farmers' knowledge, perceptions and practices in transgenic Bt cotton in small producer systems in Northern China. Crop Protection 24: 229-239.
  • Ye Jingzhong, 2002. Processes of enlightenment. Farmer initiatives in rural development in China. Ph.D.-thesis, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.


A Chinese version of this paper has been published in LEISA (China) in an issue of 2010, and is available on our website from the homepage under "Translations", Chinese.



BOX 1 of Part I: Microclimate improvement of water melon


Improving microclimate for water melon, by covering sandy soil with pebbles, is about an extremely interesting farmer innovation in Ningxia Autonomous Region. This production practice can be traced back for more than a century. In recent years, through multiple investigations with the melon-growing farmers, as focused scientific support (Stigter, 2009), the Provincial Meteorological Bureau found that the key factor in low and instable watermelon yields was the microclimate.

In further institutionalizations, the melon growing farmers wish to get access to agrometeorological service products with additional information. They have to address such issues as protection of seedlings from drought, frost prevention, watermelon wilt and decay, etc. The farmers are looking forward to receive timely information. For the time being, due to limited and indirect information channels, some farmers do not even know when frost may occur even when it is forthcoming. It may be too late to take any preventive measures when it comes, causing a widespread loss of seedlings.

The farmers badly need relatively longer range weather forecasts and price information about various markets, in order to arrange appropriate sowing periods well in advance. From the perspective of service delivery, the future objectives are to increase service coverage and service information, expanding the agrometeorological services and products targeted to the pebble covered sandy soil watermelon production (Stigter, 2010). A Climate Field School approach would be ideal for such commitments of the Provincial Meteorological Bureau.

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