Young farmers in Bhokardan and Jafrabad talukas of Jalna district are a happy bunch. They show their fields to everyone with pride. The brown cotton fields, dotted with white fluffy cotton flowers, the green fields of haldi and ginger with broad, strong leaves, dotted with red and green chilly plants here and there, heaps of freshly harvested, golden maize in the fields, are all fruits of their labour.

But this is also the fruit of a very special endeavor- Farmer Field Schools (FFS). 

FFS is an effort toward bringing new technological advances in organic and sustainable agricultural practices at the village level, right to farmers’ homes. It aims at achieving maximum yield at the least cost to farmers, while also keeping in mind the long term sustainability of their lands.

What is unique about FFS is that it has been able to bring the benefits of an existing government programme of technical guidance for farmers directly to the community through NGO facilitation. The technical support in FFS is given by the Government Agriculture Departments at District and Taluka levels. Resource persons and experts from places like Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kharpudi, Jalna (KVK) and Badnapur University Agriculture Research Centre, also lend their valuable inputs. The programme is facilitated by WOTR under its PPCP initiative.

The one-of-its-kind experiment of Watershed Development work though MGNRGA undertaken since 2008 was already showing good results. In May 2011, with the help of the Agriculture Department, WOTR conducted large scale mobilisation among farmers in Bokardan and Jafrabad talukas of Jalna district, Maharashtra to take this further. It was decided to start Farmer Field Schools (FFS) to guide farmers mainly for their cotton crop, from the very first stage onward, right from preparing the land for sowing to harvesting the crop, sometimes even the marketing of their produce.

The farmers also responded whole heartedly and their genuine participation in the process has worked out to their benefit. These sessions encouraged the farmers to such an extent that they not only followed all the instructions diligently but also developed an insatiable appetite for more and more information. Like schoolchildren learning the alphabet, they assembled every week to learn the basics of agriculture, have their doubts resolved and even brought insects and pests from their fields to the ‘classroom’ to discuss whether it was beneficial or harmful to the crop and suitable action for it.

Now, along with wage-employment guarantee, soil and water conservation and resulting positive impacts of Participatory Watershed Development taken up through MGNREGA, the community has been able to increase the productivity of their agricultural land, significantly reduce their expenditure on chemical fertilizers and increase income from agriculture because of FFS.

In May 2011, as the next step to SWC work through MGNRGA, WOTR and the Taluka Agriculture Department organised an Agriculture Rally (Krushi Dhindi) through — villages giving farmers information about the preparation for the coming kharif crop. Later it was decided to start Farmer Field Schools (FFS) every week.

The farmers collected in groups once a week and were guided by various experts on different subjects- preparation of the land, sowing of seeds, spacing of the crop, kinds of pests, the correct time and amount of fertilizers and pesticides to be used, weeding etc. They were also taken on exposure and training visits to KVK Jalna and to see the work of other group farming endeavours.

WOTR’s role was to bring together all the different agencies- technical experts from the government as well as from universities and research institutes, private sector entrepreneurs in the agriculture technology like Drip irrigation and financial institutions like NABARD and other banks.

In Conclusion

Through FFS, farmers now have an effective platform which they can now use to avail information about relevant schemes and also for the overall development of their villages. FFS also has a very strong social impact by being open to all levels of farmers and bringing them together as a group with common concerns. The farmers have now realised the potential of coming together as a group. One can also see a gradual change in the attitude of young farmers. The trend of rising disinterest in agriculture has been replaced with greater enthusiasm and dreams for the future.