School without walls for climate adaptation in agriculture

Published by:
Focus Region:
Sub-Saharan Africa
Focus Topic:
Capacity Development
Knowledge Management

What better classroom to teach agriculture than a farm? Farmer Field Schools (FFS) are a ‘school without walls’ initiative established at the farm level for improving farmers’ decision-making capacities and for encouraging local innovation through experiential learning and knowledge sharing process. The case presented here focuses on the need to promote climate-resilient agricultural practices, and in this way supporting an agricultural risk management (ARM) approach.


As part of the worldwide efforts to adapt to climate change, the FFS approach can help build smallholder farmers’ resilience to climatic shocks. It does this through the promotion of well-tested and proven climate adaptation options, all of which respond to the biophysical, and socio-economic conditions prevalent in target communities.

At the moment, Farmer Field Schools are a recommended national agricultural extension methodology supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Zambia. The participatory nature and experiential learning inherent in the approach introduces farmers to a wider range of resilient options and good agricultural practices. These are cost-effective and efficient, considering the use of locally available materials, livelihoods diversification and integration of crop-livestock production systems.

FAO is currently providing technical and financial support to the Government of Zambia and various partners to implement this initiative in 14 target agricultural camps across 20 local communities in the Nyimba and Mambwe districts of Eastern Zambia. Farmers in this area are highly vulnerable to climate change-related risks and are likely to face severe food insecurity and other livelihoods associated challenges. The initiative will be subsequently up-scaled to other 16 districts with over 160 agricultural camps (farming communities) starting in the 2019/2020 farming season.

Various climate adaptation options are shared with the farmers on diverse platforms, including field-based adaptation demonstrations, consultative meetings, field days and regular FFS sessions. These learning channels help farmers interact with the FFS facilitators who provide them with technical knowledge and guidance. FFS groups are designed to accommodate 25-30 participants on the basis of gender and interest, and their proximity to the fields which are selected for the demonstrations. These groups allow for an experiential learning process, and for all those involved (farmers, FFS facilitators, researchers, policymakers and representatives of different interest groups) to look at the challenges they face and to share ideas and information.


Follow-up sessions with field partners strengthen the agricultural risk management processes. In this FAO-supported initiative, field-level partners play a key role in the delivery of knowledge linked to climate adaption and agricultural risk management. The sustainability and impact of all operations are tied to the availability of resources to partners in the field and their commitment to delivering. Not surprisingly, poor communication networks have limited the proper engagement of different partners and the follow-up sessions with those in the field. However, FAO has dealt with this issue by providing financial support to the field partners through a robust and accountable financial reporting system. It has also helped organize joint planning and review meetings, and encouraged feedbacks as mechanisms for learning and sharing of experiences among the relevant stakeholders. This has compelled partners to deliver their responsibilities as expected.

Well-enhanced farmer participation increases the adoption of climate adaptation technologies and practices. This initiative enables farmers to interactively learn in consultative meetings, field days and regular FFS facilitation, where they get to acquire knowledge on climate adaptation options, understand the advantages of a risk management approach. As such, through the experiences, farmers become convinced, accept and adopt the adaptation options that are presented.

PARM – Key success factors in strengthening the capacity to manage risks at farm level: emerging lessons learned
Jonathan Odhong’/ IITA