Through the Farmer Field School approach, Master Trainers in Tanzania work to promote localised Sustainable Land and Water Management practices and transform the way smallholder communities manage the collective use of natural resources.
In the semi-arid regions of central Tanzania, productive land is scarce. Decades of deforestation, over-exploitation of natural resources, and drought have led to widespread land degradation, soil erosion and biodiversity loss—in some areas, nearly 75% of total land is classified as “highly degraded”.
In Pemba Island, for instance, coastal erosion, deforestation and saltwater intrusion has led to a loss of agricultural productivity. The steady decline of productive land, combined with the loss of aquatic biodiversity, through over-fishing and habitat loss, has left smallholder farmers and small-scale fishermen with few options for viable livelihoods and threatens food security in vulnerable communities.
Reversing these trends requires a transformation in the way communities restore and manage the collective use of natural resources. It means tackling the drivers of land degradation and over-exploitation of natural resources and providing smallholder farmers with the skills and tools necessary to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices.
Key to this transformation is rural agricultural extension.
In Tanzania, under-investment in rural extension has led to the promotion of unsustainable farming practices and the growth of crops that are ill-suited to environmental conditions. The RFS Tanzania project is working to change this.
In order to transfer new skills, technologies and approaches to scale up Sustainable Land and Water Management in both central Tanzania and Pemba, the RFS project team, led by IFAD, has adopted the Farmer Field School approach to agricultural extension. Farmer Field Schools differ from traditional extension in that they place a greater emphasis on experimental learn-by-doing and discovery-based learning. Direct observation and hands-on experimentation in the field, enables farmers to apply new techniques and skills that are adapted to the specific local context. Master Trainers are trained to facilitate this process in a collaborative way, drawing from, and building on, the knowledge and experience of the farmers themselves.
In June 2019, the RFS Tanzania project conducted a refresher course for 38 Master Trainers from sector ministries as well as the five project districts. Facilitated by the National Master Trainer from FAO Tanzania, Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Tanzania Forest Services Society, the emphasis of the training was on identifying Sustainable Land and Water Management practices for each project district. Topics included conservation agriculture and climate-smart agriculture; sustainable rangeland management; tree nurseries and sustainable woodland management; as well as water harvesting and catchment management.
After the training session, the Master Trainers took the information they learned back to their districts where they led local Farmer Field School groups in applying and observing the impact of the new conservation and climate-smart agriculture practices in demonstration plots.
By developing management and leadership capacities through targeted training, the RFS Tanzania project has produced leaders within smallholder communities. The capacitation of Master Trainers, and the identification of tailored Sustainable Land and Water Management practices for each community, ensures higher adoption rates, greater impact and improved sustainability of outcomes beyond the project lifespan.
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