Spending an entire season together, with the field as their classroom, participants at the farmer field school exchanged knowledge and expertise while being provided with tools to identify ways to improve their farming techniques.
Each graduate earned a certificate in horticulture, recognized by the Tonga Qualification and Accreditation Board.
“Before, I just planted cassava, taro and kumala. Now when I plant vegetables with the new techniques I have learned, my income has doubled and I am very happy. There is a huge demand for fresh vegetables by tourists who came to ‘Eua during the whale watching season,” said Mosati Mau, from Ha’atua Village in ‘Eua, who participated in the training.
The farmer field school approach to learning, popular in many parts of the world for more than two decades, is a new idea in parts of the Pacific including Tonga.
The ‘Eua Island Farmer Field School is funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) as part of the first phase of the US$4m Tonga Rural Innovation Project, which will be completed in 2017.
Ifad has earmarked a further US$11m for the second phase of the project, which aims to reach more than 60 rural communities in Tonga.
“Boosting investments in smallholder agriculture through the promotion of farmer field schools is essential to Tonga’s efforts for achieving the [UN’s] sustainable development goals of ending poverty and hunger by 2030,” said Ifad sub-regional coordinator, Sakiusa Tubuna, at the field school graduation.
“Smallholder farmers feed Tongan families, they enhance the cultural and social network support, they preserve land and biodiversity, fight against climate change, they create jobs and prosperity, they contribute to stable and just societies and, most importantly, eradicate the root causes that push more people to emigrate to urban areas,” he added.
A farmer field school is a form of adult education based on the concept that farmers learn best from field observation and practical experimentation.
Among the main practical training techniques is a demonstration plot that serves as a “classroom” for testing new methods under similar conditions to the farmers’ own plots.
In some cases, a control plot is also established to compare the new practices with the traditional ones. Farmers have the opportunity to learn by doing and exchange local and new technologies that many choose to replicate and share beyond their farmer field school circle.