Farmer field schools (FFS) and local agricultural research committees (CIALs) are participatory platforms for improving decision-making capacity and stimulating local innovation for sustainable agriculture. FFS offer community-based, non-formal education to groups of 20–25 farmers. Discovery-based learning is related to agroecological principles in a participatory learning process throughout a crop cycle. CIALs are a permanent agricultural research service staffed by a team of four or more volunteer farmers elected by the community. The committees create a link between local and formal research. Although the FFS and CIALs were initiated for different reasons and have different objectives, they have various commonalities: both focus on identifying concrete solutions for local problems, but they apply different styles of experimentation and analysis; both increase the capacity of individuals and local groups for critical analysis and decision-making; and both stimulate local innovation and emphasise principles and processes rather than recipes or technology packages. FFS fill gaps in local knowledge, conduct holistic research on agroecosystems and increase awareness and understanding of phenomena that are not obvious or easily observable. Their strength lies in increasing farmers’ skills as managers of agroecosystems. The strength of the CIALs lies in their systematic evaluation of technological alternatives and their ability to influence the research agendas of formal research and extension systems.
Ann R. Braun, Graham Thiele and María Fernández