Funder: International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
Regions: Latin America, Africa and Asia
Late in 2017, CIP was informed that it had been chosen for an International Team Award of Excellence for its research and interventions promoting the integrated management of potato late blight through the farmer field school (FFS) approach, which has helped smallholder farmers manage this devastating disease. The award was bestowed by the organizers of the tri-annual International Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Symposium in recognition of about two decades of research and work with farmers on three continents.
A multidisciplinary team of CIP researchers and partner organizations designed and evaluated an IPM approach to address the human and technical dimensions of managing potato late blight disease in smallholder communities across Latin America, Africa and Asia. Potato late blight can cause catastrophic crop loss for smallholder farmers, who often can’t afford the fungicides needed to control that disease, or may not know how to use them properly, in which case they can suffer significant yield loss despite spending money on agrochemicals.
In the late 1990s, those researchers recognized that scientific innovation alone wasn’t enough to avoid the devastating losses in potato yields that late blight can cause on smallholder farms, so they designed a farmer-centric approach based on the FFS approach. The FFS approach, developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), uses group-based learning to facilitate farmer access to information, knowledge and technologies. Between 1999 and 2007, in partnership with research and development organizations (government and NGO) in Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, Uganda, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru – primarily with support from IFAD – CIP and partners developed and tested discovery-based learning methods to help small-scale – and frequently illiterate – farmers to understand principles and practices involved in late blight management.
CIP adopted a two-pronged approach: making the principles of late blight management more visible and understandable for farmers while testing new potato clones with resistance to the disease. A subsequent assessment of the approach’s effectiveness documented a 32% average increase in potato productivity and incomes on farms in Peru. Farmers in other countries who benefitted from the approach experienced comparable improvements.
“Successful farmer adoption of agricultural technology, crop varieties, and practices, requires taking time to truly understand farmers and their current needs, preferences, and goals, and how they can learn about crop problems and technologies” explained Dr. Oscar Ortiz, CIP’s Deputy Director General for Research and Development. “By working together with government organizations, NGOs, other research organizations and the farmers themselves, with each of them bringing their experience and perspectives, we can develop viable solutions that improve the livelihoods of smallholders worldwide. The FFS approach has continued evolving and now we talk about farmer business schools”