Our sixth season of Farmer Field School (FFS) training for agroecological cotton in the Arba Minch district of the Southern Rift Valley is going well. We recruited 270 new participants in 2019, adding to the 3,727 farmers trained so far. The project has expanded to three new villages and succeeded in improving the number of women farmers participating, up to 39% for this season’s training compared with an average of 15% during 2014-2018 and exceeding our target of 25% for 2019.
We organised a refresher training course for agricultural extension agents from local government, as many of the previously trained field agents have moved on to other duties. Of eleven field agents who took part (of which seven are women), nine are completely new to cotton and IPM practices so this has required a lot of initial hand-holding by our experienced team. The female field agents are especially keen to learn about biological control, always looking for cotton pests and the natural enemies that eat them!
One of the learning aids that is really helping farmers and field agents is the illustrated insect identification guide Farmers’ Friends and Cotton Pests, which we’ve recently had published in Amharic. These have been provided along with small hand lenses. Everyone involved is finding these tools really useful for examining small insects and learning which ones are the ‘good bugs’. The insect guide is one of the resources we developed with PAN UK for our Cotton IPM Toolkit for Ethiopia. We have also produced videos on how to prepare and apply food spray to attract more natural enemies into the cotton field and how to conduct cotton agroecosystem analysis as part of weekly FFS ‘discovery learning’.
PAN Ethiopia has now produced several leaflets in Amharic and Oromifa languages on agroecology and soil management and we are disseminating the case studies we compiled from organic farmer groups in several regions of Ethiopia during 2018. This is helping to raise interest in organic and agroecological approaches, along with distributing copies of our cotton IPM Toolkit to be used at nine Farmer Training Centres in southern Ethiopia.