Taking on the Future
"The Farmer Field School opened my eyes. I learned to identify harmful insects and those that are friendly to farmers. Now I know how to use local herbs for control of pests and diseases—these are all in our community. These are the things I am going to do on our land." - Bhagawati Chaudhary, 18-year-old Farmer Field School participant
Designed by World Education to help out-of-school girls achieve a basic primary education, the nine-month program taught Bhagawati how to read, write, and perform basic mathematics. She also learned about basic nutrition, reproductive health, the consequences of early marriage, unsafe sex, and HIV and AIDS. After graduating from the program, Bhagawati was already too old to transition to formal school. In Nepal, job opportunities are scarce for young people without a formal education and many migrate to the city in search of work. Life can be even more difficult there, particularly for young women who lack options and are sometimes lured into sex work.
In order to enable GATE graduates to stay in their communities and support themselves, World Education created Farmer Field Schools, a program that teaches eco-friendly farming techniques to increase crop yield. Through the local Farmer Field School, Bhagawati found an opportunity to use her new skills and a way to earn a living. Farming can provide a secure livelihood for GATE graduates who are too old to attend formal school, as nearly 85% of Nepal's population is supported by agriculture.
Through the program, trainers organize groups of GATE graduates and conduct activities that last about 18 weeks—a full cropping season. To date, nearly 8,500 girls have completed Farmer Field Schools. Students gather in a village field each week to compare their own farming practices to an approach that increases crop production without using expensive and harmful pesticides. At the end of the season, girls and their parents come together for a community-wide Farmer Field Day, when they demonstrate what they have learned and encourage other community members to adopt eco-friendly farming practices.
One Farmer Field School activity involves raising fish in rice paddies, which helps increase rice production. Students discover that fish reduce the amount of labor needed by controlling the growth of weeds, reducing the number of insects, and fertilizing the crop. Raising fish alongside rice also encourages students to improve water management and avoid possible pollutants.
Another activity teaches students how to grow commercial off-season vegetable crops. They learn how to cope with deficiencies in the soil and protect crops from low temperatures, so they can produce better crops in the season when prices are the highest. Ultimately, they learn to evaluate which crops to grow and which technologies to adopt based on increased yield. After adopting the new methods, families often see increases of 20% to 70% in crop production.
"Many years ago my father planted vegetables, but due to a lack of knowledge, we didn't get a good crop and stopped growing vegetables. After the program, we planted two vegetables and applied what I had learned. We earned enough money from these vegetables to repair our house!"
- GATE graduate Traditionally, young women are in charge of crop production, while older men make management and marketing decisions. As a result of participating in the program, however, young women now play a more active role in the planning and decision making. When possible, they also participate in marketing produce which gives them valuable insight into the economic value of different crops and the income that is actually being earned. According to one student, "This new approach has saved us a lot of money. We more than doubled our crop this season, while reducing our investment. Now my father says he will use these techniques in the future!"
For many of these girls, the program has helped improve their decision-making skills and self-confidence. In addition, despite their youth and traditionally low status, these young women are now perceived as valuable members of the household, are respected by their communities, and have the skills and confidence they need to build better futures.