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Farmer Education & Agricultural Extension

Many farmers in rural areas do not have the most up-to-date information on how to grow food efficiently and economically. Improving their knowledge of new techniques and technologies, in addition to providing them with any physical resources necessary for implementation, can dramatically increase the farmers’ level of productivity (Rosegrant & Cline, 2003).

Of course, increased productivity for a few years is not a solution if farming cannot be sustained for the next hundred years. Recognizing the need for a sustainable approach to agriculture, our solution emphasizes farmer education in methods and technologies that do not have an overly negative effect on soil, water, and air quality.

Farmer education programs will:

  • increase local food availability
  • increase farmer income
  • increase sustainability of agricultural practices

Increasing local food availability directly addresses hunger problems that arise when food is not available for people to buy. In rural areas where connections to more productive areas are limited, people depend on food grown by farmers in their own region: if the farmers can’t grow enough food, people go hungry. Improved crop yields can both meet the demand of the region (which could be just a few villages) and lower the price of food in that region. Lower food prices mean more people can afford to buy the food, and less people go hungry.

Approximately 50% of the world’s undernourished population is made up of low-income farm households (Shaw, p.395). So, a top priority in addressing hunger problems is to decrease poverty levels among these farmers, and increase their productivity so they can feed themselves and their families. Because the farmers are the price setters, any lowering of prices due to increased productivity should not affect them negatively.

Increasing the sustainability of agricultural practices will ensure food security in years to come by preserving and rehabilitating the resources used to produce food, including soil and water.

Feder, Lau, and Slade (1987) showed that the Training & Visit system of agricultural extension implemented in India resulted in “a high probability of at least an acceptable rate of return to intensified extension” (685). That is, training farmers pays. Their analysis indicated that the benefits resulted in large part from an improvement in the management of the farm rather than new inputs. Thus, farmer education can help even without new technologies.

Improving agriculture in Africa is a clear priority for addressing the food crisis. Africa has some of the highest hunger rates as well as some of the lowest agricultural productivity rates so, we will focus on farmer education in rural African regions.

Many regions in Southeast Asia are also crippled by hunger; implementing farmer education programs in these regions is another priority.

Farmer education programs will be implemented as part of the Food for Work program. In the off-season (when farmers are not growing crops), food aid will be provided to them as long as they participate in education sessions and incorporate the new technologies and methods into their farming.

As connectivity to a central location improves (part of the plan for cluster schools: see Primary Education), farmers can gather at the central location for training sessions where they also receive distributions of seed.

Curricula will be regionally-specific and include:

  • which crops to grow, based on growing environment (soil, climate, water availability), nutritional value and profit
  • how to implement sustainable agricultural methodsthat will maximize yield
  • how to use mechanized farming tools

The introduction of new types of crops can improve both a farmer’s profits (since they won’t face as much competition from other local producers) and the nutrients available to those who consume what he produces. For example, introducing lettuce to a couple in Niger allowed them to grow and sell enough to support their family (Hartill, 2010).

In arid areas where crop farming is deemed unsustainable, related skills such as husbandry of grazing animals would be taught to supplement (or even eventually replace) current practices.

As Glendinning, Mahapatra, and Mitchell (2001) note in their analysis of agroforestry extension in eastern India, a “bottom-up” approach is absolutely necessary both to create an optimal regionally-specific curriculum and to ensure that farmers see the benefit of agricultural reforms. For example, the Orissa Social Forestry projected, launched in 1983 with assistance from the Swedish International Development Agency, was highly successful in promoting farm forestry in the state of Orissa, in eastern India. Government officials, village leaders, and farmers all took part in training (Glendinning, Mahapatra, & Mitchell, 2001, 288). Group discussions were an integral part of the project; villagers themselves took part in planning and idea-generating. It’s important to recognize that such a structure is not simply humoring the locals so they will accept changes to their lifestyle; as Glendinning, Mahapatra, and Mitchell point out, “Acknowledging and learning from indigenous knowledge and traditional practices, built upon generations of observation and experience, is more likely to lead to a development programme that is sensitive and relevant to the local context” (285-286). A farmer’s personal contact with the extension agent (that is, the individual training farmers and disseminating information) directly influenced his likelihood to accept new ways of doing things. So, building relationships with the local farmers and village leaders is crucial.

The farmer education programs in conjunction with Food for Work will be funded by the NGO sources that run the Food for Work program. The training sessions at central locations will be funded and run by the government wherever possible, and by NGOs where government support is not sufficient.

The World Food Programme runs Food for Work programs, and some countries, like Bangladesh and India, run their own similar programs. These Food for Work programs can improve their effectiveness by incorporating farmer education in the manner detailed in this solution.

The large-scale effects of this solution would not be seen for a number of years, as farmers across Africa and Southeast Asia learn more and incorporate what they’ve learned into their practices. The good news is that this solution would create a sustainable knowledge base in each targeted community, and once the improved methods and technologies are incorporated, they can be passed on to future generations. (link this back to the timeline – perhaps stress that while results are slow in being produced they are very long lasting – you've done that partially in the next sentence but link the two together so it answers the header in a clearer fashion)

Farmer education programs through existing Food for Work programs can be implemented/improved within 5 years. The actual training farmers receive can be completed within a year. So, the first wave of this solution can be accomplished within a decade, with beneficial effects continuing for years to come.

Below is a graph of increased maize yields before and after the Millennium Villages Project interventions. Similar figures can be expected from this plan, since the same techniques will be applied.

(Retrieved 29 November 2010 from


Below is an example of what a farmer curriculum would look like:

Farmer Curriculum

Stage 1: Farming Methods


  1. To promote practices that maximize yield and minimize negative effects on environment
  2. To spark interests in and introduce alternative farming methods
  3. To promote sustainable agriculture

Potential Topics:

  1. Crop rotation
  2. Cover crops
  3. Polyculture
  4. Soil enrichment
  5. Natural pest predators
  6. Bio-intensive integrated pest management
  7. Natural resource preserving
  8. Irrigation
  9. Recycling
  10. Utilizing wastes
  11. Aquaponics
  12. Hydroponics
  13. Roof top farming
  14. Square foot gardening
  15. Biotechnology
  16. Food storing and processing


Stage 2: Career Development


  1. To expand career opportunities
  2. To provides farmers with management skills
  3. To prepare farmers for competitions in markets

Potential Topics:

  1. Agriculture economics
  2. Farm management
  3. Leadership development
  4. Agriculture-related career opportunities
  5. Marketing


Cover Crop


A cover crop is a crop grown to provide a soil cover. It is primarily to prevent soil erosion by water and wind. It also reduces insect pest penetration, controls diseases, and suppresses weeds. Cover legumes enrich the soil with nitrates as well. Cover crops can be planted annually, biannually, or more often on a pure or mixed stand basis.

Types of Cover Crop

  • Winter cover crop is planted in the fall to provide covering for the winter. This type of cover crop has to be able to stand cold whether. Legumes are often selected for a side benefit of nitrogen fixation while rye and vetch are other potential candidates.
  • Summer cover crop is planted for a part of a summer growing season between rotating crops to add extra organic matters to the soil. Possible summer cover crops are legumes such as cowpeas, soybeans, annual sweet clover, sesbania, guar, crotalaria, and velvet beans; and non-legumes such as sorghum, millet, forage sorghum, and buckwheat.
  • Living mulch is a cover crop interplanted with cash crop. Examples of living mulch include vetch interplanted with corn; sweet clover with vegetables; ryegrass with vegetables; and legumes with berries, orchards, and grapevines.
  • Catch crop is a cover crop planted after the harvesting of the cash crop. It is to prevent soil erosion and reduce nutrient leaks. Planting rye after corn harvesting is a good example of a catch crop.
  • Forage crop is also interplanted with a cash crop. Possible forage crops include sweet clover, trefoil, and alfalfa.  Forage cover crop should not be grazed or cut for a maximum profit.

Benefits of Cover Crop

  • Preventing soil erosion
  • Strengthening soil structure
  • Adding organic matter to the soil
  • Increasing soil nutrients
  • Enhancing soil microbial activities
  • Suppressing weeds and pests

Limitations of Cover Crop

            Seed and establishment costs of cover crop needs to be evaluated against its effect on cash crop and fertilizer requirement. Also water consumption of cover crop is a concern for area with less than 3o inches of annual precipitation. Insects associated with cover crops can potentially be at the disadvantage of cash crop and therefore needs to be investigated.

Works cited: 

Feder, G., Lawrence, L. J., & Slade, R. H. (1987). Does agricultural extension pay? The training and visit system in northwest India. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 69(3), 677-686.

Glendinning, A., Mahapatra, A., & Mitchell, C.P. (2001). Modes of communication and effectiveness of agroforestry extension in eastern India. Human Ecology, 29(3), 283-305.

Hartill, L. (2010). Lettuce: The green gold of Niger. Catholic Relief Services.

Rosegrant, M. & Cline, S. (2003). Global food security: Challenges and policies. Science, 1917-1919.

Shaw, D. J. (2007). World food security: a history since 1945. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sullivan, P. (2003). Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures: Fundamentals of Sustainable Agriculture. Retrieved November 9, 2010 from