To support Farmer Field School facilitators and master trainers in adapting training activities to new government restrictions and emerging health concerns, the Global FFS Platform Team has developed a handbook on running FFSs in times of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been slow to hit Africa, and even slower to spread outside of urban centres. This lag leaves many unknowns as to how the virus will impact rural smallholder farming communities, already considered to be some of most vulnerable communities in the world.
Nevertheless, government measures to stop or slow the spread of the virus are posing new challenges to rural communities within the RFS country projects. Disruptions in agricultural value chains as a result of restrictions on movement and border closures threaten the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and access to food. Many country project activities were postponed, resulting in the delayed delivery of valuable resources, training, and supplies during critical planting periods.
However, while some activities have been postponed, other new activities have emerged in response to the pandemic. Because of the programme’s emphasis on integrated approaches and its large network of partners and expertise, Resilient Food Systems is uniquely positioned to support local efforts to both slow the spread of the virus and adapt to new government restrictions. RFS Executing Agencies and Regional Hub partners have been offering tailored support to help country project teams adapt to new working environments, migrate project activities to online platforms, and continue to track progress in spite of restrictions.
FAO, a Regional Hub partner and Implementing Agency for the Burundi and Uganda country projects, is tapping into existing networks to ramp up awareness raising efforts. Through its Farmer Fields Schools, community agriculture groups, and women’s discussion networks, FAO has a vast network of local stakeholders, agricultural extension workers, community leaders, and project officers uniquely positioned to help share messages and practices to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Farmer Field School (FFS) networks, in particular, are proving to be useful platforms for agriculture extension officers and healthcare practitioners to work together to spread health and food information. Recognising the potential of FFS networks, the FAO FFS Platform Team is actively working with master FFS trainers across Africa to adjust FFS activities and to support advocacy and communication efforts in communities.
In April, FAO Angola started sharing messages with family farmers through posters focusing on the importance of hand washing with soap and water and maintaining physical distance to avoid spreading the virus. Due to the success of advocacy campaign, the Global FFS Platform Team decided to work in collaboration with FAO Angola to adapt and scale the rural information campaign to other Farmer Field Schools networks around the world. Communication materials are now available in five languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian) and are being translated into local languages, such as Somalí and Urdu.
To support FFS facilitators and master trainers in adapting training activities to new government restrictions and emerging health concerns, the Global FFS Platform Team also developed a handbook on running FFSs in times of COVID-19 (available in both English and French). The handbook contains guidelines that focus on reducing the risk of COVID-19 community transmission when running FFS and other agricultural training activities based on World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. It also guides FFS facilitators and master trainers on how to use established FFS networks to disseminate basic protective measures and build effective responses to COVID-19 within their communities. The handbook provides a set of 21 learning activities, jointly designed by education and technical specialists, to help facilitators integrate COVID-related topics within their FFS curricula and to help communities respond to emerging health challenges.
In June 2020, the Global FFS Platform Team conducted two webinars to accompany the launch of the handbook. RFS project teams were able to join other FFS facilitators, trainers, and project coordinators from around the world to hear from experts on how to adapt FFS activities and implement suggested COVID-related activities. Country experiences, challenges, and lessons were shared from Pakistan, Angola, Malawi and Kenya. Recordings of the webinar are available here and here.
During the webinar, a question was raised about the future of FFS and field-based extension training given the growing pressure to move activities online—how can FFS become more accessible to online audiences, while still retain in the interactivity and face-to-face relationships that are so central to the FFS model?
Anne-Sophie Poisot, Global FFS Coordinator, reported that the team has been working actively to supplement on-the-ground learning and experimentation with more online content. FFS e-learning courses, including videos and interactive exercises, will be launched through a series of webinars in the coming months. To stay up to date on the latest news from the FAO FFS Team and to learn more about how RFS country project teams are adapting FFS activities, subscribe to the RFS newsletter below.
Is your country experiencing restrictions due to COVID-19? Are you still running FFS activities and training sessions? How have you adapted your activities to the new work environment? Are you organising special COVID-19 activities?
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