Farmer-to-Farmer Extension ServicesYesterday's post touted a model for rural economic development that includes peer learning as one of its basic principles.1
A prime example of what this principle looks like in action can be found at the training facility that Practical Action, a non-governmental organization headquartered in the UK, set up in the town of Sicuani in the Peruvian Andes about 90 miles south of Cusco.
The basic concept is to train farmers to deliver agricultural extension services to fellow farmers back in their home villages. These peer extension agents are called "Kamayoqs," the Quechua (Incan) name of people in olden times who were skilled in reading the weather and using their forecasting and other agricultural expertise to advise farmers on such things as when to plant their crops.
In line with another of the principles of the "new development paradigm," the interchanges between Kamayoqs and their farming peers are intended to be two-way, i.e., there is a concerted effort to identify best practices in horticulture and animal husbandry, whether from existing standout performers or from experimenting to see what works best. Learning by doing is central to this Kamayoq-facilitated approach to raising poor farmers' standard of living.
The Kamayoqs live in Andean communities above 3500 meters (11,500 feet), communities barely served by the extension staff of Peru's Ministry of Agriculture. The initial Kamayoq training at the Sicuani school occupies one day a week over an eight-month period. The topics covered include irrigation, Andean crops, horticulture, livestock, forestry, and agro-industry and marketing. Continuing education is also provided.
As explained in a 2006 article (pdf) about the Kamayoq program,
Throughout their training, the Kamayoq establish contact with technical experts from the private and public sectors and with other farmers, a useful network which they can tap into when they need information and technical advice once they finish their training. This "social capital" is recognised by many as one of the greatest benefits of the whole course.The success of the Kamayoq program is seen in the willingness of farmers to pay for the Kamayoqs' services; the addition of marketable crops (e.g., carrots and onions) to traditional subsistence crops (maize, potatoes, and beans); higher farmer income, some of which goes for additional education for children; improved disease prevention and treatment for farm animals; and more sustainable use of natural resources.
An important qualitative impact of the Kamayoq program is increased self-confidence among farmers, an attitude adjustment that motivates innovation. Willingness to innovate is essential for continuing to raise living standards in the face of the changes that are occurring in the farmers' physical and socioeconomic environment.
1 Practical Action's methodology draws on the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who devoted himself to developing pedagogy for the underclass. You can read more about Freire's work by visiting the website of the Paulo Freire Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.