Overuse of resources and the lack of caring attitude towards Human-Nature relationships in many sensitive watershed ecosystems have been the major causes of land degradation, loss of biodiversity, and the gradual erosion of ecologically adaptive social traditions. The rush towards increasing agricultural productivity along with the prioritization of mechanized, industrialized, and urbanized “development” are not answering the above concerns but are instead creating new problems.
Millions of indigenous youths between the ages of 18 to 35 living in the most isolated highland areas of the Mekong region are facing the challenge of defending their cultures and natural environments from being destroyed by outsiders. Indigenous communities have to struggle to maintain a livelihood in a challenging environment, and at the same time maintain a ground where they can stand firm to keep their cultural values and identity alive. It is an extreme challenge for indigenous groups in the face of a rapidly changing global economy.
To assist indigenous people in this challenge, SPERI has, in partnership with MECO-ECOTRA developed a network of Satellite Farmer Field Schools, based in key highland areas, in Quang Binh, Ha Tinh, and Lao Cai provinces to promote an Alternative Development Approach i.e. capacity-building for young indigenous farmers. At these three Farmer Field Schools we offer Practice based Training Program on Agro-Ecological Farming System. This is designed to assist Indigenous Youths to become good, genuine, and professional indigenous farmers willing to take up challenges in putting agro-ecological farming practices into practice once they are in the leadership positions.
Farmer Field School in Tuyen Hoa district, Quang Binh province
At present, Farmer field Schools operate at three levels. In the first place, there are over 4000 key-farmers of the MECO-ECOTRA networks who are practicing eco-farming at the household level providing practical teaching curriculums at the village, neighbourhood and district levels. Secondly, the Farmer Field Schools at Simaca and Dong Le, in key highland areas in Lao Cai and Quang Binh, provinces operate at the inter-provincial level. Finally, the Farmer field School at HEPA (Human Ecology Practice Area), Ha Tinh province operates at an international level, playing a lead role in training young indigenous farmer leadership for the Mekong region as a whole. The only thing lacking is a community based Farmer Field School, and this SPERI aims to develop in Long Lan village (Laos). There, each household in the village, by acting as a homestay for visiting students, will become an active teacher in nine specific curriculum activities built upon the success of Long Lan Village in achieving customary law based self-governance.
Farmer Field School Priority
To build a good group of indigenous youths, those who show enthusiasm and remain strongly interested, to become genuinely professional and confident indigenous eco-farmers, and later to become active members of the MECO-ECOTRA Agro-Ecological Farmers’ Network working in close relation with other farmers of MECO-ECOTRA (Mekong Community Networking for Ecological Trading).
To form an association of young indigenous farmers in which each farmer plays a leadership role their own villages by initiating the practice of agro-ecological farming practices on their own farm first. The example of each farm can later be extending to other farming households, communities, regional and inter-regional farming areas;
To continue to upgrade a systematic and practice-based training manual(s) emphasis the importance of local situated knowledge of indigenous communities;
To form diverse forums to discuss issues and share experiences on the dynamics and complexity of the natural system in relation to effective land use planning for long term livelihood strategies of farmers.
Farmer Field School Strategies
To nurture groups of indigenous youths, elected and selected from different key highland areas, both during and after the training program; to build up a strong network with these youths at all levels (a) individual farm-households, (b) community farms, and (c) regional farming networks;
To nurture prospective human-seeds (i.e. those who are voluntarily behaving respectfully toward nature, enhancing ethnic pride and community values; maintaining good manners in their daily responsibility toward an eco-lifestyle; and who exhibit critical thinking, constantly proposing and initiating new ideas and innovations;
To build strong linkages between indigenous youths and senior indigenous farmers/key-farmers to promote the sharing of knowledge and experiences; enriching ideas and collective actions towards improving the effective land use planning and resources management;
Update regularly the training program and where possible explore and develop issues to more advanced level, e.g. applied research studies, analytical discussions of matters that happen on the ground but relate to policy lobbying;
Run forums and field study trips for students, researchers, media, and also policy makers to observe and learn.
Farmer Field School Training methodology
Our students are the key inspirational resources. Their needs and concerns, their attitude to learning-by-doing play the most important role in improving our practical based training manuals. Together with elders and farmers in the MECO-ECOTRA, friends and colleagues, international experts and interns, and neighboring vocational and high schools, we would hope to complete step-by-step our training and teaching methodology.