THE FARMERS field school (FFS) continues to evolve for the better - for the highland farmers and communities.

The FFS was first introduced in the Cordillera as a vegetable production and pest control strategy by Highland Agricultural Development Project (HADP) of the Department of Agriculture (DA). It was first launched in Atok, Benguet in 1992.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Modelled after the Indonesian Integrated Pest Management (IPM), this extension approach trained farmers on the judicious use of chemical farm inputs and enhance their knowledge and management skills in farming. It was developed by the HADP in response to the cyanide scare or "green tide."

The success of the HADP IPM-FFS was acknowledged by the national government. The DA soon included it as a major component in the nation IPM Program also known as Kasaganahan ng Sakahan at Kalikasan (KASAKALIKASAN) that was implemented in the production of rice, corn and other crop commodities.

Several local and foreign-supported studies also confirmed the effectiveness of the approach in providing practical and technical solutions on pests and improved crop production management, monitoring and studying emerging problems, formulating solutions, and discussing and agreeing on community solutions. As a participatory farm school, its curriculum did not only focus on farm problems but allowed discussions on a host of priority concerns affecting the community.

For the record, the studies on the implementation of the IPM-FFS approach showed that it also contributed to the net income of farmers. Trained farmers no longer overused chemical inputs. They produced safe and good quality food. Some moved on to become organic food producers and scorned the effects of chemical inputs to the environment and human health.

When the HADP was terminated in 1993, its follow-up special project known as the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resources Management (CHARM) Project expanded the implementation of the IPM-FFS in its coverage areas. It developed and expanded the IPM-FFS curriculum on banana, swine and range chicken. Later, the National Nutrition Council (NNC-CAR) saw its practical benefits in addressing the nutrition problem of Cordillerans, especially in the interior. The CHARM Project supported the development of an FFS curriculum on nutrition and jointly implemented the same with the NNC-CAR.

Towards the end of the CHARM Project, an FFS curriculum on agro-forestry was developed and successfully tested with citrus growers in Mountain Province. This time around, under the project's second phase (CHARM2), the curriculum was revisited and will be fully supported under the project's component on community watershed conservation, forest management and agroforestry.

Mr. Bal Claver, component coordinator, said the CHARM2 will support the implementation of the FFS agroforestry curriculum in the project's coverage areas (six provinces, 37 municipalities and 170 barangays) in the Cordillera.

Project support to agroforestry FFS shall consist of procurement of fruit tree seedlings, technical assistance from nursery establishment to the harvest of the tree's first fruits, Claver said.