Ms Asmogn Gashu, 50-year-old mother of seven, is a lead farmer engaged in tomato production in Gug kebele, North Achefer. She explains that joining the Farmer Field School (FFS) scheme has opened up a whole new world: “Earlier I was staying at home. Now I am out and I meet different people and am learning from different experiences. Also, I am becoming more assertive in my communication and my ideas.”
Smallholder farmers in Gug currently produce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – but this was not always the case. When young agricultural extension agent Ms Birtukan Azanaw arrived on the scene a year ago, most farmers were engaged in cereal production, despite having favourable access to irrigation.
Thanks to the recently introduced FFS, farmers have been convinced of the benefits of horticulture and have adopted improved farming practices.
Currently most extension agents are men. As one of only six women facilitators in the FFS scheme, Birtukan plays an important role as coach and mentor to the farmers in her kebele – especially women.
Asmogn credits her increased confidence to Birtukan’s mentorship. Indeed, the women in Birtukan’s FFS group see her not only as a coach – but as a friend too. Ms Netsanet Ayele, a 26-year-old farmer engaged in onion growing, appreciates the fellowship and advice provided by a woman facilitator; “Birtukan is a young woman like me, I am not afraid of her. I feel comfortable to ask her anything.”
Keen to nurture these relationships, Birtukan highlights: “Women tend to listen more carefully to the advice of extension service providers like myself, so they are good at implementing what they learn. Men tend to be more sceptical, preferring to work according to their habits, rather than adopting new skills and practices.”
Birtukan has had to find ways of working around the women’s busy schedules and multiple roles as farmers, care-givers and home-makers. One way she has managed to do this is by assisting her mentees with time management: “I convince them that tending to their FFS plots and actively participating in bi-monthly meetings is an important activity. I list out the activities they are doing, then what should be done today and what can be reserved for tomorrow.”
The women appreciate Birtukan’s participatory and hands-on approach: “Birtukan is teaching by doing. When I plant, she also plants – leading by example, and working side by side with us farmers”, says Asmogn.
AgroBIG, in partnership with Horti-LIFE/SNV, supports 60 FFFs in in four districts to improve the quality and productivity of selected vegetables. In each FFS group, lead farmers manage one learning plot each. 240 lead farmers are participating this season – 60 of which are women.