Small-scale farmers in low- and middle-income countries are constrained by limited market access and value addition opportunities for their farm products. This is primarily due to their lack of sufficient business skills, the ineffective organization to which they belong to, and in the way they access accurate market information.
Farmer Business School (FBS) still, is a new idea picking up steam across developing countries for making agriculture a profitable enterprise. Farmer Business School Approach has been developed by the International Potato Centre to address these challenges. FBS is an systematic approach to village-in-development which aims to strengthen the entrepreneurial mindset and skills of farmers and accompany them in establishing profitable micro-enterprises.
FBS approach has become integral to farmer capacity development initiative across Asia. FBS approach has been adopted by national development programs, supported by investments from International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in four Asian countries: India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
How Farmer Business School Works
In FBSs, small groups of 25 to 30 farmers, usually women, learn about each other and how to work in a team. Conduct a series of learning activities which are guided by one or more trained facilitators. Collective actions, exponential leaning are central elements of the approach.
Farmers visits markets, learn about opportunities for new products, and other useful innovations. They meet traders, extensionists, suppliers, and support service providers. The group writes a business plan and develops innovative products or marketing techniques, which they launch at publicized events for potential customers and supporters. Upon completing the FBS learning process, participant farmers will have initiated or strengthened an actual enterprise.
Exponential Growth of FBSs, Across Asia
FBSs, developed by Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) Research Program (CRP) on Root, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB), have been implemented across Southeast and South Asia, starting in Indonesia, expanding to Latin America.
After the success of FBSs, in Indonesia, IFAD invested in International Potato Center’s (CIP) FoodSTART project to promote FBSs, elsewhere in Asia to create livelihood opportunities for farmers. In the first phase of FoodSTART CIP partnered with the second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project in the Philippines.
In the second phase of FoodSTART (called Food START+, funded by IFAD and the European Union), the FBS approach was incorporated into IFAD projects throughout the region: the Integrated Natural Resource and Environment Management Project and the Fisheries, Coastal Resources and Livelihood project in the Philippines; the Meghalaya Livelihood and Access to Market Project in India; the Sustainable Rural Development for Poor project in Vietnam; and the Smallholder Livelihood Development project in Indonesia
As of today, almost 4,000 farmers, the vast majority women, have graduate from FBS and created over 140 small enterprises in Asia only. FBS participation has has been shown to improve the organization of farmer groups, enhance business skills at individual and group level, contribute to linkages to local markets, and ultimately promote gender equity, food security and income opportunities connected to improved production and processing techniques.