Farmer knowledge

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What is farmer knowledge?

    The Case Studies in medic development in the WANA region show us that farmer knowledge has been a vital ingredient for success.

It has not been the only ingredient but the success of the Libyan development at Jebel al Akdhar and Jefara Plains, the initial success of the Iraqi projects at Erbil and Mosul as well as the establishment of medic in Morocco can in part be attributed to the employment of expert farmers to advise and carry out practical tasks.




Medic establishment

Seedbed preparation.
Sowing method.
Fertiliser application.
Broadcasting pods.

Cultivar selection.
Seeding rate.
Seed quality.
Seeding depth.
Fertiliser rate.

Grazing management

Daily program for sheep flock.
Pod counts in summer.
Hay production.

Principles of seed reserves.
Principles of weed control.

Cereal crop.

Seedbed preparation.
Seeding method.
Shallow cultivation.
Fertiliser placement.
Herbicide application method.

Cultivar selection.
Fertiliser type.
Fertiliser rate.
Herbicide type and rate.


Medic pod harvesting.
Pod storage.
Modification of cereal harvester.

    The above table shows how each section of farming requires both farmer knowledge and technical expertise.

Unfortunately in the past more emphasis was given to the technical factors and farmers were expected to muddle through without any detailed training or advice on practical techniques.

The exceptions were Libya, Iraq and Morocco where Australian farmers were employed to advise and train local farmers in practical techniques.

The most striking contrast is between Libya and Algeria.

In Libya shallow cultivation implements were imported and Australian farmers were employed to demonstrate them and train local farmers. The program was a great success.

In Algeria the implements were imported but without a demonstration and training program they failed to have any impact.

    The use of Australian farmers is unlikely because development funds are now more limited and governments are reluctant to spend their resources on farmers who do not have any formal qualifications only practical skills.

Also the medic system in WANA has developed beyond Australian ideas and there are a number of areas where Australian farmers lack experience.

Farm improvement groups

    These can be used as the basis of upgrading practical farming knowledge.

Farm improvement groups can be formed with 50 to 200 farmer members with similar farming systems but with a range of farm sizes. Usually they are based around a village or town.

The Farm Improvement Groups need to have a clear charter.

They should be concerned with agricultural technology, farmer knowledge and farm development.

Other groups such as Machinery Groups, Buying Groups, or Marketing Groups may be formed by farmer who meet at the Farm Improvement Group meetings but they should be kept quite separate.

If the objectives of the group become confused it will be more difficult to retain a wide membership.

The Farm Improvement Groups should also avoid political lobbying.

This is best left to the Farmers' Associations.

The Farm Improvement Groups must have a close relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture and its agencies.

This can be difficult if the groups are also lobbying the Minister in favour or against policies being proposed by the Ministry.

The Farm Improvement Groups should be formed in the usual manner for an association. The group should elect a president, secretary and committee. Members should pay a nominal fee and the secretary should receive a fee and expenses for letters and phone calls.

Farm improvement groups in action

    The Farm Improvement Groups act as means of group extension for the Ministry of Agriculture. Extension advisers can organise field days and meetings with groups to discuss farm development.

This is a two way process of farmer participation.

District advisers can approach groups to provide a platform for an extension message and in reverse groups can approach the Ministry to provide information on topics that are important to them.

The groups can also provide an information resource (hence the need to pay the secretary) by developing a small library of extension material (usually housed with the secretary).

If internet access is available this will provide a greater range of material.

Most of this material will come from the Ministry but some from other sources such as Farmer Consumer Groups. As I have stated elsewhere this will need to be paid for. The Ministry should provide vouchers for each group to pay for technical information.

The Farm Improvement Groups can develop their own advisory service for Farmer Knowledge.

The group should select particular farmers with a good knowledge of a subject and encourage them to participate in a short training courses (and refresher courses).

These farmers would then become local Expert Farmers.

They would adviser other farmers in the group or perhaps neighbouring farmers. They would need to be paid.

The Ministry could provide farmers with vouchers that can be used to pay all or part of the fees paid to Expert Farmers.

The Expert Farmers would pass their knowledge on to members of the Farm Improvement Group by means of a short demonstration followed by individual farm visits.

    Some suggested areas for Expert Farmers.

    Shallow cultivation.

    Farmers would attend a short course of perhaps two or three days including hands on tractor driving.

Farmers would be trained in selecting suitable implements for shallow cultivation.

The use of the implements - scarifier, harrows and seeder.

Types of tines.

Points for different soil types.

Depth control wheels and depth gauges.

The use of the seeder.

Placement of fertiliser.

The types of fertiliser that can be placed near the seed.

    Medic pod harvesting and broadcasting.

    This would require a summer training period for the use of the pod harvester and a winter one for broadcasting.

    Grazing management.

    The grazing management course would require a day session three or four times in the year.

The deferred grazing in autumn, the winter grazing of medic and feeding straw at night and the spring grazing and the counting of pods in summer.


    Vaccination of livestock is a most cost effective means of improved animal health.

The vaccinations can be carried out by farmers with a little training.

For many farmers it is more convenient to employ a Expert Farmers from the Farm Improvement Group.

    Herbicide application.

    Herbicides can be a useful additional tool in weed management. Often farmers lack training in the use of sprayers, the amount of water to be used and means of calibration.

    Soil testing.

    Soil testing particularly for phosphate can be a useful means of smart farming. Farmers can carry out the sampling of the fields and collection of the samples for dispatch to a laboratory.

    Use of the stripper.

    The stripper is a simple harvester to use but still requires some expert demonstration.

More advanced Expert Farmers

    Modification of the cereal harvester.

    The cereal harvesters have a low level of efficiency with low yielding crops and need modification before adjustment. Expert Farmers could undertake courses in this task.

    Leaf testing.

    Leaf testing with a NIR meter can be a useful means of determining the nitrogen status of crops. Expert Farmers could carry out this task and would need to invest in the NIR meters.

    Herbicide advice.

    Smart application of herbicides often requires the counting and identifying of weed densities.

Expert Farmers could carry out this task and calculate from charts the cost benefits for the farmer. Alternatively they could telephone the figures through to the District Adviser from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Small farmers costs and benefits

    All farmers will benefit from the development of farming knowledge through the use of Expert Farmers.

Small farmers have particular difficulties because knowledge comes in chunks.

The expertise to vaccinate sheep is the same whether you have 10 sheep or 200 sheep.

The Farm Improvement Groups provide small farmers with a convenient and low cost source of this expertise and an opportunity to sell their own surplus expertise.

Small farmers can become Expert Farmers and sell their expertise to other small and large farmers.

It is important to develop a system of vouchers to help small farmers pay for these services.