Why targeting matters: a systematic review of farmer field schools targeting

Publication Details

Phillips, D, Waddington, H and White, H, 2015. Why targeting matters: examining the relationship between selection, participation and outcomes in farmer field school programmes, 3ie Systematic Review 11. London: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie)

Link to Source
Daniel Phillips, Hugh Waddington, Howard White
East Asia and Pacific (includes South East Asia), South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, All Low and Middle Income Countries
Agriculture and Rural Development, Education
Agricultural Reform, Agricultural Extension, Rural Livelihoods, System Reform & Capacity Building
Equity Focus
Gender, Poverty
Review Type
Other review


The review by Phillips and colleagues looks at how farmer field school (FFS) programmes are targeted towards certain populations and what affect this has on both participation in, and performance of, the programme.

Main findings

Headline Findings: a summary statement

Whilst some FFS programmes include an equity criteria, which targets the poorest and most disadvantaged farmers in the community (inclduing women), many FFS programmes include effectiveness criteria designed to target farmers with more resources, more education, and greater social agency in order to improve programme effectiveness. Programmes with effectiveness-related inclusion objectives typically meet their inclusion goals whilst programmes with equity-related objectives are more likely to fall short. The latter often happens because the programmes require a minimum level of economic and social capital to participate.

FFS programmes with more highly educated participants may be more effective in improving the adoption of practices (such as integrated pest management, IPM), increasing yields, and in successfully transferring that knowledge to other farmers outside of the programme. However, poor farmers receive a greater benefit from participating directly in the FFS programme than receiving the knowledge secondhand. 

Evidence Base

This review includes 92 studies from low- and middle-income countries including Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, and Uganda.

Implications for implementers

When designing FFS programmes, inclusion criteria and selection processes need to be carefully designed if equity is a concern. Criteria designed to improve the effectiveness of the program can often exclude the poorest farmes, women, and other disadvantaged groups from participating. Selection processes, such as community-based selction, that are designed to be open to all may in fact indirectly favor those with more social power.

Implications for policy and practice

Future research on farmer field schools should include more comprehensive reporting on the characteristics of FFS participants and the curriculum itself in order to facilitate analysis of barriers, facilitators and moderators. There is also a need for a greater number of studies to examine knowledge outcomes and whether FFS programmes empower farmers to develop life-long skills, as well as to explore how far outcomes occur among neighbouring farmers further along the causal chain.


Farmer field schools have been used as a way of tackling rural poverty since they were first implemented as a means of introducing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to Indonesia in 1989. Typically field schools aim to develop skills in problem solving through participatory learning, empower farmers and promote social cohesion through group activities, and promote sustainable farming techniques. Farmer field schools are currently one of the most common approaches to rural adult education and agricultural extension, and have reached an estimated 10–20 million people in over 90 countries. However, early adopters of innovative agricultural techniques are often better-off farmers who are more able and more likely to accept the risk that any new method implies. Diffusion of knowledge from early adopters (who take part in the field school) to later adopters (who do not) is often an explicit component of an FFS programme. The question many FFS programmes face is whether they should target the better-off farmers who are most able to innovate or if they should promote poverty reduction objectives and target the poor and priority groups such as women.

Research objectives

The objective of this review is to assess the targeting choices and performance of farmed field school programmes from around the world.


This research was based on the materials retrieved by 3ie’s systematic review of FFS programmes (Waddington et al. 2014). The original search for this review examined a range of different databases, including general social science databases and agriculture subject-specific databases such as AgEcon, CAB Abstracts, Social Science Citation Index (SSCI), International Bibliography of Social Science, EconLit, US National Agricultural Library, JOLIS, BLDS, IDEAS and the 3ie impact evaluation database. To ensure maximal coverage of unpublished literature, the search also included Google and Google Scholar, the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations Index to Theses, and the ProQuest dissertation database, adapting the search strategy for each database.

The 460 full texts identified by Waddington et al. (2014) were assessed for inclusion in the targeting analysis according to the following inclusion criteria: (i) must be a FFS programme implemented in a low- or middle-income country and  (ii) must report data relevant to targeting, such as targeting criteria and/or targeting mechanisms.

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