Dairy farmers in Montenegro take ownership of local development
24 November 2023
The Farmer Field School approach is a field-based participatory education initiative in which a group of farmers meet regularly to study a particular subject.
Agriculture plays a central role in Montenegro’s economy, with livestock breeding being the most important agriculture subsector. Now, farmers are learning how to take ownership of their local farm development by applying the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The FAO project, helping livestock keepers in improving farm management, hygienic standards and farming practices that established introduced the FFS approach in the country is about to conclude; another will follow in early 2024 to harness the potential of peer learning among Montenegro’s livestock farmers.
The Farmer Field School approach is a field-based participatory education initiative in which a group of farmers meet regularly to study a particular subject. The approach follows the natural cycle of the topic covered, for example, the reproductive cycle of cattle. When necessary, participants can seek external or expert advice. In Montenegro, Farmer Field Schools have now been established in three municipalities: Berane, Bijelo Polje, and Pljevlja.
“FAO has been promoting Farmer Field Schools for over 30 years in more than 90 countries, but this is the first time that the method has been introduced in the Western Balkans on livestock,” explained Tibor Szucs, FAO livestock production specialist. “There are no classroom lectures in this approach, instead farmers learn from each other and by doing and experimenting with the problems encountered in the barn.”
Agricultural producers are among the most vulnerable groups in Montenegro of risk of poverty. The insufficient application of good agricultural practices and a lack of knowledge are among the challenges that hamper farmers’ economic growth and their livelihoods.
Specifically, cattle farmers in Montenegro require adequate support to improve farming conditions, adopt adequate technologies for milk hygiene and storage, and upgrade the feeding of livestock. Furthermore, animal health problems, especially production diseases, can hamper the sector’s long-term competitiveness and sustainability. These issues were the focus of discussion by the farmers.
The work in the farmer groups started with ranking the problems, followed by experimenting with potential solutions. Monitoring the outcomes and evaluating the results are key, allowing farmers not only to define what is the most pressing issue for them, but also to decide on what they are willing to change in their farm management practices. The meetings’ facilitators have been previously trained by FAO, including also master trainers, who can pass on their knowledge to future facilitators, ensuring the sustainability and continuity of the intervention, independent of FAO’s technical support.
Building on the already established structures, the new FAO project intends to involve more communities and farmer groups in the three municipalities, as well to reach out to new municipalities. The goal is to help more livestock farmers to address their biggest challenges and assist them to take control of their livelihoods and their futures. Given the geographical and linguistic similarities shared by the peoples of the Western Balkans region, the achievements of the Farmer Field School project in Montenegro can be easily transferred to other nearby countries in the future.