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Abstract

The growth of the agricultural sector in Trinidad and Tobago can be considered to be slow relative to other sectors. There is, however, great potential in the agriculture sector to generate more public attention and investment. While the relative contribution of this sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) is merely 2.5 to 3%, it employs approximately 10% of the country's labour force. Thus, agriculture continues to play an important role a s a result of its economic and social impact (GORTT/PPAB 2000). Crop production alone accounts for 64% of the agricultural GDP, with livestock, forestry and fisheries contributing approximately 22%, 5%, and 10% respectively (GORTT/PPAB 2000). Crop production continues to take a prominent position in highlighting agricultural issues and play a major role in the food security of the nation. Recent developments in the Information and Communication Technology have helped raise consumer awareness and demand for safer produce as well as good cosmetic appeal and presentation. Global and regional free trade agreements together with stringent international standards have started to put pressure on farmers to produce high quality commodities for export in a very competitive environment. Farmers, however, are unprepared to meet this challenge. They have not gained the technological skills necessary to grapple with the difficult task of producing crops in an environment fraught with problems ranging from high input costs to unfavourable weather conditions and marketing of produce. Pest management continues to be one of the most limiting factors to vegetable production in Trinidad & Tobago. Surveys conducted in 1995/96 revealed that pest control is also the single largest expense, accounting for 30 to 40% of total crop production costs (Lopez et al., 1995/1996). Surveys on management practices revealed a tendency among farmers to apply cocktails in vegetables or use pesticides according to a planned calendar without the understanding of the agro-ecological requirements of the crop (Ramroop et al., 2000). Pest management continues to rely heavily on chemical control methods alone, with negative implications to the consumer, the environment and the farmer's health (Lopez et al., 2004). The situation is now slowly changing due to the introduction of farmer participatory learning. There is evidently the need for safer approaches to crop production. The recent successes in the management of the Hibiscus Mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus) and The Citrus Blackfly (Aleurocanthus woglumi) using biological control have proven that alternatives to pesticide use exist and need to be explored and exploited. The problem now lies in the transfer of both existing and new technologies to farmers to ensure development of their knowledge base, leading to sustainable agricultural production. Extension Services of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resource (MILER) have a range of objectives, including satisfying the needs of the market, reducing pesticide uses, increasing the knowledge for alternatives in pest management and increasing farmers' income. Both private and governmental extension entities in Trinidad & Tobago have traditionally used top-down approaches towards their clients, where the needs of the farmers are not really considered and the technology is transferred without the farmers understanding or being part of the decision-making process. Current extension methods include result demonstrations, farmer visits, workshops, seminars, printed information, media and telephone assistance. Thus, the dissemination of research-generated information using top-down methods combined with a low extension officer to farmer ratio has rendered extension services relatively ineffective in changing farmers' attitude and approaches. There is clearly a need for a more effective mode of extension, which would allow the farmer to embrace the technology to be transferred. This is especially apparent with the agricultural community recognizing the need to implement safer alternatives for chemical control and sustainable pest management approaches. There is a strong cadre of research that highlights the disadvantages of the top-down approach for transfer of technology to farmers (Teer Weel, 1999). The dissemination of Integrated Pest Management technologies proves to be more effective by the process of discovery learning in which farmers and other stakeholders are involved collaboratively. In addition, blanket recommendations developed for single pest scenarios in research stations often do not apply to farmers' plots, which involve pest complexes and a range of ecological factors. Social, economic and cultural factors are also often ignored, as traditional methods are less likely to allow for extended interaction or techniques in gathering information. Farmer Participatory (FP) approaches are intended to empower farmers to make informed decisions that would be more specific to the agro-ecological environment in their own fields. It generally takes more time than traditional methods and involves a team of interested, dedicated and committed stakeholders working with farmers. During the training, farmers learn to collect, analyse and interpret data, which is then used to make decisions, based on their findings and group discussions. In other words it encourages the process of 'learning by doing'. As farmers are more involved from the beginning to the end of the extension and research process, they feel a sense of ownership and are more encouraged to embrace new technologies, and better understand systems surrounding the crops. At the same time, extensionists and researchers are more informed of the farmers needs and intellectual level, hence research is more farmer driven. FP approaches focus on facilitation as a main mode of action where the information flow is both ways: extension staff learns from farmers and vice-versa. Facilitators provide the forum for farmers to absorb information via group discussions, field data collection, analyses, experimentation and forms of non-formal education. FP tools vary and are important for effective training and learning. They encourage facilitators to: speak the farmers language, use open-ended question, use visualization, design practicals that are related to present issues and to ask the right questions to encourage farmers to deduce the answers to their own questions. The Farmer Field School (FFS) is a major farmer participatory strategy used to implement discovery-learning based IPM extension programmes. The training is done in the field and often lasts for the life of a crop. Extension officers conduct the sessions and 2 to 3 facilitators train about 20 to 30 farmers. The four major principles of FFS training are, grow a healthy crop, observe fields weekly, conserve natural enemies and farmers become experts in their own field. Following FFSs, farmers can chose to have FP Research, which is geared to and instigated by the farmer. Traditionally, farmers are limited to on-farm trials where they have little in put into the planning. FP, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is also not restricted to certain crops or production systems. As a result, it is having a significant impact on plant protection practices in Trinidad and the MALMR is establishing national IPM programmes based on participatory IPM. This is seen as the way forward to consolidate the gains of intensified production and to make production more sustainable and environmentally sound and cost effective. Presently, in Trinidad FPA programmes have been tried and proven successful, especially with IPM. As a result of this programme, pesticide use by trained farmers was reduced to zero or near zero. While most farmers were trained in IPM on vegetables that began practising IPM in the other crops, for example, watermelon, ginger, beans etc. With the EC-CARIFORUM, Caribbean Agriculture and Fisheries Programme an IPM Project was developed in 2002, focussing on the Farmer Field School model and using two crops: cabbage and tomato. Trinidad & Tobago participated in the project, funded by the European Union and technical backstopping by CAB International. On vegetables, the programme started with the training of a cadre of local staff to become "Master Trainers" (MT). Further staff was trained in the Training of Trainers (ToT) segment, where these trainers would conduct FP activities with farmers. Participants grew crops from seed to seed. Ultimately there are now reports of a significant reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides and an increase in the knowledge and decision-making capacity of the farmers. Farmers also experiment with low cost materials such as botanicals as alternatives to traditional insecticides. The preliminary impact assessments studies reveal substantial reductions in pesticide use, equal or higher yields and significant increases in farmer's profits. The trials during the ToT formed the working background in training the participants in participatory methods and decision-making processes based on ecological observations (Agro ecosystem analysis or AESA). Analyses for data lead participants to recommend IPM practices for crop management. The emphasis was on reducing pesticide use, discovering alternatives, e.g., biological agents, and employing cultural practices thereby generally producing safer foods. Additionally, the programme was aimed at developing the human resources needed to help farmers learn about IPM and implement it in their production fields. Different types of evaluations were done in participatory fashion and all geared to assess the participant's level of understanding and their satisfaction towards various aspects of the training. The evaluations took various forms: written/spoken, public/private, open-ended/closed, group/individual. The daily activities in the ToT were guided by a planned weekly schedule, which followed standard times such that all field activities were undertaken in the morning, e.g., crop observation, data collection and monitoring or AESA and fieldwork. The fieldwork requirements were dictated by the result of the AESA.

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