While smallholder farmers play an increasingly important role in world tea production many in Uganda struggle to make a decent living from tea.

Evaluations from Kenya have shown that one of the best ways to help tea-farming communities is through using Farmer Field Schools (FFS). FFSs have been used in Kenya for years and now support around 600,000 smallholder farmers that supply 65 Kenya Tea Development Agency factories. FFSs allow practical skills and knowledge on good practice farming to be disseminated to farming communities at scale. Ultimately these schools help farmers improve both the quality and size of their yields.

As part of a partnership with IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative and Tata Global Beverages we’re setting up FFSs in Uganda to help improve farming practices, quality, productivity, and farmer livelihoods.

Having built local resource in Uganda last year on the Kenyan FFS methodology, we are now trialling it with one Ugandan smallholder group. The initial aim is to set up four schools consisting of 20 committed farmers - all with a common interest and goal to work collectively. Together they’ll share experiences, practices, technologies, and costs and gains.

FarmeMeeting with Kayanja smallholder farmersrs have been selected from four different ‘buying centres’ (also known as ‘leaf collection centres’) and they have had their first set of meetings during which they decided on the priority topics for training. These include training on plucking intervals, pruning the bushes, the growing and management of young tea plants, identification of the soil that is most suitable for tea farming, and composting and fertiliser application. The next step is for the groups to develop demonstration plots on a number of their farms and to learn how to put certain techniques into practice.

We are still in the early stages of the programme but we are very heartened by the group’s management taking the initiative to mobilise the farmers through a local radio broadcast. It set things off to a good start as it had the desired effect of boosting attendance rates during the second round of meetings.

As Francis Namara, our local trainer puts it: “I feel we’re progressing well. We have found farmers who are keen to learn and willing to invest their time in attending the sessions. I’m hopeful that the FFSs will make a difference to their lives by showing them how to grow their tea in a way that gives them more profit.”