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 Introduction

ggp20 studycircles 1

The overall purpose of farmer study circles (FSCs) is to create learning, capacity, and empowerment among small-scale farmers. FSCs are part of a multitude of approaches to agricultural extension for groups of farmers that are based on adult learning principles. Such approaches are self-directed/autonomour, based on existing knowledge and life experiences, goal-oriented, relevant, practical, and collaborative.

Philosophy and principles

FSCs are developed from the general concept of study circles (Box 1). The first study circles were founded in Sweden in 1912, and the approach has been applied worldwide, for example in the US Everyday Democracy movement, the Australian Study Circles Network, Bangladesh, study circles on HIV/AIDS for Swazi women (1)

Oliver, L.P. 1996. Study circles on HIV/AIDS for Africa: Swazi women gain a public voice. Adult Education and Development 47: 317–331.
, and Zimbabwean study circles on community-based human rights (2)
Gweshe, E., Argren, R. and Mawanza, S. 2002. Community based human rights study circles manual. Avondale, Zimbabwe: Human Rights Trust of Southern Africa.
. Study circle methods and principles are also applied in related group approaches, such as the discussion groups used in Ireland by Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority); experience-sharing groups (erfa groups) (3)
Erfa is an abbreviation of erfaring, the Danish word for experience
 used by the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service; and farmer field schools
Dhamankar, M. and Wongtschowski, M. 2014. Farmer Field Schools. Note 2. GFRAS Good Practice Notes for Extension and Advisory Services. Lindau, Switzerland: GFRAS.
.

The basic idea of FSCs is to promote democracy, skills development, education, and access to information through the establishment of small groups of small-scale farmers who come together to learn and improve their skills on topics of common interest. In this way, farmers can discover their ability to change their lives through common study and action.

Study Circles

A study circle is a small group of people with common interests who conduct voluntary studies on topics of their own choice. Together they are able to acquire new knowledge, and to scrutinise conditions and opportunities for developing their own society. Participants in a study circle learn from a combination of their peers’ experiences and the technical and factual information obtained through all of their studies. This involves interaction, to which all participants contribute.

The principles of FSCs are: 

  • equality and democracy 
  • experience sharing and cooperation 
  • freedom and the right to set one’s own objectives 
  • continuity, planning, and active participation 
  • use of study materials 
  • focus on action and change. 

Farmer study circles differ from most other group methods in promoting self-governed groups of farmers who study on their own, without external facilitation other than mobilisation and provision of materials.