What Works: Educating the Farmers of Tomorrow

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By Mara Schechter

Roughly 70 percent of Africans are under the age of 30. Unfortunately, young people in Africa are choosing not to be farmers. Farming is labor intensive and many small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa struggle to make a living. And often young people look down on farming or view it as a punishment, rather than something they choose to do. But across the continent, many innovative projects are working to reverse this trend by teaching younger generations how they can improve their livelihoods, preserve their culture, and repair damage to the environment through farming.

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DISC is helping students at 31 schools grow local crops in school gardens. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In Uganda, for example, Edward Mukiibi and Roger Sserunjogi began Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) to reignite a taste for traditional African vegetables among school children. Now, partly funded by Slow Food International and a participant in the 1,000 Gardens in Africa program, DISC is helping students at 31 schools grow local crops in school gardens.

At DISC schools, students also learn how to cook traditional foods with primarily indigenous crops, such as amaranth, African eggplant, and traditional varieties of maize. Students also learn how to dry seeds to store them for later seasons. Through the program, students’ eating habits and ideas about farming change as they come to appreciate indigenous vegetables and the sense of identity and security they gain from the practical skills they learn. And students bring this change of attitude back home and into their communities, starting community gardens and introducing their families to local foods and new farming techniques.

In Rwanda, the organization CARE International’s Farmers of the Future Initiative (FOFI) funded 27 pilot schools to start school gardens. After one year, the pilot schools used half of the profits from their gardens to reinvest in their agriculture programs, while putting the other half towards helping other  schools to start their own gardens. By the end of the three-year project, 28 satellite schools had started their own gardens.

In Niger, the similarly named Farmers of the Future (FOF) program educates young people about how to transition from subsistence farming to market-oriented farming. FOF is a collaboration between the organizations Pencils for Kids, which builds schools and provides school supplies in Niger;  Eliminate Poverty Now, which invests in education and economic development; and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). FOF’s Trees for Kids program trained children from six villages to graft fruit trees to breed more nutritious and productive plants. The children are now able to earn an income by providing grafting services and training to other farmers in nearby villages.

These are just a few of the initiatives that are helping to cultivate a new generation of farmers who are using agriculture to improve their livelihoods and diets. Do you know about any other innovative projects that are helping to educate young people? Tell Nourishing the Planet what works and have your answers featured on the blog. Email Danielle Nierenberg at Dnierenberg@Worldwatch.org or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg.

Mara Schechter is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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