Future Young Farmers is an agriculture and financial literacy program that is spearheaded by the Beverly School of Kenya (BSK). BSK was founded in 2011 to provide a holistic and meaningful education to young people that come from underprivileged backgrounds. Sande Olocho, the program coordinator, spoke with Food Tank about how the program equips youth with the financial, agribusiness, and social skills to teach back to their community, pursue their own agribusiness ventures, or go on to higher education to achieve expert levels in various agriculture fields.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired the Future Young Farmers program?
The Future Young Farmers Program is part of a broad curriculum that is geared towards shaping a positive attitude in young people about agriculture and dissuade them from developing a liking for highly processed foods. The aim of the Future Young Farmers Program is two-fold; to spur an attitude shift towards agriculture and healthy diet, while at the same time equipping these young people with skills that they can transfer to their rural communities as a means of getting some income generation started to improve their family livelihoods. It is also envisaged that some of these young people could actually take up agribusiness pursuits as a source of generating revenue for themselves and their families.
FT: What skills are you trying to teach the students?
Apart from the hands-on and technical skills in the areas of animal and crop husbandry that the students are exposed to, the students’ cooperative skills are nurtured and so are business and marketing skills in addition to knowledge on healthy nutrition. We also encourage our students to come up with cost effective innovations that can improve agriculture production. In 2015, they presented some of these projects at the National Science Fair in Kenya and the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair (MSSEF) courtesy of a friend of the school.
FT: What activities do the students do on the farm?
The students are expected to prepare their own small pieces of land measuring a meter wide and a meter long, where they plant low maintenance crops and try out their learnt skills, innovations and experiments. The school does the larger portions of the farm and in some cases try out some of the student proposals or innovations. Something the students find very exciting as the crops are eventually weighed, evaluated and used in the school kitchen.
The other area that has proven exciting for the students is the tracking of the genealogy of the rabbits at the school numbering over one hundred currently. The rabbits have brought to life the lessons on genes, animal nutrition, breeding and animal health. Through the assistance of a Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteer, the students have come up with an organic rabbit feed using barley and molasses. The alternative feed is not only cheaper but has brought about faster maturation of the animals and impressive live weight.
FT: How can the lessons students learn from the program be applied once they graduate?
Once our students graduate, we expect them to utilize the knowledge and skills that they have acquired in school to teach members of their family and community back in the village, start their own agribusiness ventures, or become agriculture experts in various fields after their formal training at the college or university level. The program is designed such that; students who graduate from BSK and have gone through the BSK Future Young Farmers Program will have a positive attitude towords agriculture and be a good influence the other young men and women that they interact with.
FT: Why do you think it is important for younger people to be exposed to agriculture?
At BSK we are cognizant of the fact that the lackluster attitude of the youth towards agriculture is not only a challenge in Kenya, but is a global phenomenon. The biggest fear is that, with time, as the more productive senior members of the community diminish in number, agriculture production will suffer in the long run and so will food security and the health of the population around the world. Agricultural production in Africa has suffered because youth have been alienated from the endeavor even as the more mature population continues to shrink due to natural atrophy. The consequence has been urban migration and resorting to other social vices that end up being counter-productive to this youthful segment of the population. This happening when it common knowledge that agribusiness is a very lucrative economic pursuit. We therefore believe that a unified approach to this concern of youth participation in agriculture is the guaranteed means to turn the tide of dwindling agriculture fortunes and nutritional health in Africa; as has been the case in turning the tide of all the other global concerns as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).