It is hard to believe that we are over halfway through the 5-year pilot phase for Farmers of the Future, where we are in the process of field testing the program, identifying implementation issues, making improvements, and confirming that the changes work. The first full year of field testing was completed in June 2013. Several executional problems were identified with the mini-farms where the children gain hands-on experience with the concepts they learn in the classroom. The children and teachers were primarily responsible for the work in the mini-farms, but they could only devote a small portion of the school week to farm activities. This created problems with coverage on weekends and school holidays, and the mini-farms were suffering as a result.
Based on these issues, and the concern that management would turn over every year or two to new students, we made an important change in strategy. Responsibility for farming activities has been turned over entirely to the mothers of the students. The mothers are able to devote a substantial portion of the day to the farm, and provide year-round continuity. All farm activities now have a clear dual purpose-- to provide a source of much needed income for the mothers and experiential learning for the students.
The implementation of the new strategy began at the start of the school year last October and has been a HUGE success! The vegetable gardens, tree nurseries, and animal enclosures are going extremely well. Even Dov Pasternak, who is a tough and discerning judge on these matters, had this to say after visiting the project sites: "The only word to describe what I saw is FANTASTIC." He has even said that these are some of the very best smallholder farm projects he has seen in his 13 years working in Africa!We are steadily raising awareness and support for Farmers of the Future as we prepare to expand the project to another dozen schools, with the ultimate goal of scaling up to the national level. In January, we invited lots of government officials, members of international organizations, and members of the Ministry of Education to see the latest results. Reactions were again overwhelmingly positive. We even heard that the word most frequently used was the same one Dov used: FANTASTIC! We also got a great deal of media coverage, which is truly valuable to helping the project expand.
Now that the farm component of the program is running smoothly, we expect to garner even more support for FOF. John and Helen will be in Niger for the first week of March, and they will get to see these improvements first-hand, as well as meet with more government officials and potential funders of the expansion. We will have lots of news when they return from that trip, so you'll definitely want to keep your eye on the blog!