Another remarkable journey to Niger with the Farmers of the Future team, March 2014, Part ONE

From March 1st – March 9th, members of our Farmers of the Future team (FOF) met in Niger to explore options for expansion of our program and seek new partners and support. It was by all accounts a very successful trip. Our visiting team members included Professor Dov Pasternak, who created the FOF vision and leads the team,  John Craig and Helen Greenberg from Eliminate Poverty Now, Robin from Pencils for Kids, Sidi Mohamed, our FOF local General Manager and Hamani Djibo, President of LIBO, the ONG that manages the program on the ground. We are lucky to have such a great team of people who are focused on making things happen with the flexibility to change course quickly if deemed necessary.

We came to Niger this time with three main goals:

To find the funding and support to start a training school for technicians in horticulture in the country, because there is a huge lack of technicians in this specialty, and our FOF program cannot easily expand without more technical support;

To explore partnerships that would allow us to expand our FOF program from 4 schools to 15 schools; and

To simplify our FOF model to make it as cost effective and impactful as possible, so that it can eventually be scaled up across the country, while still accomplishing the goal of changing the mindset of two generations — from subsistence agriculture to market – oriented agriculture.

It was a large task and we left no stone unturned in our efforts to accomplish it all.  So began the most exhausting, yet satisfying week of our visits thus far.

Day 1, March 2nd, 2014

We went early this morning to see our 4 FOF sites, three that have been in operation for a couple years, and one that is just starting.

Our visit began at our newest addition, Ecole Centre, where a year ago there was a huge empty yard beside the school.  Rotary clubs from both Canada and the US have participated in an international Rotary Global grant that is supporting the development of this vegetable garden in addition to the tree nursery in Gonzare.  Today the Ecole Centre field has 20 women, all members of a newly created Women’s Association, who have planted vegetables, mostly cabbage and okra, in the large area. They were busy watering their plots,  and it was incredible to see dry desert land beginning to be transformed into suitable soil for planting.  Children at the school will use their practical activity time every day to join their mothers in the field and learn what they can.  In the class the message of income generating agriculture will be reinforced.  They will eventually see videos of successful farmers to further encourage them to see agriculture as a business and not merely a way to subsist.

E - Ecole Centre watering (768x1024) E - Ecole Centre women (1024x768)

Then we drove  to Gueriguinde, our first FOF location, that began a full pilot test in 2012. The women run the gardens and the tree nurseries as income generating businesses.  They were very proud of their accomplishments. They are now growing  “Mother plantations”, which are trees of many different varieties that will grow from 4-7 years, before we can use their “scions” or shoots to graft onto other plants in our tree nursery. We do this so we won’t need to continue buying scions from other places.  In this way the women will one day be totally self sufficient and the costs will be significantly reduced.

Children in Gueriguinde, as well as Galbal and Gonzare, learn theory from the teachers in the classroom in seven different subjects.  These include vegetable gardening, water, fruit tree nurseries, environment and economics.  Both teachers and mothers have received extensive training and this is the key to success.  Constant training and repetition will be critical to eventually change their mindset and teach them the skills they need to know.

Below is the women’s association in Gueriguinde with John, Helen and Robin, and a photo of one of the trees in the mother plantation.

Gueriguinde group with John, Helen and Robin (1024x768) Gueriguinde Mother plantation (768x1024) 

We then drove to Gonzare.  The energy and enthusiasm of the women was palpable.  A new tree nursery is underway, thanks to Rotary, in addition to the vegetable garden.  Women will keep 50% of the profits, and the remainder will be used for the project costs and for CGDES, (Comite de Gestion Décentralisé des Etablissement Scolaires) equivalent to our Parent Teacher Student Association.

G - Gonzare nursery (2) (1024x768) G - Gonzare sign for Rotary (1024x768) G- Gonzare (1024x768)

Finally we drove to Galbal, just five minutes from Gonzare, and the largest and most expansive area of all. It blew me away. The pictures we have received just don’t do this area justice. As far as the eye can see there are vegetables, and mother plantation trees, and some experiments with bananas as well. Dov said the princess of all crops is the Casava as it has highest starch content and is very nutritious. Everything looked amazing — from beautiful sweet peppers to a hearty and special variety of lettuce called Maya.

Galbal (2) (1024x768) Galbal (11) (1024x768) Galbal (12) (1024x768) Galbal (22) (1024x768)

This wonderful day ended with a discussion with the professional we hired last year to do the Monitoring and Evaluation report.  He had interviewed the mothers, teachers and children in the three sites.  His words were encouraging as the program seems to be on the right path on so many levels. He emphasized the need to continue to provide ongoing training for teachers and mothers, to build more capacity and to constantly find a way to repeat our message to both students and parents alike — AGRICULTURE CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS!

Stay tuned for Part TWO!



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