As you read in the last post, the first “Big S” to confirm in 2017 is whether Farmers of the Future is successful. After 5 years of pilot testing we’re confident the answer is “yes!”
Farmers of the Future is a prime example of our philosophy of “enlightened trial and error.” We started with a powerful idea - to change the mindset of subsistence farmers and teach them to approach farming as a business. That objective has never changed, but almost every executional element to achieve it has.
Changing someone’s mind is no easy task. In fact, it’s about the hardest thing you can do. (Just watch a Democrat and Republican try to convince each other of their point of view.) And adult men are particularly set in their ways. That’s why we focus on women and children to create the change. We want women in the community to earn twice the average income in Niger and their children to see farming as a good source of income.
Initially, tree grafting was going to be the major source of income. But the demand for fruit trees turned out to be limited. So we shifted focus to vegetables. That required each woman to double the plot size she was tending which in turn required a whole new approach to irrigation.
Thanks to a grant from Rotary International we’ve created a showcase site which incorporates all these learnings. The Leadership Academy Garden started up last fall and initial results look promising.
The program for school children also went through major change. Our initial attempt was overly ambitious, requiring too much classroom time and too much teacher training. So we greatly simplified the program. Students learn by doing, working in the gardens under the supervision of FOF technicians. Additionally, guest speakers share personal stories of how farming transformed their lives. The program is working well and many students are dreaming of making big money through farming.
After 5 years of enlightened trial and error we’re confident we have a program that is practical and effective. But is it sustainable? That’s a question for our next post.