Every year, on 24th of January, the world will celebrate the International Day of Education, a day that the UN General Assembly dedicated to acknowledge education and its role in promoting peace and sustainable development (UNESCO, 2019). Great education is people-centered (Guo & Zhang, 2009), seeks to improve the quality of life at the personal, as well as community level. It helps individuals to build their talents, and helps societies to overcome challenges that relate to poverty, health and wellness, gender inequalities, and other types of discrimination.
The world’s population is growing rather fast, and with it immense strain on resources, which has resulted in environmental degradation, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity. Unsustainable farming methods around the world have particularly contributed to environmental problems. Soil erosion, decrease in pollinators, pesticide residues in water and food are just some examples. Food production concepts that degrade soils, harm, or kill beneficial insects such as pollinators and decrease biodiversity are a threat to food security, especially in Kenya, where the food system is vulnerable already anyway. In Kenya 75% of the food production comes from small scale farmers in rural areas. The question is: How many of the small scale farmers are actually trained in sustainable farming techniques? It is mainly the government’s responsibility but also the responsibility of universities, colleges, training centers and NGOs, to provide continuous, high quality training to make sure that our food is safe and free of pesticide residues, that the environment is not harmed and most importantly that the soil is taken care of for future generations to be able to farm on.
Youth & Agriculture
It is said that the youth are the future of food security, but the majority of youth from around the world do not have a positive attitude towards agriculture. The average age of the farmer across the world is increasing, even in countries where majority of the population are youth. Moreover, the world population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, where the youth aged 15-24 will comprise approximately 14% of the population (UNDESA, 2011). Despite the youth growing in huge numbers in many countries especially in developing countries, there is a dire shortage of job opportunities and the capital to invest in entrepreneurship, mostly with regard to rural youth. It is possible that by 2050, the majority of rural youth in developing countries will still be living in the rural areas, still facing challenges related to unemployment and poverty. Investment and education in sustainable rural agriculture has immense potential to change this narrative, and to transform many out of poverty in the rural areas by creating healthy and fertile environments, farmable for the next generations.
Training in sustainable farming techniques
Exposing young people in rural areas to relevant knowledge and information on sustainable agriculture means they are able to overcome the challenges they go through. In fact, it empowers them to being able to shape policy. For a long time, agricultural education in many developing countries such as Kenya has not been very popular, particularly at primary and secondary level, with many schools using agricultural activities as punishments to students. Moreover, it is seen as a weak subject, that should be studied as the last resort, or to be studied by students who do not perform very well (MIJARC/IFAD/FAO, 2012). Further, agriculture education’s curriculum in Kenya like in many developing countries is not very effective for training as it does not expose students to the needs of the ever changing global agricultural sector. Sustainable agricultural techniques like organic farming are sometimes included in the curriculum but agro-ecology as a whole sustainable farming and living system is completely excluded. For this reason, students who finish their trainings even at tertiary level do not have competitive skills in the farming sector and are not able to apply agro-ecological principles to assure a healthy long-living farming system.
The institutions offering organic farming in Kenya are:
|JKUAT||Diploma in Organic Agriculture|
|Kenya Institute of Organic Farming||Diplomas: in Organic crop protection, Organic Certification and Marketing, crop production, organic soil fertility maintenance
Certificates: in organic gardening, organic crop production, organic soil fertility maintenance, organic pest maintenance,
|Maasai Mara University||Diploma in Organic Agriculture|
|Chepkoilel University College||Diploma in Organic Agriculture|
|Narok University College||Diploma in Organic Agriculture|
|Moi University||Diploma in Organic Agriculture|
Agroecology is an integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. It seeks to optimize the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.
Students who are trained in these facilities end up working in various capacities. Some students end up working as extension officers who provide consultancy services to farmers in rural areas. However, provision of extension services to farmers in Kenya from the government does not work as it used to several years back. Extension services were a well-coordinated program by the government of Kenya from 1960s until the1980s where the decline started (Nambiro, Omiti, & Mugunieri, 2006). Nowadays, other stakeholders such as CBOs, NGOs, and private companies also provide extension to farmers. Research done in Kenya showed that farmers had more confidence in government extension workers, since they are available at no cost (Nambiro, Omiti, & Mugunieri, 2006). However, these extension officers face many challenges. As a result of poor planning and coordination, government extension officers often lack of facilitation for transport, and they are overworked due to having too many site visits (Muyanga, & Jayne, 2006). Farmers that are closest to these extension workers are those who benefit the most. Moreover, extension officers often lack adequate training in agro-ecological farming techniques, and so they promote conventional farming methods.
Besides institutions of higher education, farmer field schools are the most effective methods of introducing regenerative agriculture in Kenya. The older method that involves top-down extension services is useful to some extent, but not as efficient as farmer field schools, as mentioned above. The latter involves a group of farmers and a trainer who is an expert in agriculture. This group meets several times every growing season to learn about best practices (Braun & Duveskog, 2011). This method is best for practical learning because it allows for exchange of knowledge on a wider platform. Conventional practices that are not friendly to environment are replaced with those that are more sustainable or even regenerative.
Training in Urban Farming
Not only rural areas need better education in sustainable agriculture. Urban farming is increasingly becoming a critical issue. People living in urban areas depend on food that is brought from the rural areas. Depending on the setting of the urban area, the quality of food varies. Usually, vegetables such as kale, one of the highest consumed in Kenya, are transported using trucks, which expose them to contamination. Low income urban dwellers in Kenya suffer more than their rural counterparts in terms of malnutrition (Watson & Mausch, 2020). For instance, 50% of children who live in low income urban areas are malnourished (Kimani-Murage et al., 2015) compared to the average of 25% nationally. For such people growing vegetables is absolutely necessary to ensure food variety. Urban dwellers with little gardens, lawns, and balconies should also be educated on how to grow their own food, as this ensures food of high quality and variety. Hamana is an example of organizations that are at the forefront of training on agroecological farming techniques. It offers trainings on urban organic farming, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and other techniques for sustainable urban food production.
Regenerative agriculture is a method that focuses on improvement and rehabilitation of food systems. Its principles include: increasing biodiversity, improving the health of soils, improving water conservation, and putting carbon back into the soil
Take Home Message
In conclusion, education is a right to every human in the world. Agricultural knowledge is particularly important since agriculture is the backbone of Kenya.
- Kenyan schools, colleges and universities need to invest in a curriculum that is efficient in training the youth in agriculture that is transformative. The focus should in particular be on agroecology, to ensure healthy soil and thriving farming systems for future generations.
- Government needs to invest in better and more efficient training of farmers in rural areas, including the training of agroecological principles.
- Additionally, more farmer field schools should be established with a common philosophy about agroecology.
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