In the two decades between 1970 and 1990, school farms were major components of the academic curriculum. No students were exempted from practical agriculture. On the contrary, all students trooped to their farms on days designated for farming. The idea was to make agriculture an integral part of school culture. In that way, students would be better equipped to appreciate farm work sufficiently as to want to make it a lifestyle, even if they did not intend to specialize in it.
The Federal Government had at various times come up with programmes and policies aimed at entrenching this lifestyle in primary school pupils and secondary school students, but it appeared that somehow, the initiative did not go down well with the staff and students, as evidenced by the steady decline in the once popular school farming.
The National Education Research Council (NERC) also spearheaded setting up an Agricultural Science Curriculum to ensure acquisition of entrepreneurial work skills by students through prescribed activities and projects in Agricultural Science. The Council recommended that there should be teacher orientation in addition to training and re-training for effective delivery. Schools were to be provided with necessary logistics for successful implementation of the agricultural science curriculum. And school farms were to be seen as fields or laboratories for the training of basic education learners, with focus on skills development and self-reliance.
It is bad that school farms are no longer there and many schools lack the full complement of adequate infrastructure, which is probably why there is usually no space set aside for farming and cultivation. Over the years, the popularity of school farming dwindled and its benefits were lost on both educators and stakeholders. Presently, farming hardly plays a part in the setting of schools, and many proprietors do not bother to allocate land for this purpose.
Many reasons have been adduced to show why the decline did happen in the first place. Unlike in the past when schools had vast land to use, today’s schools occupy few plots of land and in some cases, half plots. The result is that many of them lack certain facilities and space which tend to rule out farming from the school curriculum. Today schools are not after the process but the product and this has made students depend on their parents after leaving school. To some extent, teachers’ poor remuneration also affects the practice. The economy is difficult for them to grapple with and so, most of them run after personal businesses.
In addition, many parents view farming as stressful, and most times, you hear them declaring ‘my children will not go through what I went through.’ Besides, government inspectors are not carrying out their duties anymore. The average school owner does not see farming translate into cash, so, there is no need to delve into it.
School farming is no longer popular because there is a generational gap between teachers engaged in school farming then and teachers of today. Teachers can only impact what they know, and since today’s teachers do not even have any practical knowledge of farming, how can they teach the students? Another factor is the great reduction in boarding schools. In the past, the management of many schools was based on the boarding system, and this encouraged both teachers and students to engage in school farms. We were told of that Tai Solarin’s school at some point produced what they eat in the school, but sadly, there are no such schools today.
Many schools today lack space to practice school farming to aid teaching and learning, let alone eating or selling from such school farms. Many schools in urban areas are situated on a few plots of land and their buildings are high-rise. Such schools don’t even have enough land space for other activities, school farming included.
Where there is enough land, for example in village schools, there is fear of cattle eating up the farm. This is a continuous fear that is not limited to school farming but a fear of every farmer in Nigeria today. Since most schools in the villages are not fenced, cattle straying into the school and eating up the produce has become a common occurrence. This is a huge discouragement to the few teachers who may want to do school farm. Challenging cattle herders may put the school in serious danger.
One other important factor is that schools find it difficult to convince parents to allow their children get involved in school farming. The glorification of other soft skills at the detriment of agricultural skills is filling up space and time that would have been allocated to farming in schools. These soft skills, like computer, coding, music, arts, dancing, sports and games, among others, have taken over periods that should be given for school farming.
Surprisingly, even in rural areas where school premises still sprawl across several acres of land, pupils are not engaging in farming as part of their study.
So, bringing back farming is going to be difficult because most students are not ready to go through any tedious process. They prefer fast methods like pressing and picking.
It is important however that both teachers and students understand that school farms are not only spaces for growing food items, but complete learning zones, as they are huge factors in facilitating learning. It is true that schools are abandoning farming practices because of inadequate infrastructure, encroachment on land by developers, use of land for non-agric-related projects, deforestation and insecurity, among others.
But stakeholders can bring school farming back by ensuring that schools seeking registration have adequate infrastructure, while land should not be used for non-agriculture related projects. Periods allocated to practicals should be returned to school timetables and enforced.
So many things have changed in the country’s education system and it is not something to look away from. Once our children’s education is not in the hands of private individuals, we just must accept whatever we are given, most especially in the primary and secondary schools, which are within the purview of state and local governments.
School farms enhance food production and can thrive in rural communities where land acquisition is not a problem. In places like Lagos and the other big cities, it won’t be easy with land grabbers around seizing every opportunity to defraud others. Acquiring land for farming in schools might cost a fortune, and most proprietors are struggling to fund their schools, so, farming does not take precedence in their plans. However, schools can always collaborate with farm owners and send students in groups to those farms for practical experience.
Farming generally must be encouraged at all costs since the one who produces is the king as far as food production is concerned. If we won’t all be farmers, we must take part in food production at least on the smallest scale.
The solution is for education to be revamped and school farming can be brought back by reawakening individuals on the benefits inherent in early learning of farming. This will bring back the young farmers club in schools. Parents would have to be carried along because this will pave the way for small gardens at home, especially now that one can plant crops in plastics and sacs. There should be school farming competitions, where incentives are given to schools with the best school farms. Schools should also be allowed to use land outside their premises when the needed space is not there.
To bring the practice back, schools must be intentional, starting from the owner. The novelty of planting in sacks must be explored. This way, space needed is not much. However, schools must be ready to invest in soil, seedlings and expert knowledge. The learners can be involved through activities of the gardening or young farmer’s club supervised by teachers.
To bring back farming in schools, space should be made available for it in every school, while interested teachers should also be encouraged to get involved. Another way of bringing back school farms is direct provision of farming incentives such as fertilizers, farming tools, machines, improved seedlings, hybrid animals, among others. These should be given to school principals or authorities involved. Farm produce should be judiciously used and accounted for. Better pricing and sales or use of these farm produce will encourage both students and teachers to get engaged. These and many more will ensure that school farming is revived.
We at Imo State Business Link Magazine are throwing the challenge to the Federal and state ministries of education to bring back school farming now. It has become necessary in our school curriculum.