School farms: Stakeholders reminisce on how to bring them back

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By Adelowo Adebumiti

In the early 1970s, 80s and 90s, school farming was a major component of academic curriculum, and there were no exemptions as to who participated in practical agriculture. All students trooped to the farms on designated days. The idea behind this was to make agriculture an integral part of school culture, so that students are well positioned to appreciate farming and make it a lifestyle, even when they do not intend to specialize in it. The Federal Government had, at different times, come up with programmes and policies aimed at entrenching this lifestyle among pupils and students, but it appears the initiatives did not strike the right chord across board, as reflected by disappearing school farms. 

To facilitate the internalization process, the National Education Research Council (NERDC) spearheaded the setting up of the Agricultural Science Curriculum to ensure acquisition of entrepreneurial work skills through prescribed activities and projects, which are inherent aspects of the applied technology called agriculture.  According to the body, there should be teacher orientation, training and re-training for effective delivery. Schools were to be provided with necessary logistics for successful implementation of agricultural science curriculum; while 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. 

Sadly, school farms are no longer there and schools are without the full complement of adequate infrastructure, hence, no space to be set aside for cultivation. Over the years, school-farming popularity has dwindled and its benefits lost on educators and stakeholders alike. Ironically, in rural areas where school premises still sprawl across several acres of land, pupils are not engaging in farming as part of their study. Presently, farming hardly plays a part in setting up of schools, as many proprietors do not bother to allocate land for this purpose. 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, ruling out farming. 

Speaking on the development, Key Stage Coordinator, Queen’s Science Academy, Kano, Sunday Olabode Oladokun, lamented that school farming is gradually disappearing from today’s schools. According to him, school farms were not only spaces for growing food items, but complete learning zones, as they are huge factors in facilitating learning. He said 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. Oladokun, however, stated that stakeholders could bring school farming back by ensuring that schools seeking registration have adequate infrastructure, while land should not be used for non-agric-related projects. He said periods allocated to practicals should be returned to school timetables and enforced. 

Retired nurse and network marketer, Mrs. Feyikemi Ogunlesi, said 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 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. “Are there enough lands for sporting activities? Well, the stadium now takes care of this. Still some schools have cancelled this outright. “School farms enhance food production and can thrive in rural communities, where land acquisition is not a problem. In places like Lagos and big cities, it won’t be easy with land grabbers around seizing every opportunity to defraud others. This will cause distractions for normal learning activities in schools and won’t be healthy for staff and students,’’ she said. 

Ogunlesi noted that to acquire land for farming in schools cost a fortune, and most proprietors are struggling to fund their schools, hence, farming does not take precedence in their plans. She, however, observed that schools could collaborate with farm owners and send students in groups to those farms for practical experience. She said: “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 on the smallest scale. “When our children grow up, it will be part of them. I was brought up to appreciate every form of farming. Our holidays back then were spent with our grandmas in the villages where we went to farms and participated in everything that happened there. Picking snails from under cocoa and banana leaves was my favourite. “My father, though a teacher, was a great farmer. We spent weekends on his farm outside the city processing cocoa, palm fruits and kernels, nuts, grains, cassava, fruits and vegetables. He made so much money too and this part always got me thinking back then. He was never broke. Processing food locally is not strange to me and many of us, since we learned a lot and we are able to make use of these methods now that we are adults. I have a backyard farm where I get my fresh vegetables, lemon grass, aloe vera, fruits of the orchard – pineapples, oranges, lemon, bananas, coconuts and some grains,” she said. 

HR Lead, Kerash Express Delivery, Chioma Wamuo Kolawole, said schools today are not after the process but the product, adding that this has made students to depend on their parents after leaving school. According to her, teachers’ remuneration also affected the practice, because the economy is more difficult for them, making most of them run after personal businesses. Kolawole said: “Many parents view farming as stressful, and most times, you hear them declaring ‘my children will not go through what I went through.’ Government inspectors on the other hand, are not carrying out their duties anymore. “Bringing back farming is going to be difficult because students are not ready to go through any tedious process. They prefer fast methods like pressing and picking.” She said the solution is for education to be revamped and that experience and impact should form the criteria for appointment. 

Director, Terrific Kids Centre, Alapere Ketu, Lagos, Ngozi George, noted that schools are abandoning school farming due to lack of space and interest. George said school farming could 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,” she said. The director said parents would have to be carried along saying 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. Finally, in our days as primary school pupils in Lagos State, Wednesdays were not school days for senior primary students, rather, girls attended a domestic science centre in Sabo, Yaba, while their males counterparts go somewhere in Okobaba, Ebute Metta, to learn woodwork. This could also be done or a particular day or half the day be allocated to farming,” she said. 

School owner, Glory Ville Schools, Ebute Metta, Lagos, Toyin Idowu, observed that in many schools, there isn’t enough space for a playground, let alone school farms or gardens. She also cited lack of interest by teachers and school owners, saying many do not see the value of farming or gardening, hence they do not think along those lines. She said to the average school owner, it does not translate to cash, so, there is no need to delve into it. “Nowadays, when farming has taken a radical turn and planting is done in sacks and pots, schools do not even have gardening clubs that will experiment and open the children to this novelty. 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,” he said. 

Village teacher and education administrator, Afolabi Olubunmi Adetunji, said 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, many schools were run based on a boarding system, and this encouraged both teachers and students to engage in school farms. We were told of Pa Tai Solarin’s school then, where they 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 is a common thing. This is a huge discouragement to the few teachers who may want to do the school farm. Challenging cattle herders may put the school in serious danger.”

Another factor is that schools cannot convince parents to allow their children to get involved in school farming. Adetunji said the glorification of other soft skills at the detriment of agricultural skills is filling up space and time that would have been used for farming in schools. She said these soft skills, like computer, coding, music, arts, dancing, sports and games, among others, have taken over periods that should be for school farming. To bring back farming in schools, she said 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,” Adetunji said.

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.

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