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Literally planting the seeds of education

Flickr: US Department of Agriculture

Can education take place in a classroom? Duh.

Can it take place on a boat? Confirmed.

What about… in a corn field? Absolutely.

Farmer education may not be the most well-known type of schooling, but the following short story illustrates its importance.

A Zimbabwean farmer arrives at an auction with 200 kg of tobacco in tow. Last season, he took out a $1,000 USD loan to purchase the seeds and fertilizer needed to transform his small maize farm into a tobacco farm instead. The farmer didn’t know much about growing tobacco, but he did know that it could be sold at a very high price. His dream was to become a successful tobacco farmer, pay off the loan, and provide a better life for his family. In no time the auction is over, and the farmer realizes that only a quarter of his product was purchased by buyers (for a total sum of $147). He had no idea that most of his tobacco was a strange dark color because it wasn’t fertilized and cured correctly. With looming debts and hungry children, the farmer slowly walks home.  

Literally planting the seeds of education- Flickr- Bojan Rantasa- Body 1.jpgImage: Flickr- Bojan Rantasa

This story isn’t uncommon. Farmers in rural parts of the world often have no way of knowing the most up-to-date information on farming techniques, which puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

Luckily, educating farmers can be very fruitful (pun completely intended). One study of training programs in India found that farmer education can increase crop output and quality without the addition of any new technological inputs (like expensive tractors or fancy irrigation systems).

In just one year, a farmer education program can teach basic skills like crop rotation, natural pest management, soil enrichment, and more. These agricultural classes can also teach valuable “soft skills” like leadership development, marketing, and farm management.

Educating impoverished farmers gives them the tools to grow their crops more efficiently, resulting in higher profit margins. Imagine if the farmer in the story had access to this type of training—maybe he would have returned to his family with better news.

Literally planting the seeds of education- Flickr- DFAT- Body 2.jpgThese Zimbabwean farmers have been trained in conservation farming techniques.
Image: Flickr- DFAT

More productive farming means increased food availability in rural areas. An influx of produce not only keeps hunger at bay, but it makes healthy fruits and vegetables more affordable to average consumers.

Speaking of health, it’s worth mentioning that teaching updated farming practices can reduce global food contamination. Farmer education programs can even help perpetuate sustainable agricultural practices that use resources conservatively and are less dependent on environmentally harmful chemicals.

Programs like F2F and the One Acre Fund are already taking action to educate farmers in many countries. By combining local farming customs with universal “best practices,” the world can plant the seeds of education—literally.