For many around the world, subsistence farming is a way of life. For farmers in rural Mozambique, a harvest is not just their job, but also their primary source of food.
American volunteers are helping the future farmers of Mozambique gain the skills they need to generate income and improve nutrition through agriculture.
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Farmer-to-Farmer program is pairing highly-skilled American volunteers with a local vocational school, the Professional Training Center of Siloe. These volunteers have helped the school develop a replicable curriculum that offers students the technical and business education they need to pursue commercial farming, cultivate organic vegetables and raise small animals such as chickens, ducks and rabbits for sale. This bolsters the school’s mission to teach science, entrepreneurship and nutrition to high school students through agriculture, with the aim of helping students find new confidence in the knowledge and skills they need to pursue healthier lives, combat hunger and generate income for themselves and their families.
In 2016, Adelia Bovell-Benjamin, a professor of nutrition at Tuskegee University in Alabama, worked with the vocational center to refine and expand its nutrition curriculum. The school now provides instruction on how to maintain a balanced diet with locally-available foods, as well as how to practice proper food safety and hygiene in subsistence and small-scale commercial operations.
Bovell-Benjamin designed the center’s nutrition curriculum to not only improve the health of its students, but to empower them to promote better nutrition in their communities—an especially important issue in Mozambique, where more than half of children suffer from stunted growth. The school requires students to create nutrition intervention plans at both the individual and community level, learning along the way to be teachers themselves.
“The children were very excited,” Bovell-Benjamin said. “They all had a vision of what they wanted to do and the idea to take to the community something they learned. We did a lesson on water purification using malanga leaves—they all tried it—and clearly were excited about spreading the information to the rest of their community.”
Another volunteer, Montana farmer Wayne Burleson, assisted the center with its vegetable production in 2016, helping it develop teachable techniques for building topsoil in a region where farmers have practicedslash-and-burn farming for millennia.
Burleson used hands-on teaching to demonstrate the productivity potential of local farms. He and the students made compost that he calls “Black Gold,” and he demonstrated how tree leaves produce a natural compost.
“The students were very receptive. They were disciplined, energetic and engaged right away,” Burleson said. “If you learn it, that’s nice; but if you do it and you see it, then you believe it.”
One student, Jose Tiago Agostinho, is already putting into practice what he learned from Burleson.
“The training gave me inputs to start my agribusiness. Currently, I am operating an area of 1,000 square meters of vegetables, and the business is going well,” he said.
Beyond the classroom, the center is also making sure the local community and its students are able to eat well. As students go about their lessons in the field, practicing management of an organic vegetable farm or raising small animals on-site, a good amount of the food they produce goes to feed children at a local orphanage.
“[The center] provides students with the tools they need to improve their lives on a number of fronts — including better nutrition for themselves and their communities, career employment and steady income,” said the center’s director, Jose Marin.
The center graduates about 25 students each year — a mix of both young men and women. Since 2011, the center has graduated 175 students, about 75 percent of whom continue with their studies at technical schools; 15 percent go to work for private farmers and 10 percent started farming as business for themselves.
Nearly every graduate grows a vegetable garden for his or her family, and some are able to grow enough extra food in their gardens to sell at local markets, making enough money to pay for their future schooling – a further investment in an already-promising future.
Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) administers this particular Farmer-to-Farmer program in Mozambique. CNFA is an international agricultural development organization that specializes in designing sustainable, market-led agricultural, agribusiness and livestock initiatives. CNFA builds strong local and global partnerships, incorporates innovative approaches in its programs, and fosters inclusive development to offer enhanced opportunities to under-served groups. For more information, visit www.cnfa.org.