Junior Farmer Fields and Life Schools: Building Youth Livelihoods and Promoting Citizenship

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Offering a unique curriculum that engages youth in hands-on experimentation with advanced farming practices, Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS) are a crucial part of LWF Burundi’s Haguruka Youth Empowerment Project’s approach to empowering youth to become active forces for development in their communities.

 

This knowledge is crucial to the eastern Burundian provinces where LWF works because through years of civil war, internal displacement, and repatriation, much of the historical knowledge of agricultural practices in these regions has been lost. Those who have come to resettle these regions arrive with little knowledge of the land from which they must gain a living. Actively testing different agricultural techniques educates youth on the most productive agricultural practices and encourages them to embrace these practices in their own fields.

At the same time, JFFLS offer a comprehensive curriculum that teaches youth about building positive livelihoods for themselves and their families through integrated areas of development including human rights, reproductive health, family planning, environmental preservation, market dynamics, and much more. As Julienne Niyonzima attests, this comprehensive aspect of JFFLS is a hugely important: “when we heard about the JFFLS we were interested because of the agriculture but also because it is a question of life.” Ultimately, the goal of teaching these life skills is to promote upward mobility by increasing youth self-confidence, capacity for critical and ethical thinking, and business knowledge.

JFFLS were first established in February 2012 in each of the nine YEP project collines. Each JFFLS group is made up of 30 youth (ideally, 15 males and 15 females, as is the case in most collines) who do not necessarily have their own fields but are highly motivated to work towards development for themselves and their community. The JFFLS curriculum is built on several phases, the first of which focuses on participatory learning through experiments on different cultivation methods. Members chose to work with beans, an important staple throughout Burundi, and their experimental crop.

Julienne and Alexis Hatongimana, both members of the Mwiruzi JFFLS, explained the process for carrying out the experiment in detail:

“First we had to prepare and clean the land. Then we subdivided the land into 3 parts with raised mounds to walk on between the plots. In the first plot we used manure with chemical fertilizer, in the second plot we used just manure, and in the third plot we used no fertilizer…we had to monitor the plants regularly: growth, what state they’re in, number of leaves how, many buds they have, and other things and compare the three plots.

The first issue we faced was that there was a lot of sun the first week after planting so the plants didn’t grow as expected. They were planted on March 13th 2012 but rain didn’t fall until three weeks later even though it was rainy season*…We also found nodules on the roots which is a sign of illness. There were termites attacking the roots and fungus on the leaves. We had to use anti-erosion effort so that the fertilizer doesn’t get carried away. We tested using dimethoate to fight insects and it worked so we used it on the whole field.

After several months we found that the first plot was the most developed but the quality was best in the second plot. We planted 8.5 kilos in each plot and harvested 27 kilos in the first, 24 kilos in the second, and 17 kilos in the third. We harvested 20 kilos in the control plot using traditional methods.

We took the beans we harvested and gave .5 kilos to each member of the JFFLS to continue growing in other fields. The rest was conserved in a storage hangar and we will continue to grow these seeds together and make our field bigger.”

Learning these agricultural skills has already improved agricultural practices for Julienne, “we can apply what we’ve learned at our house, we’ve already planted banana trees in lines,” she says, “our fields are now different from others in the community.” Of course, these changes aren’t immediately accepted in the community. Godefroy Manirakiza, from Gashirwe colline, faced criticism from elders in his community when he started using manure and planting bean on stalks. “They ask me why I’m wasting my time because it takes a lot of time to use the new techniques, but I reply that modern techniques make it so you can have a big production on a small plot.” Still, changes are beginning to take hold in the community. Lydia Hakizimana, a JFFLS member from Muvumu colline, explains how, “Before, my family never used fertilizer, now I know how important it is.” Godefroy’s neighbor asked him to teach her his techniques when she saw his lush bean plants, as was the case for Jean Nibigira in Gacokwe colline. Upon seeing that he had tripled his bean production, Jean’s neighbor approached him to ask how this happened. “I explained it was a result of the experiments and advised him to do it as well, the neighbor was very appreciative.” This peer education model not only expands the use of improved agricultural techniques, it inspires a new identity for youth as forces for development in their community. “We will continue to teach others [about improved agriculture] to show them that good methods have advantages,” says Alexis Hatongimana.

 

JFFLS members were also excited to explain what they’ve learned in terms of life skills. “We’ve learned how to preserve the environment: you can’t start brush fires because it kills insects that are good for plants,” states Alexis in reference to man-made brush fires that rob the hills in rural Burundi of their nutrients. “We also learned how to make tree nurseries. We have to replace trees and we learned the types of trees we have to plant on the hills,” he adds. Julienne brought up hygiene and sexual health. “You can’t just go to the bathroom anywhere, and we learned how to prevent HIV/AIDS and be careful in sexual relations.” Both of these Mwiruzi JFFLS members brought up family planning simultaneously, speaking at length about how it is a source of problems and prevents development in families and Burundi as a whole. In Muvumu colline, Audace Nyandwi was happy to learn about analyzing markets to maximize profits. “You have to look at the local conditions and see what is available where,” he explains, “I now sell peanuts and avocados where they are not as abundant, so I make more than when I sold them at the market by my house”.

The JFFLS approach is particularly well suited to the situation youth face in Burundi. With populations growing by more than 3% each year and available farm land diminishing quickly, the agricultural component of JFFLS provides young Burundians with the skills they need to get more out of their land while also protecting it and ensuring the longevity of agricultural enterprises. The life skills component helps tackle related long-term solutions to these issues such as family planning and reproductive health while human rights and conflict resolution trainings have helped reduce the violence surrounding land conflicts.

Less than 10 years have passed since Burundi's harrowing civil war which, after more than a decade, finally came to an end in 2005. Suspicions and resentment persist in a lot of rural communities. By teaching human rights and life skills in conjunction with livelihoods techniques, JFFLS help create a motivated solidarity amongst youth in these communities. According to Julienne, "another impact [of being in the JFFLS] is the union amongst people. We collaborate without problems and we know people in other villages. We meet up to talk about what we've learned for social, moral, and psychological support and to continue to think about how to make savings.

With 2013's first planting season coming to an end, JFFLS have established their second rounds of experiments. Some groups chose to stay with beans, now experimenting with different varieties, while others decided to branch out to cassava, rice, and vegetable production. As these youth continue to gain more hands-on knowledge of the potential that lies in their soil, they will continue to produce more, build savings, and pursue additional development projects. Their economic unity remains tied to a social bond gained from common challenges and the forum JFFLS offers to discuss them. Ultimately, the dedication these ambitious youth show to integrated development will inspire positive growth for their communities as a whole.

 

 

*Rainy and dry seasons were once very reliable in Burundi, but climate change has made the patterns less predictable. This has made farming much more difficult.

 

 

Last Updated ( Friday, 21 June 2013 12:45 )  

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