By Adedotun Ajayi
Agriculture plays an important role in the development of many developing nations; hence, the need to focus on sustainability and increased agricultural productivity. Agriculture remains the basic source of livelihood for more than half of the world’s population. In some countries, more than four-fifths of the inhabitants support themselves by farming while in the more industrialized countries, the proportion ranges much lower to less than three percent. Agriculture is the oldest industry known to mankind. It is the basic source of food and raw materials for many industries, It can be justifiably referred to as the world’s primary industry.
However, this is not a complete definition of agriculture, since agriculture has to do also with animal production. In other words, agriculture is the deliberate effort made by man to till the soil, cultivate crops and rear animals for food and other purposes. It also involves the sales of produce from agriculture, because production is not complete until the produce gets to the final consumer. Yet, despite the important role of agriculture in our economy, many present day pupils and students are being denied the knowledge of basic agriculture, agricultural business, and indeed the entire agriculture value chain – the process through which food gets from the farms to dining tables.
Several factors have been contributing to the non-availability of school farms to support practical agriculture classes in schools. These included: encroachment of land by developers and members of host communities of schools; use of land for other non-agricultural-related projects; lack of adequate infrastructure in schools among others. Hence, no space set aside for cultivation; un-affordability of farm inputs by schools; lack of funds to sustain the cost of farm inputs; bush burning; deforestation as a result of human activity – thereby destroying the fertility of the soil; changes in weather; erosion; insecurity; among others.
School farms are not just spaces for growing food items. They are complete learning zones, which largely succeed in taking learning to new heights. School farms come in handy when it comes to teaching a variety of topics in agriculture, be it Crop Rotation, Mixed Cropping, Inter-Cropping.
According to Mr Ibukun Adewa, Agric teacher, in his words, “the government should see the need to invest more in farms in schools and the importance in it because learning on the school farm provides our students with the opportunity to connect what they have been learning in the classroom to practical situations. The space of the farm becomes a place for them to apply what they currently know, to test some of their ideas and to broaden their understanding of different concepts through practical, firsthand experiences.
Learning then becomes an authentic experience as children are encouraged through this process to take control of their own learning and become more active in seeking knowledge and in solving problems.
In order to meet the growing needs of the farm’s plants and animals, children learn to use the scientific methods to find out the best techniques, strategies and steps to help these living things thrive. They become prompted to go through a process of inquiry and investigation where they ask questions such as “What does the plant need to grow healthy and strong?”, “What steps are needed to ensure this happens?”, “What is preventing the plant from growing?”, “What other conditions needed to be in place for this plant to grow better?”.
The children then experiment with different cultivation methods and finally, reflect upon their own practices on which methods best nurtured the growth of the plants and animals. By using this approach, children learn how to alter and adjust their response in order to better address the challenges they face.
On the school farm, children get to learn firsthand about important sustainable practices such as composting and waste reduction. They learn how significant it is to the caring of our environment as they develop a deeper understanding of the nutrients that natural compost provide to plants and how waste is detrimental to the growth and health of the entire ecosystem.
When children learn about processes such as food chains, water and energy cycles or the needs of different plant species, they grow in their sense of closeness to nature as they now have many reasons to care about the factors that impact its future.
Adewa in his words said, “when students have better and practical understanding about Agriculture, it encourages a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits, Children are often more enthusiastic to try new food if they’ve been involved in its growth process. As children learn how plants benefit the ecosystem, they begin to see how plants can also be beneficial to their lives and diet. What’s more, farming activities such as planting, digging, weeding and harvesting introduce children to new and colorful ways to stay active.
Also it enhances literacy and language skills because when children learn on the farm, they become exposed to new vocabulary in an authentic learning environment. As they engage in more complex activities surrounding the growth of these plants and animals, they are introduced to new words and ideas as they learn the names of different plants, animals and the terms used for environmental processes and systems.
Engaging in this process allows children to develop a stronger sense of vocabulary and literacy through hands-on experiences. Children also build on their literacy skill when they are participating in dialogue and discussion with their peers and teachers on the farm.The changing nature of farming probes children to think on their feet and solve new challenges. As they do this, they are motivated to ask their friends and teachers questions related to the challenges they face, exercising language in a practical circumstance and strengthening their literary capacity in the process.