Agriculture is very important in Uganda, often referred to as the “back-bone” of the county’s economy, contributing on average 22% of the national GDP and employing 72% of the active population. Despite that fact, agriculture education has not been a compulsory (required) subject and is an unpopular subject and career path by secondary students and their parents in Uganda. This has been as result of occupational bias (most parents in Uganda would prefer their kids to be medical doctors, lawyers, journalists etc., but rarely agriculture professionals), lack of knowledge on potential career paths in agriculture (until I went to the University, the only agriculture course I knew was veterinary medicine) and lack of sufficient practical time.
Agriculture education has suffered numerous challenges: low recruitment and retention rates of students, lack of interest from the learners, lack of practical time/opportunities, limited funding for practicals in schools, and low passion by teachers. Addressing these challenges requires empowering and re-skilling of teachers to teach the subject more efficiently and practically while creating understanding, fun and excitement among learners in addition to providing as many practical/learning opportunities as possible. This fact gave birth to the Field of Hope ‘Youth Agricultural Education Program’ in Uganda with a mission of “inspiring excitement about the agricultural industry in Ugandan students, as well as to developing a wider and deeper knowledge of the proper and modern technologies within the industry”.
In partnership with Vivayic Inc, Field of Hope developed excellent teacher guides with numerous info on career paths in agriculture that have improved lesson plans and delivery while promoting experiential learning in secondary schools across the country. To maximize the impact of the teacher guides, FOH embarked on re-tooling and empowering of agriculture teachers through professional development workshops conducted in the country since 2018. To further support and supplement the teachers’ efforts in equipping and producing agriculturally inspired students, Field of Hope established the ‘Inspiring Students in Agriculture Grant’ (ISA grant) with the sole purpose of enhancing learning experiences of students through various agricultural related projects, demonstrations, and field trips.
Since its inception in 2017, the ‘Inspiring Students in Agriculture Grant’ has enabled the establishment of four agricultural projects (poultry projects, goat projects, and a piggery) and a field trip in eight secondary schools! The program highly emphasizes and encourages high student involvement in every aspect of the project from planning, execution to marketing there by providing direct hands-on skilling and demonstration of agribusiness principles to the students. The projects established as a result have enabled practical skilling of students in vegetable growing, poultry, piggery and goat production among the beneficiary schools in Uganda. Notable of the skills gained include good agronomic practices, disease identification, treatment and control in poultry, piggery and goats, marketing and record keeping. The projects have also facilitated improved feeding of students at their schools as they are able to produce their own food and sell to the school to make money. The projects have a student-based management structure which provide a platform for students to offer leadership to others in addition to promoting teamwork and a sense of responsibility among learners. The impact of the ISA projects has been clear through our interactions with the student leaders during our visit to these schools. I am a witness to several inspired and impressive students serving as project managers (such as Ruth from Iganga Girls S.S), project coordinators, treasurers and passionate members in their clubs.
The excitement created as a result of these learning opportunities has attracted and interested other learners into joining learning the subjects in these respective skills. Not to mention the teachers are finding it much easier to teach agriculture more practically in their school and the result has been increased recruitment and retention of students in agriculture subject in those schools.
In conclusion, the ‘Inspiring Students in Agriculture Grant’ has made very positive tangible and intangible contributions in the lives of students and teachers in Uganda creating enthusiasm and new hope for agriculture education in Uganda.
~Nicholas Ssebalamu, Program Associate