As a pupil in the primary school, we were given certain assignments to carry out. One of the most interesting was to plant a seed of maize or beans in a tin and tend it as it grows. In so doing, we learnt about soil types, to water the plant, germination, picking out weeds, etc. My Mom would watch, with total amusement, how I'd wake up early, without prompting, and race outside to 'water my plant'. The squeal of excitement, as the plant germinates, is enough to wake the dead. Here's moi, who wouldn't even water the flowers, caring so much about a 'seed' of maize!!!
These days, it is shocking how little children know about the food they eat. In a vox populi conducted by our NGO, Living Green Farms & Gardens Foundation, some years ago, children were asked where certain 'familiar' foods come from. Their answers ranged from the absurd to the ridiculous. Okro came from the market while chicken came from the shops; yam was gotten 'on-the-road' and garri at 'Mama Chinedu'; eggs were from the 'kitchen' and fruits from 'Malam'. Many other products came from 'I don't know'.
Many children in Nigeria (and safe to say, in many parts of the world) do not understand the role that agriculture plays in their daily lives. It is very crucial therefore, to provide awareness, information and knowledge, through programs and practical experience, to help our children and youth learn about the food they eat, where it comes from and the importance of agriculture.
Agriculture is an indispensable sector of any society. It is the base of man's basic right to food and lots of other means of livelihood. In Nigeria today, the agricultural industry supports the nation's economy in a significant proportion and we are yet to tap into even 20 per cent of its potential. With knowledge, exposure, understanding and mentoring, our children would grow up to make better career and entrepreneurship decisions in the areas of their interest in agriculture.
We need to bear in mind that children love adventure, excitement, are curious and, even at that tender age, they can be very committed and loyal. At the home, we can start with encouraging them to water the flowers; teach them the names of the plants we have around and keep a pet animal. My uncle loved dogs and he had all kinds of dogs in his house. There were dogs we could play with and there were the fierce ones best left for 'guard' duty. We took delight in giving names to the dogs and 'faffing around' with them. We had such fun. Today, my cousin is a big time dog breeder - from play dogs to guard dogs to laboratory research species to dogs trained to assist people living with disability (PLWD).
The school is another agriculture learning ground for children. Sadly, the curriculum for the subject, agriculture, is so uninteresting as to capture the excitement of the pupil. Working with some of the schools under the platform of the Living Green Farms & Gardens Foundation, I found little outdoor activity for the pupils. For one, many schools, especially the private schools, do not have a school farm. When the Foundation, in collaboration with the school and the PTA, establish the school farm, the excitement among the pupils is always infectious. They can't wait to get their hands dirty and the gardener…they are usually bombarded with questions on just about everything. Schools could add to the fun by planning farm tours and excursions to tourist sites around.
The pupils, in the primary school, should be engaged in horticulture and micro-livestock activities where they can cultivate local vegetables, herbs and spices; and rear a little poultry and catfish. Apart from the opportunity to obtain basic information and knowledge on how these foods are gotten, the children get to eat and enjoy the local foods they have produced themselves. They also get to lose their fear of animals as they provide daily care for the livestock. The objective is to help them identify some crops and livestock; their production, harvest and sales (on Open Day, Cultural Day, Children's Day, End of Term celebrations, etc).
At the secondary school level, the students can engage in the production of crops such as plantain/banana, fruits, maize, cassava; livestock such as poultry; fish, pig, rabbit, snail, etc. The goal is to introduce the students to irrigation, conservation and post-harvest activities.
With programmes to address these, provided by agropreneurs, the pupils/students will be encouraged to develop interest in agriculture; to display their work, with visibility and publicity to encourage them, and to strive harder and work more diligently.
Then, our children will take interest in agricultural programmes on television; join in the advocacy activities for local food consumption and support global efforts on food availability, sufficiency, safety, and security.