Going the Distance
By Judith Santiago*
October 15, 2008—Luke Yaryar,42 of Tonoetown, Liberia walks a long distance to reach UMCOR's Farmer Field School training in Whiegblekon, Buchanan in Liberia. He walks two and a half hours each way —approximately eight miles—to partake in the 18-week intensive course that is helping farmers learn how to grow healthy crops.
Yaryar is glad to do it. He's learning about social harmony and community as farmers work together to find solutions to problems they encounter on the field. He is also gaining practical knowledge in transplanting seedlings, identifying diseased plants, eliminating unwanted pests that can damage crops and nursery management. In fact, Yaryar is applying his newly-learned skills and is seeing productivity in his pepper and eggplant farm back home. So much so, that he has begun to sell his produce at the local market in Buchanan. Yaryar is already benefiting from the UMCOR training he has yet to complete.
Helping Farmers Grow Food
UMCOR's Integrated Crop and Pest Management (ICPM) Farmer Field School training takes place over an entire growing season. This allows farmers the appropriate time to plant various test plots and learn what growing techniques work best. They make careful observations, analysis and comparisons of crops they have grown organically or by using small amounts of chemical pesticides—determining which method produces the best quality at higher yields and with less production costs.
Most of the farmers that participate in the Farmer Field School only have limited educational experience. UMCOR's training empowers the farmers to reach toward higher goals, not just for themselves but for their entire community. The training is encouraging some farmers to further their education. Farmers, like Vorgoborwolo Kpadele, an ICPM trainee in Caldwell Village, plans to go to college to major in agriculture after completing UMCOR's ICPM training.
Creating Fishers of Men
At the Farmer Field School in Whiegblekon, Yaryar and other trainees gather together for a word of prayer and join together in a worship song before starting their day. On this hot morning, the trainees go over their agenda and focus on the thought for the day as presented by their instructor. It reads: "Learning to fish is better than receiving free fish." This follows the old adage which says "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." The message is the basis upon which UMCOR's farmer-to-farmer approach is built. It's where farmers are encouraged to share what they have learned with others in the community, so they can in turn teach others—extending the program's reach and be less dependent on outside support.
The farmers are split into groups and are sent out to record their observations. Working together, each group observes the quality of fruit, counts the volume of leaves, branches or flowers, and also records the plant's height and diameter measurements. In this way, they can assess the specific growth stages of each crop, as well as the speed at which it grows, to determine which growing technique works best. They also count the number of insects found on the crops and compare that number to last months' record to resolve whether a chemical pesticide is necessary. Grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles and crickets are all identified as natural enemies.
After evaluations are completed, they gather back at the school and begin to make final assessments. Problems encountered by one farmer on the field are openly discussed with others. Through these shared experiences, solutions are often found to the problems identified. Once farmers find the root cause of their problem, they make their suggestions for its solution. The trainer then affirms or corrects their recommendations.
This unified effort is helping farmers learn from one another and helps them determine the best farming techniques for growing various crops. Yaryar is hopeful and sees how UMCOR's training needs to reach more communities. He is personally committed to go the distance to help others gain the knowledge he is acquiring.
"I want to help others learn about what I have learned here," says Yaryar. "I hope they follow me." Yaryar hopes to extend UMCOR's training to others in Grand Bassa County who cannot travel the distance to participate. He also plans to introduce a cassava crop in his home town to bring to market in Monrovia. Yaryar also desires to see women work together to grow food that will enable them to send their children to school.
How You Can Help
UMCOR sponsors farmer field schools like this one in Ghana, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of Congo. You can be a part of this important program that empowers farmers to grow food for themselves and improves their livelihood.
*Santiago is the Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications