THE VALUE-CHAIN OF OLD SCHOOL AGRICULTURE
By Ajayi Dada
The saying “Give a child a fish to eat and after it he or she forgets but teach a child how to fish, he or she becomes a master of the art and will forever be grateful to his or her mentor’’ is very apt in any situation we find ourselves; and as constant as the Northern Star in human and by extension societal development.
There is a congruent between the above maxim and what I call the “Old School Agriculture” which is what most of us were introduced to in our primary and secondary schools’ days by our devoted and ever-committed teachers and mentors. In fact the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach then under the thorough supervision of our teachers over time became ingrained in our systems and have thus become as part and parcel of us till date.
The school time keeper would ring the bell to signal the time for “Agric’’as indicated in the every class timetable pasted on the classroom wall. As was the rule then, all the class teachers would comply by releasing their pupils to go and participate in that mandatory and compulsory agric practical, and not an elective course as they call it in tertiary institutions. Each pupil or student must be armed with a hoe, a cutlass to cut grasses by the junior ones while the senior ones will go to the school farm to weed around the ridges or heaps for either the tendrils from the yam seedlings, groundnut plants, corn stalks or any other crops planted on them to grow. It was a case of separating the seed from the chaff.
For effectively participation, ridges or heaps from school farms were usually allocated to pupils to manage until what were planted there become matured for harvest. Through such exercise, every child was being thought the practical aspect of agriculture and building the spirit of healthy and keen competition among the pupils or students of different ages. Also, pupils had the opportunity of practicalising what they had learnt inside the classroom which would definitely stick into their memories for ever. Indeed, this is another beauty of the “Old School Agriculture’’ programme. That I still think is relevant today as it was in the days of old.
Also, this strategy then further strengthened the cordial relationship that had existed between the gown and the town to use the academic language or, in the local parlance, between the school and the communities where they were situated then.
Most pupils, aside the ridges or heaps assigned to them at the school farms used to encourage their parents to allocate to them some heaps from their farms which they used to manage. Having worked on the family farm, they would also spend a few minutes on theirs subject with the permission of their parents; and such children were always happy to see their crops growing. The merits of this strategy showed that the school and the society were involved in the holistic development of the child then. The child or the pupil was involved as a participant unconsciously and that practically became a part of him or her.
Without any unnecessary coercion, the child or the pupil was being taught how to fish and practically become a master of the art which he would be able to defend anywhere, later in life. Anywhere such children find themselves in later years, they would be proud of that aspect of their culture where they recalled such experiences with nostalgia either in the midst of their age mates or as professionals in other fields.
Unfortunately, how much of that do we imbibe in our children in contemporary times? How many of our children nowadays explain the processes required to cultivate farm lands for yam seedlings, cassava, corn, rice farms, vegetables and a host of other arable crops under the subsistence farming arrangement not to mention the cash crops such as cocoa, palm tree, rubber plantation, rice plantation, or the economic trees for lumbering.
A child whose parents were born in a village but grew up in the urban area once asked his mother, “ Is it true that yams are harvested from the top of trees?’’ Your guess to this question is as good as mine? I will not blame such a child because the school he was attends in the city never had space for a school farm. How will he know the processes for planting yam seedlings, corn, cassava stalks, millet grains or vegetable seeds which ordinarily can be planted inside buckets filled with loamy soil around the house?
Will they know how to plant sugar cane, garden eggs? Will they know how to use hooks laced with earthworms to catch live fish from a river or set traps for rats and rodents? These were some of the adventures that made live tick as child growing up in the rural area. Will they know how delicious it is to eat yam or maize that is roasted the way they were harvested; eat raw but naturally ripened palm tree nuts or visit local sites where palm oil is being processed from matured palm fruits?
How often do parents listen to programmes on radio and television stations teaching how families can utilize the small spaces around their homes to plant tomatoes, vegetables, plant Okro seeds or rear snails and a host of others? Rather, most parents will be watching programmes that will not add value to their lives or listening to irrelevant music that cannot stand the test of time.
Will it be out of the way if parents in within faith-based organizations, as members of voluntary organizations organize themselves and their children on excursions to agriculture-related institutes and farm settlements to explore the naturalness of nature? They can visit dairy farms where animal husbandry is practiced; the branch of agriculture concerned with animals that are raised for meat, fibre, milk, eggs, or other products. It includes day-to-day care, selective breeding and the raising of livestock. Such may tickle some of such children to want to become agriculturalists or pastoralists.
Since excursion is part of education, it will further hone the horizons of such children for the good of the larger society. Reverting to the old school agriculture will be a good and solid foundation for those who will aspire to pursue courses in agricultural sciences at the tertiary institutions. It is part of starting from the known before moving to the unknown. Through parental and early school days tutelages, such children/pupils would have acquired the requisite knowledge on which they will develop upon over the years.