Niger: Farming school offers employment and independence for out-of-school youth (Le Monde)

| March 12, 2018

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Youssoufa Yaou’s face is white with dust. The shy 15-year-old has just finished an agricultural training program at a learning centre called SIFA in Lokoko, in the Dosso region of western Niger. The NGO Swisscontact trained 6,500 young Nigeriens in four regions of the country as part of the project.

Youssoufa left school after failing to obtain his primary certificate. He couldn’t imagine becoming a farmer like his father. But when the opportunity arose to participate in the agricultural training, he didn’t hesitate.

He says: “I learned about irrigation, market gardening, grafting. I know more than my parents now. I want to set up my own operation and become a major producer. I’m very proud of having learned this job.”

He trained for eight months, four at the training site and another four in his own field. Participants in the training are required to have access to a plot to practice what they learn.

Only one of Youssoufa’s primary school classmates made it to the second year of high school. Completing school is a major challenge in Niger. In 2016, more than two million young Nigeriens had either abandoned their studies or had never been enrolled in school. According to the World Bank, Niger has the lowest rate of school attendance in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many young people whose parents are farmers prefer to leave the countryside to look for work, because they don’t consider farming a viable livelihood.

Saibou Garba Ali is in charge of training for Swisscontact. He says, “When we met the young farmers, they all said they were doing nothing. For them, farming wasn’t a job.”

Samaïla Djimraou is 16 years old. After failing his final primary school exam, he planned to move to Benin or Nigeria. But, with his father’s encouragement, he participated in the SIFA training. Now he wants to practice what he learned on his own farm.

He says, “In the beginning, I thought my father knew everything. Now I see things that he hasn’t done well or that he doesn’t know.”

The Swisscontact project aims to change the common perception among young people that farming isn’t a real job. The training prepares them to work year-round on a family farm.

To help the young farmers become independent, the centre teaches them all the steps from seed to harvest for market gardening, rain-fed agriculture, and arboriculture [growing trees], including producing fodder. They also learn to prepare their own natural pesticides from neem leaves, soap, peppers, and tobacco. Souley Mamane is in charge of plant production. He says the goal is “to reduce production costs in order to remain competitive.”

The young farmers also learn to raise sheep, goats, and poultry, and were trained on animal nutrition and veterinary hygiene.

In addition to their farming tasks, participants also take literacy and math classes for two hours a day. The goal is to equip them to manage their operating accounts by the end of the training.

SIFA produces seeds and animal manure, which it sells to pay for participants’ lunches and other expenses. SIFA also plans to start teaching participants how to process certain foods. For example, participants can learn how to turn cassava into tapioca or turn beans into beroua, a popular local dish.

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Au Niger, la formation agricole comme alternative à l’école” published in Le Monde Afrique. To read the original article, please see:

Photo: A bean field in Tanzania