|dc.description||Seeing a son or daughter heading off to town to hunt for work has been a sadly familiar sight for farmers across the ages. It conjures up three fears: the end of the family farm, depopulation of the village and ? too often ? the return of the prodigal child later, with neither school nor professional qualifications.
For many farmers of modest means, their ardent wish is to provide their children with a trade and an education so that they may make a decent living from agriculture in today's modern world. It is this wish that lies at the root of family farming schools. The first such school was set up in a small French village in 1937. Established on the initiative of a group of farmers, the parish priest and a local agricultural adviser, the school used a teaching system that combined theoretical knowledge with practical field sessions. Today there are more than 800 such schools in the world, of which 100 are in Africa.
The family farming school is like no other. The involvement of parents is fundamental, and their association runs the establishment. It is the parents who select training topics together with ? when they are not providing training themselves ? the trainers. The trainers are recruited from the agriculturalists, agricultural advisers, and teachers, whom governments make available to the school, as well as from young agricultural school graduates.
The three year training course does not lead to a diploma. The training is essentially practical and to-the-point. The beneficiaries are the 'graduates' - the rural entrepreneurs who will have received a foundation in agriculture and the economics of the agricultural marketplace. The goal of the school is quite clear: to keep young people on their home soil, literally, so that they can apply what they have learnt. The programme of family farming schools is a blend of general theoretical teaching on geography, accounting, agriculture, and ? above all ? practical sessions in the field. These sessions are held for two out of every three weeks, and they allow the young farmers to join in agricultural work and to learn about the environment, in addition to the many technical, economic and social aspects of agricultural activity.
There are two family farming schools in Cameroon. The only registration requirement is to own some land. The promising results of the first 'graduates' demonstrate their usefulness. Many of them have taken up market gardening and earn a decent living.
The family farming schools have other merits, such as their emphasis, in a modest but decided way, on formal education, something important to the development of African agriculture. They face difficulties in financing equipment purchases and paying their trainers, but they represent a constructive way forward. Their example is being followed by a growing number of agricultural colleges.
Family farming school
BP 49, Essé, Cameroon;
Family farming school, BP 4, Monatélé, Cameroon.||