We’re thrilled that rural economic development has become a top priority in Niger. We’re even more thrilled to see major funders like the World Bank and Millennium Challenge Corporation pledge hundreds of millions of dollars to increase farmer profitability. It hasn’t always been this way.
For years, “food security” has been the main focus in agricultural development, enabling farmers to grow enough food to feed themselves and their families. We’ve always felt this was important. Nobody wants people to starve. But it can still leave millions impoverished and malnourished. Food security is not enough. The bar must be raised, enabling farmers to achieve “economic security” and lift themselves out of chronic poverty. That’s the goal of Farmers of the Future and we’re thrilled to see that philosophy become a national priority.
In a country as bone-dry as Niger, irrigation is key to unlocking the economic potential of the land. Lots of money will be spent on infrastructure for wells, solar panels, water distribution systems and more to bring irrigation to rural areas. But infrastructure isn’t enough. Farmers must learn to grow and sell crops for maximum profit. It’s very different from the way they’ve farmed for generations. Mastering new concepts and techniques takes time and lots of intensive training and supervision by knowledgeable technicians. There’s only one problem. Those technicians are in desperately short supply.
So …. welcome to “The Dov Center.” Named in honor of Dov Pasternak, father of Farmers of the Future, we are creating the pre-eminent horticultural training center in Niger. The Dov Center will train the trainers, teaching them best practices in horticulture, strategies to turn vegetables and fruits into profitable businesses, and techniques to effectively teach what they learn to illiterate farmers.
We’re still raising money to build the main campus (classrooms, library, science lab, offices, and dormitory), but the training garden where theory is turned into practice is largely complete. Judy and I toured the garden and it’s impressive.
Touring the “Dov Center” Garden
We’ve installed 5 different irrigation systems so students can work with the irrigation methods they are most likely to encounter on the job. The garden will produce all its own compost and demonstrate the impact of proper soil nutrition on crop yields. There is a vegetable nursery to ready seedlings for transplanting, a seed multiplication area, a tree grafting facility, and a post-harvest storage area. Students will grow crops year-round in Niger’s 3 distinct growing seasons and learn the techniques for growing counter-seasonally so crops reach the market as prices peak.
One morning we invited mayors from three counties slated to receive millions of dollars for agricultural development to tour the garden. And the overwhelming reaction was “formidable!” (That’s French for “wonderful”) In fact, after the meeting they called their Millennium Challenge contact to ensure we were invited to submit proposals to develop gardens in their communities. Of course, their enthusiasm doesn’t guarantee anything. But it sure doesn’t hurt!
The Dov Center will greatly expand Niger’s technical capacity in horticulture and help achieve the rural economic development the country so desperately needs. And that would make Dov extremely proud!