Teaching a Man to Fish: How Trees for the Future Trains Farmers for Sustainable Change
Building An Educational Support System
Trees for the Future’s collaborative, educational approach to improving the lives of smallholder farmers often brings to mind a well-known Chinese proverb, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’
Much like this proverbial sentiment, teaching farmers how to carry out the Forest Garden Approach (FGA) feeds their family for a lifetime. This idea is particularly crucial to understand environmental resilience, social and economic development, and poverty relief. Trees for the Future knows the detrimental effects of giving impoverished communities hand-outs. Although well-intentioned, in many cases hand-outs keep individuals from learning valuable skills to better their quality of life and local economy, which traps them in the cycle of poverty. Solutions to poverty and environmental issues are time intensive and require educational support systems. That’s why Trees for the Future (TREES) is grounded in training and capacity building of communities and appreciates the time it takes to make sustainable change.
The foundation of TREES’ program lies in training technicians to be excellent teachers and facilitators of the FGA so that farmers can be successful and reach their full potential. After technicians are trained to teach the FGA, they guide farmers through a 16-module training program over the course of four years.
During the program, farmers learn how to best utilize small plots of land to increase diversity and yield with fuel, fodder, fruit and timber trees grown alongside vegetables and cash crops. Focused on effective, sustainable agricultural methods, this approach improves crop production, incomes, and farming families’ lives as a whole.
“Within our Forest Garden projects, providing intensive, experiential training for both our dedicated staff on the ground as well as invested participant farmers is one of the most important, impactful aspects of our work, and gets to the heart of our mission as an organization,” says TREES Deputy Director of Program Quality and Implementation Ashleigh Burgess.
This past month, members of TREES’ East Africa staff attended TREES’ Training of Trainers workshop in Homa Bay, Kenya. Homa Bay is home to one of TREES’ Forest Garden Projects and situated on the shores of Lake Victoria, the largest tropical lake in the world.
Training of Trainers Workshop in Action
TREES’ East Africa Director met with the three Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda country coordinators and eight new East Africa field technicians for an engaging, participatory three-day workshop. Staff spent time in the classroom and in the field, learning from written materials and demonstration activities. (See the materials at the Forest Garden Training Center)
Each new technician practiced facilitating one training module for the group and each was given constructive feedback on how to improve their knowledge and technique. After reviewing the grafting module in the classroom, the class got to visit a current Forest Garden farmer’s plot to get some hands-on experience with one of the more technical aspects of the Forest Garden Approach.
“Our East Africa Training of Trainers was highly productive and a great collaborative, participatory learning experience,” said Tanzania Country Coordinator Heri Rashid. “I was able to learn about the capacity and experiences of our new technicians coming onboard and each participant was able to demonstrate his/her technical knowledge and facilitation skills through leading a training module.”
Trainees also reviewed various facilitation styles specific to each person’s region and cultural context, and went over core skills for best training practices, including how to conduct participatory training sessions and facilitate in different styles so that every farmer may absorb information in the most effective way. The trainees had an opportunity to participate in role-playing and facilitation games which they’ll use when training Forest Garden farmers. Assistant Technician Joanne Okuthe (pictured) from Homa Bay appreciated being able to spend some time in the farmers’ shoes.
“It is refreshing to have such a different environment compared to conventional training,” she said. “I [feel like a more] competent instructor. I have increased personal communication and hopefulness in working with my colleagues.”
In addition to the training program, the workshop provided TREES’ country coordinators an opportunity to discuss and review the project mobilization process with technicians, highlighting protocol for successful meetings with potential new farmer groups and using TREES’ criteria to identify and register individual farmer participants.
The technicians and country coordinators are now back in their own regions putting their training to use, teaching hundreds of farmers across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda how to fish use agroforestry to feed and support themselves and their families for a lifetime.