Will Work For Food
Building job skills & empowering the next generation of food growers on Rodrigues Island, Republic of Mauritius, through an organic farming school
A small volcanic island ≈600km off the east coast of Mauritius, Rodrigues is advertised to tourists as a small isolated gem in the Indian Ocean.
~30 per cent of the land is used for pasture and agriculture by its nearly 70 settlements.
Known primarily for its giant tortoises and alluring natural features, the youth unemployment rate on Rodrigues Island, at the end of 2018 was 22+% and stands in unsightly contrast to its international reputation for idyllic beauty.
For unemployed youth the isolation and limitations can be difficult. The top challenges for these youths are lack of skills, lack of available opportunities on the market and lack of experience which results in unemployment.
Recognising the power of youth to facilitate positive change, and that agriculture is an important source of revenue for the island, the Global Environment Facility's (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the Youth Empowerment Through Organic Farming School project designed to tackle youth unemployment.
The main objective of the project was to build an alternative school that empowers youth with the necessary skills and capabilities to undertake small organic agri-business unit development.
Understanding the importance of the project, the Rodrigues Regional Assembly, the main stakeholder and driver of this project, provided the land and co-financing to build the training school and fund the salaries of two teachers and support staff. The first cohort of 20 youths (aged between 16 and 25) were either school-leavers from the mainstream academic system, or from pre-vocational schools.
Organic For Life
The 6 alternative schools developed adaptive training and learning methods to impart these youth with the required knowledge, skills, and attitudes to become self-sufficient in organic farming.
Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs (e.g. pesticides, fertilisers) with adverse effects.
“Through the Atelier du Savoir Agricole, we learnt about the importance of agriculture, in particular, about organic agriculture. ...Our instructor also introduced us to some elders who were able to share with us how they traditionally worked the land. Thanks to all this, we feel that we are growing and encounter new experiences. The Atelier du Savoir Agricole allows us to mature and develop, not only as young farmers but also socially.”
Organic farming preserves soil biodiversity and fertility. It enhances ecosystem services, prevents soil erosion and reduces contamination of the water supply from chemical runoff.
The school compound comprises of a one-room classroom and amenities, and 0.46 ha of land where the youth practice organic farming. The harvest is sold to the community and the proceeds re-injected in the operation of the school.
The youths showed real enthusiasm towards the implementation of the new farming methods, and were eager to build on their experience at home.
Moreover, this school offered a specialisation in organic farming to promote sustainable and efficient crop production and animal rearing, to address the many challenges that the agriculture sector was facing in Rodrigues (including climate change, land degradation, diminutively-sized agribusiness units, and water shortages).
An additional module on organic farming was developed, with practical sessions held in the school demonstration field, which was certified organic by international certification body, Eco Cert.
Certificates of attendance were issued to trainees, and certification from the Mauritius Qualifications Authority for trainees is being planned. Recruitment of students will be done on a yearly basis going forward, and the course duration will be three years. Enrolments for 2019 are already highly sought-after.
At the time the project was developed, there was only one boarding school on agriculture for youths in Rodrigues. Since then, a new college has opened for higher level courses.
The module on organic farming was developed by our SGP partner, Fondation Ressources et Nature (FORENA), which acts as a platform providing expertise and information sharing for the implementation of organic farming to smallholder farmers and NGOs supporting unemployed women, disabled people, school-leavers, and street children.
Through FORENA, several SGP grantees are the first EU-certified grower for organic fruits and vegetables in Mauritius.
No other school on Rodrigues has this particular organic farming module. FORENA also provided free technical assistance for the eco-certification, and bore the cost of the international organic certification from the project’s inception to the present.
In addition to tackling youth unemployment and food security in the island through sustainable agriculture, the project also is having an impact in transforming the education system and offering alternatives to the traditional school system.
For example, the teachers themselves are under 35, and have benefitted from the training and knowledge gained. Prior to the project, the teachers were unaware of organic farming techniques.
To address this issue, several teacher training sessions were organised by FORENA, including a week-long site visit to other SGP grantees’ fields on mainland Mauritius.
Now, the school delivers a 2-year course, with and an additional 1 year of advanced study if needed, culminating in an end of course exam. Since its inception, 35 students have received the training from the school.
A key aspect of the project has been its emphasis on partnerships to ensure the sustainability and success of the initiative. Apart from FORENA, the Commission of Youths and Sports of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly has been a major partner. The latter today is in charge of school registration, teachers’ salaries, and school maintenance, and student enrolment.
Small Grants, Big Impacts
Since 1995 when SGP started in Mauritius, SGP has supported more than 170 projects across the country.
By providing financial and technical support to projects that conserve the global environment while enhancing people's well-being and livelihoods, SGP demonstrates that community action can maintain the fine balance between human needs and environmental imperatives.
For more information on this specific project, please visit the project profile: Youth Empowerment Through Organic Farming School
For more information on SGP-supported projects in Mauritius, visit the Mauritius Country Page
For details on the overall Small Grants Programme: https://sgp.undp.org
Text by Andrea Egan, Pamela Bapoo-Dundoo, Ana Maria Currea / Photos: SGP Mauritius
Location: Rodrigues Island, Republic of Mauritius