Newsletter February 2006

The last three months seem to have flown by faster than ever, so welcome again to another edition of the quarterly Teach A Man To Fish e-bulletin.

We've been traveling the world and, as you'll read in this issue, our efforts to find and promote workable approaches to financing vocational education through agricultural production are sparking interest in the highest places.

From organic cotton farming techniques that are financially as well as environmentally positive, to managing a school's first steps down the road to economic sustainability, we hope you'll find this quarter's newsletter a riveting read - and one worth telling your colleagues all about!

  • Cottoning on to Organic Practices
  • Teach a Man to Fish - Making Friends in High Places
  • The Buzz about Bee-Keeping
  • Fun Fundraising
  • Spreading the Word
  • Send to a Friend

Cottoning on to Organic Practices

The environment is arguably mankind’s most important asset. So when it comes to putting agricultural education on a financially sustainable footing, it’s heartening to know that there are solid economic as well as environmental reasons for following organic practices.

Students at the St. Francis de Assisi Agricultural School in Paraguay have been finding out how they can substantially increase farm income from cotton by using natural methods for pest control, instead of the expensive, and very toxic, chemical pesticides commonly used.

Such money-saving techniques are not only helping their school to become financially self-sufficient, but can also help poor farmers as much as double their annual income from this important cash crop.

In Paraguay, cotton is a key cash crop for poor farmers, and typically brings in more than half of their annual cash income. In a moderately good year, a farmer with two hectares of cotton can expect to sell his crop for about $700. However, the farmer may have spent up to $350 on chemical pesticides, thereby cutting his net income in half, while contaminating his land and neighboring rivers and streams. Meanwhile, without a continuous effort to maintain soil quality, annual yields decline.

How do students at the St. Francis of Assisi Agricultural High School avoid these problems? Organically. For example, they control one of cotton’s most damaging pests, the cotton leaf worm, by cutting out chemical pesticides and allowing wasps, the worm’s natural predators, to flourish. Cotton is also interplanted with other species of plants that pests find more desirable, and organic pesticides made from farm by-products applied, such as cow urine.

The result? A similar crop yield, yet by cutting out the substantial costs of chemical pesticides, twice the regular income.

Meanwhile, students learn to improve soil quality by incorporating compost and plowing under nitrogen-rich cover crops, so that in the future, crop yields will increase.

Cutting costs and increasing production through organic farming? “Absolutely,” says Adolfino Acosta, head of agricultural production at the St. Francis de Assisi Agricultural School. “We have to educate our farmers to think sustainably and make good business decisions.”

Teach A Man To Fish– Making Friends in High Places!

Executive director Dr Martin Burt is fresh back from promoting the Teach A Man To Fish paradigm on the global stage.

As an invitee of the World Economic Forum – an annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, of the world’s business, political, and social leaders – Martin seized the opportunity to spread the word amongst some highly influential people about our pioneering approach to financing education.

One of the notable figures impressed with this model’s potential was Mrs. Zanele Mbeki, the First Lady of South Africa. She was particularly struck by the benefits such a system could offer to poor students lacking the resources to enroll in private agricultural colleges. There are clear resonances in South Africa between our model, and that used by the world renowned CIDA University. This unique university in Johannesburg offers free education to disadvantaged students, yet obtains excellent academic results, as well as keeping costs to a minimum by the letting the students run many functions themselves.

Building upon the success of their urban program, the challenge of taking higher and vocational education to rural areas may well be one we can tackle together.

The Buzz about Bee-Keeping

Making the transition from an educational institution limited by funding constraints, to one that can generate substantial income of its own, can seem a daunting prospect to the typical agricultural college.

The reality is that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice. It makes sense to trial the new approach in a limited way - and then build upon these foundations one brick at a time.

Taking the time to experiment with what works, and what doesn’t, gives both teachers and students space to explore their entrepreneurial talent in a relatively low risk environment. It also allows the institution time to put in place, and bed-down, any additional financial controls and management information systems that might be needed.

So where to start?...

...There’s Money in Honey!
When it comes to finding an ideal starter project bee-keeping ticks all the boxes.

- Relatively low start up costs
- Low maintenance requirement
- Low space requirement
- Applicable to a wide range of environments
- High value product which self-finances quickly

Part of the reason why honey often attracts such a good price in developing countries is that bee-keeping is an activity where a solid education – both theoretical and practical - makes all the difference.

Untrained or poorly trained bee-keepers are much more likely either to lose their bees, or suffer low yields than well trained ones. This not only makes relatively easier for schools to earn a good income from bee-keeping, but also allow them to assess just how effective their teaching practices really are, improving them where necessary.

For schools looking to improve their finances through ‘productive education’, it’s certainly an activity they should bee looking at!

Fun Fundraising

Taking advantage of the introduction of eBay for Charity in the UK, Teach A Man To Fish launched this February the great Cyberspace Charity Car Boot Sale – a fundraising drive in which supporters can sell unwanted items online with sale proceeds going directly to charity.

With visitors now able to make credit card donations directly through the Teach A Man To Fish website, we’re looking forward in 2006 to being able to put even more resources into supporting income generating activities at partner institutions.

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