The first Family Farm School opened its door in 1937 in southern France. Thus, this year marks the 75th year from its founding.
It was the desire of a father to provide his son an appropriate education. Seeing that the young people of his village left for the cities to find the greener pastures, he figured that there must be a way to keep these youngsters in their communities, improve their lives and their families, and their communities as well.
To implement his idea, he approached the parish priest and asked him to teach some subjects and to handle the personal formation of the youngsters. Fortunately, the priest readily agreed. He asked other parents to join and formed an association to pursue this objective. They hired an agricultural technician to teach the young students and to advice the parents who are farmers as well. Thus, was born the Maison Familiale Rurale (literally, Family Rural House). It is an innovative approach for training young people and adults, serving as an instrument for community development.
A Maison Familiale Rurale (MFR) puts together local families and people concerned with its objectives. This grouping could be an association, a cooperative, foundation, or some other form depending on the country’s laws. The objectives are to work toward education and training of young people or adults, social and professional integration, and the long-term development of the area where it is located.
Today, there are more than 2,000 such schools in 45 countries in Europe, North America, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Reasons for its success
The success of the Family Farm Schools can be traced to its unique curriculum, which can be summarized as its four pillars. These are integral formation of the students and community development as its ends and an alternating cycle and responsible association as its means.
Integral formation refers to a general education combined with a professional training in relation to real-life situations, thanks to the alternating system. Students’ personal and human formation is given due importance and how they should function in society.
Through the school, the young people and adults enrolled in the program are involved in the development of their community through various projects with very close coordination of all local partners.
An alternating cycle means that students spend part of their time in school and a longer period in actual work situations. In some cases, it means one week in school and three weeks in the farm, two weeks in school and three weeks in the farm or work shop. In post-secondary programs, the schedule is one month in school and three months on the job. Such schedule takes into consideration the need of the parents for extra help in their family business or farm.
Parents are responsible in the management of the Association and in the choice as to what type of training to set up, provide for the financial means, projects to pursue, etc. These training modules and projects answer the problems of local everyday realities of their families and communities.
Family farming models
I had the chance to see up close the development of the Family Farm Schools in the Philippines. I attended the first meeting of the promoters of this System in 1985 when they invited a Spaniard to give a seminar about it in the Philippines.
Thus in 1988, the Dagatan Family Farm School in Lipa City was inaugurated by then President Corazon C. Aquino. This is the first in Asia I learned later. Soon after, Family Farm Schools were established in Balete, Batangas; Jala-Jala, Rizal; Bais City, Negros Oriental; Dingle, Iloilo; Tuy, Batangas; Canili, Aurora; Roxas, Oriental Mindoro; Tubod, Lanao del Norte; Capoocan and Palanog, Leyte; Pinamungahan, Cebu; and Calabanga, Camarines Sur.
In 2004, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) crafted a program called the Farm Business School. It is a post-secondary school following the curriculum design of the Family Farm School. The first Farm Business School was established in 2009 under the auspices of the MFI Foundation. Three other Farm Business Schools soon followed: Palawan, Zamboanga del Sur and Negros Occidental. All these schools, except the one in Canili, are private-sector initiatives.
What is significant to note in this set-up is that the farm is promoted as a family farm enterprise where the parents and the children help in managing the farm. In the Family Farm Schools, the parents are given due recognition as the primary educators of their children. The school simply helps them in this task. Thus, they are expected to take an active role in determining what topics should be taught to their children aside from those subjects required by the Department of Education. The alternating cycle affords the parents to teach their children what they do in the farm and likewise in giving feedback to the tutors the development of their children. Tutors visit the student and the parents during the period they are with the parents for the farm work period. This close collaboration between the school and the home is worth replicating in most of our public and private schools, especially in basic education.
The Guatemalan experience
I had a chance to do a study visit to Guatemala a few months ago to observe and learn how this system of education has been implemented as part of a government program. Guatemala is a country with only 14 million people but they have close to 700 Family Farm Schools that they call Nufed (Nucleo Familiar Educacion para el Desarollo).
It was the French government that introduced the system as an aid package for the country’s rehabilitation after the massive earthquake that hit the country in 1976. The aid consisted in training the tutors and the construction of 15 Nufeds. Because of the success of the program, the government adopted the system for a nationwide implementation. There are also Nufeds promoted by private groups but government provides help to these by way of free use of facilities in public schools, funding for salaries of teachers and operating expenses like electricity and water.
Today, Guatemala exports coffee, cut flowers, high-value vegetables, strawberries, melons and other agricultural products. They also have traditional crops like sugar, coconuts, pineapples, bananas, rubber and palm oil.
A wish for the Philippines
I wish the Philippine government learns from the experience of Guatemala in implementing the Nufeds. This type of education is what we have been waiting for to make our country competitive in agriculture and to develop our rural areas.
We can’t do much with our farmers today who are, on the average, 57 years old with only five years of elementary education. We need a new crop of Filipino farmers who are educated, sophisticated in the use of technology to improved farm productivity, and entrepreneurial with management skills. Through the Family Farm Schools and the Farm Business Schools, we can create these new breed of agripreneurs.
It’s about time that there be a convergence framework for education where the DepEd, DA, DAR, DENR, Tesda, CHEd, DSWD and NAPC (National Anti-Poverty Commission) work together to produce these agripreneurs by the thousands in partnership with the private sector.
You may wonder why DSWD and NAPC in this case? The poorest of the poor today are the farmers and fishermen. Instead of just giving them doleouts like the 4Ps program, give their children a good education that may lift their families and bring them to the ranks of the middle class. NAPC likewise has been given the mandate to address the most vulnerable sector of our society. Thus, DSWD and NAPC have an important role to play in this anti-poverty strategy that truly works-education.
P-Noy needs a Public-Private Partnership model not just for business and investments in infrastructure but also for education that works and benefits the poor. Can we expect Mr. President a PPP for educating the poor? You may start this program with children of poor coconut farmers out of the levy fund that is now under your control. This is nothing new because in the 1980s, a small portion of the coco fund has sent over 3,000 scholars to college and many of them are successful. This only shows that a program as envisioned can work. I think this is the best use for this coconut levy money that runs to more than 60 billion pesos.
(The author is former vice chairman of the MAP agribusiness and countryside development committee, and dean of the MFI Farm Business School. Feedback at email@example.com. For previous articles, visit www.map.org.ph.)