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Farmers want Agriculture as a Core School Subject

Business

By Libuseng Molato

In a recent dialogue with Prime Minister Sam Matekane, members of the agricultural community fervently advocated for the integration of agriculture as a core subject in school curricula, highlighting its pivotal role in shaping the future of farming in Lesotho.

Malefu Mofana, a seasoned farmer renowned for her successful piggery, when speaking to Seahlolo passionately articulated the need to cultivate a love for agriculture from a young age. 

Reflecting on her own journey, she emphasised the transformative power of early exposure to farming practices. 

“We need to instil the love of agriculture in our children and nurture their passion for growing plants. Failure to do so will deprive them of essential knowledge and appreciation for agriculture,” Mofana remarked.

She added, “The world of agriculture is broad and has a lot to offer thus it is essential to avail it to students to have an opportunity to find the field that suits their interests. For instance, one kid may love the idea of having a pet in their home, and this calls for a parent to align the interests of this kid with animal care.”

Echoing Mofana’s sentiments, Maletuka Mahase underscored the cultural significance of agriculture in Basotho society. 

“Agriculture is deeply ingrained in our culture, with rural communities relying heavily on farming for sustenance. 

“It’s disheartening to see farming relegated to the sidelines in schools, perpetuating the misconception that it’s a menial occupation,” Mahase lamented.

Letuka Moketa, a concerned parent, for his part, emphasised the intrinsic link between agriculture and human survival. 

“From the dawn of creation, humans have depended on agriculture for sustenance. By incorporating agriculture into school curricula, we equip our youth with essential skills to combat hunger and ensure food security,” Moketa affirmed.

Nthethe Ralitapole of Potato Production Platform emphasised the transformative potential of agriculture education in driving sustainable development. 

“By integrating agriculture into school curricula, Lesotho can pave the way for economic prosperity and food self-sufficiency. However, this necessitates comprehensive training for agriculture teachers to effectively impart knowledge to students,” he said.

Nthethe noted he has had potato production trainings where students have participated.

Drawing on her experience as a school principal, Nthatisi Makhothi highlighted the positive outcomes resulting from agriculture education initiatives. 

“Exposing students to practical farming experiences fosters a deeper understanding of agriculture’s significance. Witnessing students’ enthusiasm for farming activities underscores the immense potential of agriculture education,” Makhothi noted.

She revealed that while not a core subject at schools, she has encouraged students of Mohale’s Hoek to not sleep on the potential of the subject as a future income generation career path.

She recounted attending the second edition of Farmers Pitso awards and seeing schools scooping awards for their different agricultural production.

“I loved all that I saw and immediately concluded that more of my agriculture teachers needed to attend and draw inspiration, and by sheer luck, they are the leaders.

“Our students and teachers attended potato and maize production trainings and their produce speaks volumes,” she said adding there is an increased enthusiasm for the subject.

Makhothi indicated that practicals have helped students understand better and see the importance of agriculture.

“We have allowed them to see a different and good perspective that they can rely on agriculture for living and to fight hunger and unemployment” 

The principal mentioned that including agriculture as a core subject would change lives of many youths affected by unemployment. 

“From our school’s interest in successful and sustainable agriculture, we now have two students who are pursuing farming. One supplies the school with eggs and the other one owns a piggery farm. We are very proud because they are the product of a subject that is otherwise looked down on,” Makhothi said.

The Lesotho Agriculture Teacher Association is spearheading efforts to advocate for the inclusion of agriculture as a core subject in school curricula. 

Molapo Shakhane, a dedicated agriculture teacher and a farmer, stressed the need for proactive engagement with educational authorities to effect policy change. 

“We must rally behind the cause of agriculture education and leverage our collective expertise to drive meaningful reforms,” Shakhane asserted.

“It’s my wish, as an agriculture teacher and a farmer to see the subject taken into consideration as one of the core subjects because of its unique and outstanding position of direct impact on the economy compared to other subjects.

Calling upon the National Curriculum Developers Centre (NCDC), Shakhane highlighted the need to make agriculture a compulsory subject in all schools, whether public or private, pointing out that many students excel in producing during school farm projects, but may struggle with other subjects, leading to a misconception that they cannot succeed in life.

“The country on its official papers notes that agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy, but they don’t have laws that secure and emphasise it as the one subject that gets children ready from a young age,” he charged citing even other teachers use it as a punishment tool for bad behaviour.

“That is a wrong practice which is driving a deep hate for the subject, and it is more concerning because fellow teachers do not understand the economic benefit of the subject to the very students. We must develop a love for farming at schools,” Shakhane said.

He revealed that the Lesotho Agric Teacher Association’s 2024 agenda involves proposing a policy to the NCDC and Examination Council of Lesotho (ECOL), pushing to have agriculture as one of the core subjects. 

Shakhane believes that a similar approach to the introduction of subjects like Life Skills should be employed, utilising media and other mediums to gauge the nation’s sentiments regarding agriculture.

He touched on innovative agricultural approaches which can be prioritised at schools with limited learning space.

“Even in paved schools, modern technologies like hydroponics could be employed as well as the use of old PVC pipes, organic materials in containers, or even a simple box with a plastic lining. We have skills as teachers and are always learning new innovative and new technologies used in the world. There are no limitations to what we can do when allowed to advance our teaching skills to children, I mean the little we are doing now is evident,” he beamed.

Mabokang Motsienyane, a lecturer at Lesotho Agricultural College from the department of Animal Science and also founder of Roma Agribusiness Training Center stresses the impact played by the agricultural sector to Lesotho’s economy.

“Lesotho is still a developing country and agriculture is regarded as one of the economy’s backbone. It is crucial that students are taught agriculture not only for family consumption but as agribusiness to reduce unemployment rate. 

“Let’s take for example; aside food, even leather, wool, silk for making shoes, clothes and blankets comes from agriculture therefore it has to be taught from primaries and high schools as a core subject” she advocated.

Despite passionate perspectives on the matter, Ramakoatla Sekoala from the National Curriculum Developers Center showed no imminent possibility of agriculture being a core subject.

“It would be good that almost every student to learn agriculture as it plays a major part in the country’s economy but still, students must be provided the autonomy to choose their educational paths. The curriculum already has four compulsory subjects and even if there is still a chance to add another core subject, agriculture cannot be one of them,” Sekoala said, stressing the subject is not liked by many students.

Sekoala further explained that they already have four compulsory subjects; mathematics, Science, Sesotho and English on Lesotho’s curriculum.

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