A peacock in a barnyard !

Changing the world with a single project. Wouaah. That’s big.

I have seen a group of American students aiming to solve health problems in rural Belize. They came to a public school for three days.  They taught yoga to kids who had never had any sport class at all. They planted vegetables that school’s cooks didn’t know how to use. And they left with a lot of pictures of smiling kids in uniforms holding books about American geography…

So when I heard about Village Concept Project (VCP), I was more than sceptic. The idea is simple: agricultural students are helping a rural community to overcome some challenges, such as sustainable vegetables production, access to clean water, etc… I was already picturing students giving orders to old farmers, judging their practises and ignoring their experience.

It was not until I attended the ICYA (International Conference for Youth in Agriculture) organized by IAAS World in Leuven, Belgium, that I started feeling more optimistic

At the conference, a true moment of exchange, the participants were asked to highlight a problem that rural communities in his or her country typically could face. The topics coming out were so diverse and sometimes really unexpected! For example, Iulia Vizman explained that some Romanian farmers don’t have access to certain EU grants because of documents issues.

An idea emerged from this first brainstorming: to be effective, you need to know what you’re talking about, you need to target a real obstacle to rural improvement.

Mirjam Troost, ex-president of IAAS, used the example of a VCP in Ghana in the mid-nineties. It turned out that three years later, the toilets built during the project were used for other purposes while the poultry farm had been abandoned… To try to explain this failure, Troost pointed to habitual differences between German students and Ghanaian farmers.

The conclusion was quite clear: to be sustainable, an action, a project, needs to integrate the culture of the area.

I once had the chance to visit a VCP close to Malang, Indonesia. This project was amazing, partly because we could feel the coordination between students, farmers and politicians. Out of this example, it seemed obvious that you need the involvement of all the stakeholders.

Getting together with a group of  motivated and dynamic students at an event like the ICYA, allowed us to identify many other keys to success of  VPCs, such as financial self-sufficiency, the importance of evaluating the efficiency of a VPC, the interdisciplinary approach that you need to combine with  specific expertise…

We have seen that in addition to our ideas, there are plenty of examples of student projects in rural areas that work well. Let’s learn from them and extract the best practices from each of these and then we design constructive projects, sustainable in the long term both for farmers and for students.

Blogpost by Celine Foux-Milan, #ICYA2017 Social Reporter –celine.feouxmilan@gmail.com

Picture courtesy of IAAS Indonesia

This post is part of the live coverage during the #ICYA2017 – The International Conference for Youth in Agriculture, organised by IAAS (The International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences).  

This post is written by one of our social reporters, as part of their training on social reporting, and represents the author’s views only.

The #ICYA2017 social reporting project is supported by GFAR, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research.