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Junior Farmer Field Life Schools in Namibia

By Kiwan W Cato, FAO Namibia

Kiwan Cato was introduced to the JFFLS initiative while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Northern Namibia, 2005. In this capacity, he trained teachers and assisted communities in developing income-generating enterprises, such as vegetable gardens, bakeries and craft markets. Kiwan holds a B.A. in English and a Masters in Secondary Education and his experience with teaching/facilitating methodologies and psychosocial support methods has been valuably applied in the JFFLS Programme.


These are hand tools given to the orphans when they finish the one-year programme

The experiences shared here draw on work with FAO in the communities of Endola, Ondobe, Etombe and Oshandi in Ohangwena Region of North Central Namibia, and with some early lessons from Caprivi, where the schools are just starting. The work in Northern Namibia started in 2004, although background research began here back in 2002-2003 that led to the schools as a mitigating strategy against the impacts of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The Junior Farmer Field Life School (JFFLS) is a project that relies heavily on the commitment of human, physical, and social resources. The most challenging aspect of implementing a JFFLS is making sure the site is appropriate. Effort is made to link the JFFLS to existing structures within the community, and that can be easier said than done. The obstacles we have encountered in the Namibia pilot of the programme and expansion and the relevant lessons learned all relate to initial planning - the first and arguably most crucial of the nine 'Getting Started' steps in the implementation process. Within this first step, the project team is charged with inspiring the community to identify, manage, and control the JFFLS environment, simultaneously building interest, partnership, ownership, and commitment for effective implementation.

Some of the key challenges we have faced in implementation of JFFLS have been:

  • Selecting a site that affords the JFFLS School the opportunity to effectively accommodate and manage ventures.
  • Mobilising the community and encouraging them to not only take interest in the project, but also be prepared to take over the project following withdrawal of outside support.
  • Establishing a network of resources (material/human) to aid facilitators in their weekly endeavours.
  • Training facilitators in working with children and identifying their individual needs.
  • Retaining facilitators who understand the JFFLS approach and are committed in their interest of participating in the school.
  • Balancing participants' household/formal school responsibilities and JFFLS tasks.
  • Obtaining a balance between sharing agricultural skills and life skills knowledge as well as ensuring their integration.
  • Documenting the progression of the project and keeping all stakeholders abreast of changes in schemes of work, new initiatives, setbacks encountered, and areas where additional support is desired.
  • Establishing a reliable and affordable water access for the JFFLS agriculture field, and preparing for the withdrawal of WFP food support.
  • Supporting children and identifying their emotional and physical needs.
  • Dealing with the stigma and discrimination children affiliated with the JFFLS may experience.
  • Fostering an environment of gender equality.
  • Gaining feedback from children, facilitators and the community (i.e. JFFLS successes, failures, concerns, etc.).
  • Introducing the community and children to the links between nutrition and infection(s).
  • Expanding the project beyond thirty participants


Lessons learned

This building houses a chicken and a guinea fowl coop, as well as a space for rabbit rearing, all part of the JFFLS training programme.

The community must agree on what will work well given the local circumstances (i.e. agroecosystem, preferred foods, water availability, livelihood system, possible income-generating enterprises, etc.). Community discussions should focus on what sorts of activities community members feel boys and girls can take on, keeping in mind labour requirements, cost effectiveness, nutrition, length of crop rotation, types of plants, livestock production cycles, marketing opportunities, and agro-ecological and climatic factors. The project should not be launched until these matters are fully understood, examined and identified by the community. It is very easy to slip from an interactive participatory approach into a consultant participatory routine.

It is important to listen to community members who have knowledge of grazing patterns, disease prevention in livestock, local varieties of nutritious foods, health and life skills. In order to identify these individuals, it is important to use gender-sensitive participatory methods in community meetings. Using the knowledge already present in the community effectively links individuals to the project. Using community members during the training of facilitators and fostering a relationship with members prior to the launch of the project are vital.

During training, facilitators need to be encouraged to seek out individuals and organisations in the community that are already experienced and active, to aid them in areas they are not comfortable facilitating (e.g. agricultural skills, life skills topics,). It is often difficult for individuals to reach out and request assistance from others. During the pilot phase the project team needs to work closely with facilitators and the community, in composing a network system. This requires much hands on involvement from the coordinators.

Each boy and girl requires numerous kinds of support from his or her social environment. It is unrealistic to believe that facilitators can address all of the issues experienced the children. However, we can train facilitators on how to identify the problems their boys and girls are facing and provide them with a network of organisations that can aid them in helping the child.

With the experience facilitators gain in working with the JFFLS, they often come to realise their enhanced marketability and seek employment outside of the community. This can be a setback as new facilitators are brought in that are not familiar with the JFFLS approach. It is imperative that a term of agreement is designed for facilitators to clearly inform each of his or her responsibilities and length of service.

The JFFLS should not be an additional responsibility that adds to the already intense schedule of children. The community needs to identify a clear timetable and realistic workload as part of the JFFLS. This requires facilitators and the JFFLS management committee to keep the community (at large) abreast of activities, taking into consideration formal school calendars and involving participants households in activities, etc.

Life Skills needs to be incorporated and linked to the agricultural cycle. Having a Peace Corps Volunteer attached to the project has been a valuable resource for the community. The volunteer has been able to aid in preparing facilitators and the community to address sensitive issues with the participants, which otherwise would have been neglected. This has strengthened the success of the JFFLS in terms of passing on agricultural knowledge.

Pilot two hectare field where FAO held the first school for the orphans, using the drip irrigation scheme and hot peppers.

A monitoring system must be designed to inform stakeholders of relevant changes in the scope of the JFFLS. During the pilot phase, the project team needs to have a system in place that captures changes, issues, and lessons learned that can be addressed. The coordinators need to be actively involved in all aspects of the project. The pilot phase should be seen as the time to work with the community in mastering the management requirements. The community cannot be left to continue without face-to-face communication with coordinators for weeks at a time.

To maximize the production efforts of the boys and girls participating in the JFFLS, an adequate water supply is key. This might entail sinking bore holes or buying into existing water supplies, but any costs for such water supplies should be covered by surplus production or other funding sources. With expansion, the project team must look at the possibility of establishing one vegetable garden that supports the feeding programme and another area, which would serve as the area where JFFLS participants receive their agricultural practical skills training.

Facilitators need to be introduced to psychosocial support methods and be able to recognise needs of boys and girls. (If the need for food or shelter are not satisfied to some degree, one can not worry about other needs, such as the need to be loved, respected or successful).

During community entry and mobilisation, discussions should be held about stigma and discrimination and the community civic responsibility to aid the children of their community. Again, if the initial planning and mobilisation of the community is not rushed, these issues can be address prior to moving forward. It has been our experience that the main cause of participants being stigmatised or discriminated against is linked to the community at large not being aware of the project needs and objectives.

In developing curriculum for the JFFLS, the community should be encouraged to ensure that boys and girls approach JFFLS responsibilities equally. Life skills topics should be shared with all participants and not altered to suit boys or girls.

Boys and girls should be encouraged and provided with a 'learning journal'. The journal will serve as a reference for them to document significant lessons learned for the day and their experience with the JFFLS. The main idea behind the journal is to allow the children to share what they feel they are gaining or not gaining from J Hourihan the project. The journal provides a medium for alternative expression.

The importance of meeting immediate food, nutrition and other basic needs will be shared with the community and boys and girls of the JFFLS. The school curriculum will provide information on nutritional care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. It is important to ensure that the community understands that the agricultural production is primarily geared to benefit the children and their households, before marketing of crops can be considered.

Expansion of this approach has to be cautious. Following the pilot, the community may be unable to make food provision for more than thirty participants without exhausting and stressing community resources. It is suggested, throughout the programme, that not all facilitators need to be present at the same time. Thirty participants is a full work load in itself, additional numbers leave the facilitator managing crowd control rather than sharing knowledge. This is in line with a JFFLS principle of fostering an environment where each child receives individual attention according to his or her needs - an element absent in their formal school experience and often in children's households as well.

The JFFLS approach is one that aims to address the needs of children living in areas heavily affected by HIV and AIDS. Children, even those with aspirations beyond farming, come to realise that the farming skills acquired enable them to provide for their families and themselves and to meet household food security needs, while the acquired life skills lay the foundation for them to make more informed decisions regarding their lives.

For further information, contact: Kiwan Cato, email: and James Breen, FAO, email:

Show footnotes

1Adapted from the FAO website, accessed 13.11.2006

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Reference this page

Kiwan W Cato (). Junior Farmer Field Life Schools in Namibia. Field Exchange 29, December 2006. p18.



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