Can schools profit from farming? This one might

DSC_0169Yala, Kenya – It is not often that a greenhouse is found on the property of a primary school in Kenya. Muhando primary school in Nyanza province has one.

It is a part of an agriculture program at the school supported by the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).

With successful crops and involvement by students and teachers, the project holds the potential to support some of the most vulnerable. Though it is still early and the teachers are not exactly sure what they will do with the profit.

One teacher asserted that it the money made from the farm must support the needy children in the school. Another said it could be used to improve lunch. School meals are available at the school for children that pay or are determined to be vulnerable. Maize and beans are cooked in giant cookstoves installed by the MVP.

DSC_0174The MVP is the brainchild of Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs.

The program seeks to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by tackling poverty from many different angles including education, health and agriculture. The program’s work at Muhando covers the full range of areas.

The program’s fingerprints are all over the school. It bought the cow that produces twenty-four liters of milk every week. It built the rainwater storage tank that collects rainwater from the roof of the school building. It established a computer lab by providing the computers for the school. It even used to provide kale, fruit and other foods to stimulate participation in the meal program.

It’s role now is mostly to check in. The meal support was pulled and transferred over to the parents who contribute with food or money. It is how the program generally operates. It identifies areas of need, provides immediate support and transitions control quickly to the community, individual or establishment.

School farming is not a unique idea. Oikos in neighboring Tanzania is taking a similar tactic to boost nutrition among Maasai children in the north. The Italian NGO brought water to school grounds and helped with teaching and supporting the growing of crops on the farm plots on school property.


The school cook stands near the cook stoves.

Unfortunately, the arid north of Tanzania makes for difficult farming. The school fields featured a few green shoots, but significant plant-free sections. A few hundred kilometers north into Kenya is much more lush. Consistent rains are already here and the landscape is a healthy green.

The MVP model also stands out by systematizing the involvement of teachers and students. There is one teacher in charge of the farm. Paul provides resources for the students, but the decisions and work falls on them.

Members of the 4K club (kind of like the 4-H club in the US) present their farm plans to Paul. He gives the approval and they are on their way. Right now the crops gathered are sold to the teachers. They did not provide exactly how much they were paying for the vegetables, but said that it is a better price than the market.

DSC_0172Money collected by the students is meant to be held by them in the club, but there is no oversight at the moment. Paul will step in to manage the funds when the revenues start to increase and food is sold elsewhere.

Four girls, bent over at the waist, cut greens and place the in plastic bags. The plants are severed neatly and systematically while other students are in class. The healthy crop is ready for sale.

If profitable and spent well, the farming program holds the potential of propelling the school forward. That is the hope of the MVP.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]