Escaping the Poverty Trap in The Semi Arid Tropics of Africa


About 60% of sub-Saharan Africa is classified as Semi Arid Tropics (SAT) and is home to many of the poorest countries on earth. The SAT of Africa is typified by one to two short rainy seasons and a long dry season. Three quarters of the population live in rural areas and make their livelihood from agriculture and animal husbandry. Agricultural is based on rain-fed staple crops, many with relatively low market value. Only 2% of the cultivated area is irrigated. Livestock is an important part of the economy.

The typical household plot ranges from 0.5-3.0 hectares, insufficient to feed the family and provide a reasonable income. Frequent droughts, poor soil fertility, land degradation, pests and high birth rates combine to create a perpetual poverty trap. Subsistence farmers who cannot generate wealth from their crops and animals are doomed to remain poor and vulnerable to increasingly frequent environmental shocks.

The FOF program aims at overcoming most of the natural and man-made constraints to agricultural development in Africa’s SAT using the following principles:

  1. Creation of wealth and health through the cultivation of high value crops usually, but not only, under irrigation.
  2. A grassroots, bottom-up program under the leadership of local government with the support of local NGOs.
  3. Use of primary schools as the "agent for change” within the community. New concepts and techniques are introduced simultaneously to two generations: to students who are receptive to new ideas and to parents who can put new ideas immediately into practice.
  4. A partnership between parents, particularly mothers, and children helping to lift the entire family out of poverty.

A first test of the FOF program was carried out at the Sadoré village in Niger. Six years later the village has undergone a total transformation. Women are leading the transformation, earning $2,000 per year (five times the average income for Niger) mostly from fruit tree nurseries.

Based on this success Pencils for Kids, an American NGO called Eliminate Poverty NOW (EPN), and a local NGO called LIBO joined hands to initiate a three year pilot project of FOF. The Niger Ministry of National Education joined the team because it believed in the goals and as a result gave national status to the project.

The pilot is being implemented in three villages in the region of Liboré, 10 kilometers south of the capital of Niamey. The villages involved are: Gueriguindé, Galbal and Gonzaré with a fourth village added in 2014 at Ecole Centre.

Project components

1. Management team

The Management team comprises leaders of the three NGOs, Prof. Dov Pasternak, the visionary of the program and the program General Manager. Bi-monthly phone conferences are carried out to hammer out all the complex activities of the pilot project and suggest solutions for problems. Emails are extensively used to exchange information. Professor Dov Pasternak visits the project 3-4 times a year and the whole management team meets in Niamey once a year.

2. Income Producing Farm Activities

Commercial farm activities have been organized in each village with a dual purpose: to provide income for participating parents (mostly mothers) and experiential learning for students.

Fruit trees nursery and mother plantation growing superior fruit trees varieties, an irrigated vegetables garden using solar pumps and an enclosure for fattening small animals were created by the schools. Facilities at each school are operated by 30-40 women/mothers of the school children. Father/son projects include growing high yielding varieties of cowpeas and excellent tasting watermelons.

Initial training and on-going technical support are essential to the success of these farm activities. Mr. Issaka Housseini, an agricultural expert, is responsible for the training program. Fathers and mothers are trained in a multitude of intensive farming activities: production and storage of high yielding cowpea varieties, vegetables garden management, pest control and post-harvest storage of produce.

The practical training given by Mr. Housseini is transferred to the children by parents and by the project’s technical team.

3. The education program

Specialized teaching materials have been prepared by local experts and adapted to school curriculum by the pedagogic personnel of the Ministry of National Education. Topics include:

  • Irrigation
  • Vegetables production
  • Fruit trees nurseries
  • Small animal fattening
  • Cowpeas production and storage
  • Economics
  • Environment

School teachers have been trained in all the above and the topics have been incorporated into the regular classroom curriculum.

Students gain hands-on experience working with their parents in the vegetable gardens and tree nurseries adjacent to the schools and with the guidance of two specialized technicians.

4. New high value crops

FOF is continuously experimenting with new high value crops and technologies in order to diversify income-generating options. Emphasis is given to crops yielding the highest return per planted area given the limited availability of land and water directly adjacent to the schools. For example, the PKM 1 variety of Moringa when planted at a 2x2 meters spacing in a 100m2 plot, can generate $800 of annual revenue and 2,000 kilograms of highly nutritious food.

Currently FOF is testing superior varieties of the following crops: Bananas, papaya, cassava and Moringa.

5. Monitoring and evaluation

School and farming activities are rigidly monitored. Children are tested four times a year on materials taught in school and on the practical, hands on activities. Teachers and children are questioned about the lessons learned. Income from each farming activity is recorded.

The M&E process identifies weak points in the system. These constraints are being addressed by the management unit and measures are taken to improve performance.

First results

It took two years of preparations until the FOF program was able to start operating. The first nursery established in Gueriguinde sold in the first year all the fruit tree plants produced bringing revenue higher than 1.0 million FCFA.

The Galbal vegetable garden has produced a bumper crop of vegetables. Animals were fattened and sold. Farmers that planted the improved cowpeas varieties received high grain and forage yields.

The high revenues from production are the major driver for adoption of the Farmers of the Future approach that is based on encouragement of entrepreneurship among all members of the farming family, particularly the mothers.

This started to happen.

Up-scaling the FOF program - Establishment of a Training Center for Horticulture Technicians

A gradual up-scaling of the program will be carried out, learning lessons along the way.

The success of the farming program will depend on the capacity of parents and children to carry out the complex farming operations involved in agricultural intensification.

Many promising ventures fail because they underestimate the amount of technical support required for operations to become truly self-sustaining. Each school in the FOF program must have access to a technical person to train women, men and children in the complexities of intensive agriculture and conduct follow up for several years to allow farmers to fully digest the art.

The severe shortage of qualified horticultural technicians in Niger prevents any meaningful scale up of the FOF program. To address this shortage the FOF program recommends the creation of a horticultural training center located on the outskirts of Niamey. At the center, graduates from the Kolo agriculture school will receive an intensive one-year training program on horticulture and the opportunity for significant hands-on practice. The center will also train university graduates to become high-level technicians.

To view photos of the Farmers of the Future Program, click here.

Learn more about Dov Pasternak at and read about his story on our partners Eliminate Poverty Now: Part 1 and Part 2. You can also download Dov's new book, Agricultural Prosperity in Dry Africa

How to Donate

Download our Overview

Learn about Pencils for Kids and how you can make a difference.

Contact Us

Do you want to sponsor any of our projects, such as a school, library, kindergarten or a scholarship for a girl?

Inspirational Story

As I watched I thought back to the first class, a mere 3 weeks ago, when I could not get any one of these kids to stand up and say anything.