Program puts students in shoes of subsistence farmers

Canadian Foodgrains Bank initiative offers insight into the lives of small-scale farmers in countries without food security

WINNIPEG — “Has anyone heard of a country called Burkina Faso?” Roberta Gramlich asked the Grade 7 students meeting in the Linden Meadows school library.

No one moved or made a sound for five seconds, until a female student timidly raised her hand.

“In Asia?”

Gramlich smiled and didn’t seem troubled by the incorrect guess, probably because she wasn’t leading a geography class. She was at the school to teach students about small-scale farming in developing countries such as Burkina Faso in West Africa.

Gramlich, a youth engagement co-ordinator with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, launched a new teaching tool at Linden Meadows in early March.

The foodgrains bank and Agriculture in the Classroom Manitoba, with support from Syngenta Canada, have developed a curriculum resource called Challenging Conditions to help students comprehend the reality of farming in countries such as Nicaragua, Tanzania or India.

For 45 minutes, the Linden Meadows students assumed the identity of a fictional farmer in a developing nation.

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The Grade 7 class, with Gramlich’s help, learned how war, climate change, human migration, health risks, water quality and lack of land ownership can impede agricultural production.

Student Paul Bergen, who was a Nicaraguan farmer in the exercise, was surprised to learn how war can drastically affect a farmer’s life.

“I never really though about that for farmers,” he said.

“If there was a war … they would sort of be defenceless.”

Basma Abdulrazaq, a female student, couldn’t believe that some people in poor countries receive food aid and others don’t. She assumed everyone qualified for help.

Gramlich was pleased with their responses to the activity.

“I was impressed by the quality of their answers,” she said.

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“I could tell … they were understanding the concepts.”

Greg Swintek, a Linden Meadows Grade 7 teacher, said he’s been teaching the students about quality of life in Canada and in places such as Burkina Faso.

“When they start hearing that one in six people in the world are living on less than a dollar a day, they start to appreciate what they do have,” he said.

“It’s about perspective and understanding throughout the world that people are faced with different challenges.”

Karen Hill, program co-ordinator with Agriculture in the Classroom Manitoba, said walking in the shoes of a subsistence farmer, albeit for 45 minutes, is a fantastic way to provide perspective.

“For them to appreciate the food available to them and the agricultural industry here in Canada … that so successfully produces food that we tend to take for granted.”

Although it was made for the Grade 7 curriculum in Manitoba, the program is suitable for students between Grades 7 and 12.

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Contact robert.arnason@producer.com