Working in the vegetable fields, the chicken den, or in the pigpen, is daily life and part of the lesson plan at the agricultural college La Bastilla in Nicaragua. With such a hands-on approach, backed up with theoretical input the students become true entrepreneurs in farming and help to improve prosperity in the whole region.
The rugged hills of northern Nicaragua are green and fertile – ideal for crop growing farms. Many of the farms are small family-run businesses but often barely able to sustain the family itself. However, with the right techniques and knowledge the businesses could become much more profitable and contribute to more prosperity in the whole region. The future lies in the promising hands of the youth – but they barely stand a chance to acquire the right skills as educational opportunities are scarce.
Students involved in agricultural businesses
The Jacobs Foundation’s engagement dates back to 2004, when the project for a primary school was launched. The Foundation continued its engagement further by establishing the agricultural college La Bastilla in 2009 together with the La Bastilla Coffee Estate and later on implementing partner Teach a Man to Fish. The college’s practical education at secondary school level lasts three years and provides an academic diploma recognized by the Ministry of Education. The unique teaching methods of La Bastilla consist of a hands-on approach combining theory with practice and involving the students in the college’s small agricultural businesses such as egg, dairy, and pig breeding as part of the practical curriculum. The theoretical curriculum teaches business and entrepreneurship skills such as budgeting, marketing and record keeping. The close links to the neighboring coffee estate allow the students to learn more about the cultivation and production of coffee. La Bastilla also runs a highly successful Ecolodge, which gives students unique insights into the hotel industry.
“I wanted to learn how to turn a farm into a profitable business”
Jarvin, one of La Bastilla’s graduates says: “I decided to go to La Bastilla because I really appreciate the mix of practical and theoretical lessons that the college offers”. Jarvin already had quite some knowledge of farming as his family owns a small farm, growing rice, beans, maize and other crops. But he wanted to gain more knowledge about farming and hoped to gain insight on how to turn a farm into a profitable business. “I didn’t want to just follow what my family had done for decades, I wanted to know more and understand farming in a more professional way. One of my preferred subjects was learning about the use of pesticides to combat bugs and plants’ diseases”. But he also became very interested in working with the animals at La Bastilla: the cows, pigs, and chickens. In particular, learning about artificial insemination had the biggest impact on him. His fascination for and interest in animals has led him to study zoology at the public university of Managua for which he won a fellowship. He is convinced that La Bastilla was a very appropriate preparation for his further studies. “After I have completed my studies I will go back to my community and share what I learned with them so they also have a chance to improve their farming businesses”.
Without La Bastilla chances of studying or working are small
Equipped with theoretical knowledge and practical skills, the other graduates of La Bastilla quickly find jobs in the agricultural sector. Some of them – like Jarvin – also seize the chance to study further for a higher degree at a university. A recent survey showed all interviewed former students were convinced that without the degree from La Bastilla they would be neither working nor studying. Jarvin recommends the education at La Bastilla to anyone interested in agriculture. He says: “You will learn a lot from the very motivated teachers and if you are persistent and study hard you will also be rewarded”.
La Bastilla is not only a success-story for the students it is also a success-story for the school itself. After 6 years of intensive support the Agricultural Technical Centre La Bastilla has reached a great milestone: as of the end of 2015 the college has reached 105% of financial sustainability and is therefore one of the first Central American rural colleges to become financially self-sufficient. The staff of the school has embarked on continuous capacity building, improved organizational skills and adjusted the business plan and working procedures to ensure the college’s financial stability. With this successful trajectory the school is bound to educate many more students for the prosperity of the whole region. The project with the Foundation’s support came to a close at the end of 2015.