Saseta Girls High School in Bomet County has embraced a teaching and training model that reaches out beyond its classrooms and perimeter wall.
Located in an agriculturally highly endowed zone, the school seeks to have an impact on the surrounding community, especially in the adoption of modern farming techniques for commercial food production.
The school has opened its doors to parents and the local community for benchmarking, and its students use the projects for practical lessons in agriculture and science.
The areas of focus in this venture are horticulture and dairy and aquaculture farming. This project started in 2014 and has been gaining momentum.
Food security and nutrition
“The programme has addressed not only issues relating to poverty eradication but also food security and nutrition among the communities living around the school,” Principal Betty Chepkwony said when Nation.Africa visited.
Because classrooms are separate from the three projects, groups can visit the school at any time without interfering with learning.
However, visitors must book trips ahead of time so as to ensure that the tours do not clash with the time students are on the farms.
A 30-square-metre pond has 1,500 fish and is used to teach children aquaculture farming.
One end of the pond is deeper to allow for breeding and has a water outlet and inlet to control of oxygen. Excess manure is drained out through a valve and the water is also aerated through it.
The fish raised here are consumed by students or sold to the local community.
Fish for locals
Eating fish is a new phenomenon for the local community — the Kipsigis — who mostly rely on cattle and poultry for meat.
“Last year, during the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams, five schools from the neighbourhood bought fish for their biology practical. Administrators at the schools did not have to source it from Kisumu like other institutions,” Mrs Chepkwony said.
“Besides being a unique income-generating [venture] for the school, (the fish pond) has been very helpful to the learning institutions from the region, including Konoin Technical Training Institute, because we open our doors for their use as a learning resource.”
Students from neighbouring schools have also used the aquaculture and greenhouse projects for learning during benchmarking trips.
Several students said they have taught their parents, relatives and neighbours the best practices, especially on horticulture and dairy farming, and this has spurred food production in their respective homes
The greenhouse in the school was set up eight years ago.
The Bomet County government funded the two projects in the school in 2014 and this changed the approach to farming in a community that has depended on traditional agricultural approaches.
“The fact that the greenhouse installation and setting up of the fish pond was funded by the county government with taxpayers’ money gives us the responsibility to put it into the best use for the benefit of students and the local community,” Mrs Chepkwony.
The school has eight dairy cows, which produce 60 litres of milk daily. The milk is used to make tea for students and teachers.
Manure from the dairy unit is used on the school farm for growing bananas, cabbages, kales, spinach, capsicum, carrots, maize, and traditional vegetables including isaget, isyoiyot, kelichek.
Mr Wesley Kipkoech Tonui, an agriculture and biology teacher at the school, said the greenhouse is both a commercial project for the school and a teaching resource for students.
“The students prepare the seedbed, take care of seedlings, transplants, weed and nurture the crop to maturity before it is offloaded to the market,” Mr Tonui said.
Embraced the project
Students have come to embrace the project, with many saying they are keen to start small income-generating projects back home and for subsistence.
Mercy Chemutai, a Form Three student, said the project has helped the learners as they now know how to control diseases and pests, something they are duplicating at their homes.
“This has motivated me a lot and it is fun pursuing an agriculture lesson in such an environment and watching the crops grow to maturity as opposed to theoretical learning,” said Ms Chemutai, who aspires to be an agricultural engineer.
Sharon Kwamboka, also a Form Three student, said when she joined the school, she did not know about greenhouse farming, weeding, pests and disease control, but she has now learnt a lot about these subjects.
“Back at home during holidays, I help my parents to adopt modern farming techniques by practically applying the knowledge I have learnt in school,” she said, beaming with joy.
“It is very exciting for us going through all these and creating a positive impact on the society.”
Locals have also expressed their gratitude to the school for offering them a chance to learn about modern farming.
“The agricultural projects at the school have been very helpful to us as a community as we have been able to turn around our investments from loss-making outfits to profitable ventures,” said Ms Edna Koske, a resident Mogogosiek.
Ms Koske said that together with members of her Africa Gospel Church, they have been trained especially on horticulture and dairy farming.
Mr Walter Cheruiyot, a resident of Boito village, said that after visiting the school with a group of young people, he had changed the model of rearing his two dairy cows from open grazing to semi-zero grazing.
“In the last two years, I have improved my stock with the adoption of artificial insemination and changed the feeding regime to maximize production,” he said.
“Milk production has improved from five to nine litres a day from each dairy cow.”
Dr Julius Tuwei, the school’s chairman of the board of management, said the local community uses the agricultural projects for benchmarking on the best practices and this has impacted them positively, besides enhancing food security.
Plans are afoot to plant the Hass avocado variety in the school alongside bananas as it seeks to become self-sufficient in vegetable production.
The school, with 962 students, was founded in 1979 under the sponsorship of the African Inland Church.
In the 2020 KCSE exam results, the best student in Bomet County, Mercy Chepkemoi, came from the school. She scored an A (81 points) and says she wants to study medicine at university.
“We are encouraged as a school. We are instilling discipline in the girls and teaching them holistically so that, apart from the academic work, they learn life skills so they can positively contribute to their personal development and that of the community,” said Principal Chepkwony.