LAGOS, Nigeria — Until the dream of a green economy becomes a full-fledged reality, no one can say with certainty what it will look like. Entrepreneurs promoting sustainable agriculture today, however, give us a hopeful glimpse into what that future holds — and the skills workers need in order to build it.
In 2011, the English government committed, in a landmark report, to a cross-sector skills strategy designed to prepare the labor force for the challenges and demands of a green economy. The report challenges business, industry and other stakeholders to equip workers with the resources, education and skills training they need to fully exploit new opportunities.
Although the report has a national scope of implementation, its proposals are actually being realized on a smaller scale by a fair number of start-ups in the developing world. Nascent as their efforts may seem, these enterprises are very much paving the way for federal action on green skills with their emphasis of local ownership, experiential education and long-term models for sustainable growth.
Two case studies of self-starting skill-builders are Green Acre Living and Farmline, both of which empower African farmers in different ways.
Green Acre Living is a non-profit organization that specializes in training urban farmers. Founded last year in Johannesburg, the organization equips trainees with the eco-friendly agricultural skills needed to participate in organic markets and enhance their income prospects.
Despite a highly interpersonal and microeconomic approach, the impact of Green Acre Living’s projects goes far beyond the individual farmer. Its entrepreneurial skill-building programs are one part of a wider mission to integrate low-tech, high-yield sustainable agricultural practices into national infrastructure, in preparation for involvement in the global green economy.
Among the organization’s goals for the future is the establishment of urban food-training academies, where students can gain technical expertise and a broader understanding of nutrition and food security. Another project in progress involves the promotion and spread of food cooperatives, which would encourage connection and collaboration between farmers to create a stronger, more resilient sector.
Meanwhile, in Ghana, tech startup Farmline is empowering farmers through software. MERGDATA facilitates communication and localized data-sharing between farmers, helping users to share in the benefits that come with a highly-informed, well-integrated agricultural system.
More than 200,000 smallholder farmers in five countries are using Farmline to exchange weather warnings, trade secrets and daily digests. In addition to optimizing decision-making, MERGDATA inserts technology into the routines of participating farmers, which sharpens their digital literacy skills.
Both Green Acre Living and Farmline received SAG-SEED Awards earlier this year for sustainable growth models and entrepreneurial vision. These organizations’ efforts not only testify to the range of programs, tools and profits that can come of green economic ventures, but work from the ground up to inspire and educate individuals on the possible future that awaits them.
– Jo Gurch