Private skills academy for farmers
The private sector-connected planners behind the revamped Village Academy in Moneague, St Ann hope that at the end of the first 18 months of training young farmers, the project would have produced a surplus fund graduates in start-up agribusiness ventures.
The Village Academy, formerly a programme held in the Cochrane Centre for school drop-outs - is now envisioned as a farm on which school leavers will be trained in animal husbandry and farm management. They will also get back-up lessons in CXC subjects, as well as upgrade their literacy and numeracy skills.
The academy caters to 15-24-year-olds, both male and female, and is meant to prepare them to "enter the value chain", says Project Manager Sydney Henry.
The school, located on campuses in south-eastern St Ann and on a farm leased from the National Land Agency (NLA) will open September with an enrolment of 100 students. It is being operated by the Village Foundation, whose partners include the Sandals Foundation, the Digicel Foundation, the Methodist Church District of Jamaica, and unnamed donors overseas.
This September marks its shift into vocational training.
With an estimated budget to be financed by the founders of around $15 million annually over the next four years, Henry said the school aims to train and then provide seed funding to graduates of the programme working with co-operatives in their local communities to provide agricultural products and services. The backing of students will last for six months after graduating.
During their time in the programme, the students are expected to engage in commercial activities from which they build equity towards the funding of their final project, through on-farm labour
participation over two years.
The training programme itself lasts 18 months; the six months of post-training support accounts for the rest of the two-year period.
The programme covers the management and production of goats, pigs, poultry, bee-keeping, rabbit-rearing, greenhouse technology, as well as crop husbandry.
The programme managers are now developing a relationship with Jamaica's primary vocational trainer, HEART Trust/NTA, which they say is not yet formalised.
"The idea is to have an offering that is accredited by them. The aim is to have their curriculum. That programme will come into effect if we are able to provide the infrastructure," Henry said.
Based on HEART Trust's criteria, the school needs specialised infrastructure for all areas of training. To this end, one-eighth-acre property is being sourced from NLA at Haddon in St Ann, which it hopes to lease at approximately $25,000 a year.
The other properties are two schools previously managed by the government - Watsonville Primary and Jeffreyville Primary school, both in southeast St Ann, which have been shuttered. Together they approximate 10 acres in size. Both schools already have infrastructure although some parts are said to be beyond repair.
Start up will require infrastructure for all specialised areas including poultry, pig production, goat, rabbit, apiculture, greenhouse technology and crop husbandry.
As to the rationale for the programme, Henry explains: "One of the things we realised about the rural communities, and particularly in St Ann, is that there is a high number of young people in the system who have not benefited from school, either because they were socially or economically marginalised, or because there is a poor appreciation of education on the part of their parents. However, they are in rural communities where there is a propensity and an acceptance of farming."
The aim is to "build out opportunities beyond the academic to vocational training ... so they could be able to provide good and services based on relevant skills or so that they could start their own business as entrepreneurs", Henry said.