Since the initial training, hundreds of local farmers have applied to join in the next training. The goal is to move from subsistence farming to secure livelihoods, from food sufficiency to food security, from agriculture to agribusiness. Whereas a 100-foot plot of land can only give a few cassavas worth N35,000, the same plot of land could produce bags of mushrooms worth N150,0000. Unlike cassava cultivation, mushroom is planted inside the house rather than in the open, and the waste from the mushroom soil is far more useful as fertilisers than the synthetic fertilisers provided by the government.
The Oyster Mushrooms grown in the village What I learnt in the village I have attended many seminars and workshops where I was taught that people need money in order to eat a balanced diet, and that if you give poor people money, they will eat good food. Armed with such foreign-made academic knowledge, I went to work among the poor men and women in a rural community in Nigeria. And they taught me another set of lessons, more realistic and more down-to earth. Here are some of the lessons:
• Do not give the people what they do not ask for: Some foreign NGOs, government officials and development workers often go to communities with ready-made answers to problems they have identified, and then convince the people to accept their solutions. Convincing them to accept your solution is easy. But the solution will not last because it will not be sustained. Unless the people ‘own’ the solution, they will abandon it when you are gone. That is the simple truth.
• More money does not translate into better food. We often think that the reason why poor people do not eat well is because they are poor. The reality on the ground is different: It often happens that the richer people get, the poorer their diet becomes. Again, more money does not translate into better food. Most often, the reverse is the case. The most important factor in eating a healthy, balanced diet is not money; it is knowledge –knowledge of the right food, the right food combination and the right time. I have discovered that people need more money to buy and eat the food that will eventually kill them!
• People in the local communities know more than they can tell. There is a huge deposit of implicit knowledge in the local communities. This knowledge is a potential asset that can be explored and tapped for the good of the society. Tapping into this requires an approach to education in the original sense of educare, the Latin word from which the English word ‘education’ is derived. Educare means to draw out, to bring out what lies within. We tend to see education as stuffing students with facts and figures and ideas.
In this sense, the university becomes a place separated from the community, a sort of laboratory where objective knowledge is generated and stuffed into students. Such an approach to education creates a dichotomy between teaching and research, where the teacher is the one who knows it all, while the student is like an empty pot needing to be filled up with ideas, facts and figures. For this, the student must pay a fee.
Conclusion The acquisition of Western knowledge has been and is still invaluable to all, but, on its own, it has been incapable of responding adequately in the face of massive and intensifying disparities, uncontrolled exploitation of pharmacological and other genetic resources and rapid depletion of the earth’s natural resources. In that context, a return to indigenous knowledge, cast in contemporary guise, is all-important. In a divided world as ours, we do not need more billionaires, more consumers and more powerful men.
The world is in dire need of more healers, more peacemakers and more storytellers, and this is where the true researcher comes in.