When Bob Horton visited Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya in January, he was struck by the number of children he saw — at least, compared to the relatively fewer number of adults.
“The AIDS epidemic has really taken a toll in sub-Saharan Africa,” Horton said. “There are lots of children, but far fewer adults than one would expect to see.”
Horton realized that in just a few years, many of those children will become Africa’s farmers. But because their parents’ generation has been ravaged by death and illness, those children need help in developing the skills that will empower them to become the farmers, agri-business people and community leaders of 2025.
That’s why Horton, an associate professor with Ohio State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development program, is working with colleagues at Ohio State and across the nation in a Global 4-H Network project that will establish a clearinghouse of land-grant university information and technical assistance for 4-H club leaders throughout Africa and provide them with timely, open access to that knowledge.
The project is being supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nike Foundation. For the first year, Horton and colleagues at Ohio State have received $70,000 in initial funding to begin planning the Global 4-H Knowledge Center. Mary Crave of University of Wisconsin-Extension is project director for the Global 4-H Initiative, receiving another $100,000 to begin creating organizational materials and a pilot curriculum.
From its beginnings in the basement of the courthouse in Springfield, Ohio, in 1902, 4-H now has a foothold in more than 70 nations, including 10 African countries. But those programs are developing independent of each other and have no mechanism to stay connected and learn from one another, Horton said.
It is estimated that 200,000 young Africans participate in 4-H programs, but Horton said 75 percent of African 4-H leaders reported in 2009 that access to quality educational materials and technical support for staff is a challenge. The leaders asked for curriculum that was customized to African needs on topics such as entrepreneurship, income generation, vegetable gardening, sustainable agriculture, poultry and environmental sciences, and identified the need for technical assistance and capacity-building support in staff and volunteer development, financial management and infrastructure.
“During this first year, we will figure out the nuts and bolts of the program,” Horton said. “Then we’ll go back to the Gates Foundation and Nike to let them know what we’ll need to ramp it up to the next level.”
Horton said he envisions smart phone/broadband technology to enable leaders to download the information and applications they need in working with their 4-H clubs.
“I was amazed when I was over there — as I traveled even to the most rural areas, I would observe 3G cell phone towers. Africans have quickly adapted to the use of cell phones to stay connected. The phones are accessible and inexpensive, and they pay as they go for minutes. And with the use of broadband technology, for the first time in their lives they have access to real-time information and connectivity. With the 4-H Knowledge Center, it is our hope that they will become part of a community of youth practitioners … accessing the latest land-grant university information, sharing what works, downloading applications, and getting the activities they need for their next 4-H club meeting.”
Horton believes that the development of the new Global 4-H Network and Knowledge Center will add to the strengths of the 4-H club model, particularly in developing areas that have historically not been well-connected globally.
“This is step one of a long-range plan, and it’s all based on the tried-and-true 4-H club model that started right here in Ohio,” Horton said.
Others at Ohio State who are involved in the project are Robert Agunga, associate professor of human and community resource development, and Mark Erbaugh, interim director of International Programs in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.