The Booker Washington Institute Alumni Association in North America (BWIAANA) has promised to construct a large modern agriculture project on the campus of the institution in Kakata, Margibi County. The establishment of the project, which could be used as a demonstration site for the school, will commence very soon, BWIAANA president, Eric Harris told the Daily Observer recently in an exclusive interview.
He said the project is modeled after the Muirkirk Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), a highly innovative farming program that researches sustainable and organic agriculture techniques and applies them to an urban agricultural setting through modernized farming methods. The MAES is a144-acre research farm project that is serving as a model in US; and as such, BWIAANA, is on the verge of being replicated at BWI, Harris said.
The station’s Sustainable Agriculture Program teach gardeners how to use these techniques to increase productivity in their urban gardens despite the size of the available area. Muirkirk also seeks to limit the use of commercial chemical fertilizers and toxic chemicals for pest control which can have harmful effects on the environment and human health.
“And this is what we want to be bring at BWI, which is a very good agricultural and vocational institution,” the BWIAANA president said.
“I’m from the Washington D. C area. The University of the District of Columbia has a farm just outside of D. C; we heard about this farm, which is used as a pilot project for farmers across the world. This is how we conceived the idea.
“We were invited and we went and toured the farm and we saw for ourselves a very unique project that we can replicate at BWI. We saw some of the crops they grow, how they harvested and packaged their products. We want to prioritize that training aspect of the project back home here; knowing that BWI, being an agric institution, we thought that this would be a very unique project for our institution.”
Harris was on a brief mission here geared towards reestablishing the working relationship between the association on the ground and the school administration.
“I’m here to launch an agric project on the BWI campus; a training project that will not only feed the students, but also train them how to preserve, package, grow their food and also help to create some kind of monetary value for the schools,” he said.
“We are hoping to do this very soon; we were on campus last Saturday and visited the spot. We earmarked some of the things that we need to begin to do. We also visited areas that will definitely help to support this project.”
He said the site has been selected and the area has been cleared. Students have already begun growing some vegetable crops in an effort to keep the grass out until the actually project commences very soon.
Under the project, students will learn the use of techniques to obtain maximum productivity in urban gardens without the use of excessive amounts of commercial chemical fertilizers for plants, nutrients and toxic chemicals and to control insects and diseases. The station uses composted waste for supplying land nutrients, and ways to increase plant resistance to reduce diseases and insect attacks.
Muirkirk Farm, which BWI intends to model its project after, came into its own during 2013. Its new construction and initiatives include:
Aquaponic facility, solar well, micro-greens plot, 4 greenhouses, organic compost processing and production site. 2013 also offered Muirkirk the chance to implement two important projects: the Specialty Crops and Ethnic Crops programs.
BWIAANA, according to Mr. Harris, is presently in the process of getting finance to support this project, “so that’s what we are working on.”
“Because of the huge nature of the project, it has been broken down into phases. The association has already come up with the proposal of phase one which is in the tune of US$65, 000,” Harris said.
That part of the project will contribute to lighting and provision of energy through the solar panel system and supply of water in the field (the irrigation system), he said, adding that the first phase, which is the most important to achieving the other phases, will be completed as soon as possible.
“This is the most important to the rest of the project so we want it done meticulously. The rest of the project will be centered on growing crops, vegetables, etc. So once we get through with phase one we think two and three will be a little easier. Some vegetables earmarked already include cucumber, pepper, potatoes greens, cabbage and others. Those are the kinds of crops we will be considering under this project,” he said.
Meanwhile, BWIAANA, which has 14 chapters and four zones, has been in existence since 1992. Harris said the association just celebrated its 25th anniversary “where we had a great turnout.”
“We have always been there for our school; we have worked with past administrations helping to improve the lives of students on campus. The association had earlier helped in revitalizing the clinic on campus and sent an ambulance for use by the clinic,” he added.
Meanwhile, Harris has called on the alumni to join rank with the group on the ground as well as the administration to help move the institution forward. “We got a lot a work to do on campus to help create a more vibrant and better learning environment,” he said in closing.