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Virginia Tech receives $4 million for youth development program in Senegal

November 21, 2017

Senegalese youth participating in a 4-H club in Bignona pose with their with their hands in the air.

A group of middle school aged children in Senegal waving.
The 4-H model, successful in Senegal since a Virginia Tech-led project started pilot clubs there in 2015, is being expanded to help transform Senegal's agricultural sector. Photo by Bruno Demeocq.

Virginia Tech will expand 4-H clubs across Senegal, transforming the country's agricultural sector through education and training. The work will be carried out under a $4 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The new effort builds on the work of the Virginia Tech-led Education and Research in Agriculture project in Senegal. The earlier work incorporated Virginia Cooperative Extension agents to employ the land-grant model to create 4-H youth clubs in Senegalese communities.

In addition to 4-H club expansion, the five-year Feed the Future Senegal Youth in Agriculture (YIA) project will work with vocational training institutions to strengthen connections to the private sector. The work will include pilot programs to create entrepreneurship and income-generating opportunities for youth. 

“This new project allows us to build on our momentum in Senegal and use a model, 4-H positive youth development that we know works,” said Van Crowder, executive director of the Office of International Research, Education and Development at Virginia Tech, which will manage the project.

Like 4-H clubs in other countries, members grow vegetable seedlings, participate in community service projects, raise chickens, visit laboratories, and organize fund-raising events. Activities also incorporate local practices such as traditional Senegalese wrestling matches.

Bineta Guisse, who helped launch the 4-H program in Senegal and will serve as the national director for YIA, said, “The 4-H model gives us a clear structure that we can adapt to meet the needs of local communities." The emphasis is on skill building along with relationships and "supporting youth to be active partners in development efforts,” she said.

Thomas Archibald, assistant professor of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, is the project's principal investigator and project director. He said the project’s focus on vocational training that meets the needs of communities and private-sector agricultural enterprises corrects the "mismatch between what students in Senegal learn in their training programs and what the agricultural sector actually needs."

The stakes are high for Senegal, where 75 percent of the country’s 13 million citizens work in agriculture, yet the country imports much of the food it consumes. 

The project will conduct training and curriculum development workshops and create other collaborations to assemble educators, entrepreneurs, employers, investors, and other stakeholders. 

Virginia Tech's Education and Research in Agriculture project is also known for helping transform Senegal’s agricultural education and training system by inspiring new legislation. The new law mandates Senegalese universities to incorporate outreach, community service, and private-sector partnerships as part of their missions. 

“The Youth in Agriculture project helps us maintain a presence in Senegal and also allows us to expand our partnerships there well into the future,” Crowder said, referring to the multidecade connection between Virginia Tech faculty and Senegalese counterparts.

He said the program fits with Virginia Tech President Tim Sands' goal to become a leading global land-grant university, calling the 4-H youth development project in Senegal "a flagship Virginia Tech program."

The Office of International Research, Education, and Development is part of Outreach and International Affairs.   

Written by Dana Cruikshank