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Students from developing countries learn about sustainable vegetable production with G’s

Students from developing countries learn about sustainable vegetable production with G’s

Marshal Papworth Fund, a UK based agriculture-education charity, teamed up with G’s at their Sandfields Farms asparagus and spring onion site. The purpose of the visit was to inspire this year’s 11 scholarship recipients to make use of technology, renewable energy and sustainable farming practices to adapt their own cultivations at home for more successful and sustainable domestic and commercial production, whilst mitigating the effects of climate change.

The group of 11 students – who this year come from Ghana, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso and Kenya – spent the day with G’s Sandfields Farms managing director Derek Wilkinson, and group HR director Beverly Dixon.

Visiting the asparagus fields first, Derek explained the growth cycle and requirements of the crop; the Marshal Papworth students were particularly interested in steps taken to improve soil condition for optimum growth, as well as the lack of irrigation needed. Focusing on the importance of getting the soil right, Derek explained: “Soil condition and type isn’t something that we will compromise on, especially when growing asparagus; a decision to plant the crop in a badly drained field will result in losing the crop after five or six years, when the crowns should last for 10.”

In the spring onion fields, students challenged Derek on the details of developing a perfect seed bed, the drilling process, weed control, pest and disease pressure and how G’s drives efficiencies through their vegetable business. Derek said: “We are increasingly using technology to make more informed decisions – from when to spray against critical diseases include botrytis and downy mildew, through to the best timings for irrigation – technology is critical to a successful crop.”

Derek, is also responsible for G’s West Africa Farms in Senegal, which employs up to 1,000 local Senegalese workers on crops including spring onions for the UK winter season, continued: “We have been hugely impressed by the standard of the Marshal Papworth students we have met today – their eye for the technical detail in vegetable production and the impact this has on yield and profitability is to be applauded and I wish them the best of luck on returning to their home communities at the end of their 10 week scholarship and putting some of this new knowledge into practice.”

Student Owen Amihali, a project officer for Marshal Papworth partner charity, Tree Aid, in Ghana, thanked Derek and Beverly. He said: “Seeing how G’s use the latest technology and renewable energy within vegetable farming has really sparked something inside all of us today; whether we are farmers or are responsible for training farmers within our communities, I feel that by using more precise applications of fertiliser, pesticides and fungicides, as well as careful protection and improvement of our soils with cover crops and homemade compost, we can all become better and more sustainable producers of vegetables in our own countries.”

Owen continued: “We wish to thank Derek – every question we had, he turned into an opportunity to learn, and I am sure this day will be influential in developing us as farmers and trainers.”

The 11 students are currently studying at leading UK agricultural university, Harper Adams University, on the Marshal Papworth 10 week short course scholarship. This scholarship is a specially devised sustainable farming programme, including workshops in livestock farming, ‘train the trainer’ skills, woodland management, business skills, soil and water conservation, basic machinery handling and maintenance skills, crop husbandry, sustainable land and habitat management, as well as farm and cultural visits.

Over 200 students from developing countries have now benefited from a Marshal Papworth Fund scholarship, with each student going home to impact thousands of their countrymen and women through more sustainable farming. In order to continue these opportunities for students from the developing countries and aid more communities, the charity relies on donations from individuals and businesses. To find out more and to make a donation contact Sandra Lauridsen on 01733 363514 or email slauridsen@eastofengland.org.uk for more information.

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