Northamptonshire farms and food producers inspire sustainable agriculture students from Africa and India
Fifteen sustainable agriculture students from developing communities in Africa and India benefited from a field day full of knowledge exchange when they headed to Northamptonshire this week, visiting Forceleap Farm, Brackley Bees and Featherbed Fruits.
The students are halfway through a 10-week scholarship course in sustainable agriculture at Harper Adams University, funded by agricultural development charity, the Marshal Papworth Fund, which is managed by the East of England Agricultural Society.
Alice Townsend manages Forceleap Farm, a 1,500-acre mixed farm in South Northamptonshire. It is a diversified farming business with an arable enterprise and a beef herd made up of 175 beef sucklers. The farm finishes in excess of 150 beef cattle a year, which are largely sold direct to local butchers Smith and Clay, which is owned and manged by Alices sister. The farm also has a large environmental scheme and has diversified into running property and a venue hire business. Alice has held an interest in farming in developing countries for several years, working in agricultural and rural development both in the UK and overseas. Having worked in Ghana, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda on a range of projects, Alice, who is also a key member of the Marshal Papworth Fund committee, was ideally placed to guide the students through her farming enterprise, and how the things they may see could relate back to the students’ home countries.
Alice said: “Although the Estate enjoys a traditional image and has an interesting history, we are also an innovative and successful organisation. We have developed original strategies for operating in a challenging agricultural and economic environment. Our emphasis is always on risk management and building the resilience of the business with long term sustainable solutions. This is highly transferable to the students’ own situations back home”.
“Working all over Africa means I have seen how poor land management, environmental degradation and inequality affect the farmed landscape and those trying to live there. Alongside this, the lack of education or opportunity to see alternative approaches or strategies, limits the possibility or likelihood for change. This makes education and the opportunity to come to the UK to gain a new perspective fundamental to change. It is crucial for people living in these conditions to have access to new ideas and knowledge, so I am always happy to welcome the Marshal Papworth Fund students to Forceleap as part of their studies.”
The visit included a tour of Tony Manton’s Beekeeping enterprise at Brackley. With well over 1000 hives, Tony farms honey over the whole of the centre of England, including at Alice’s farm. Coming from an engineering background the student enjoyed seeing how an engineer’s brain has been applied to the whole production process from farming the bees to extracting and marketing the honey.
Students learn about honey production
One of the students – Isaac Ogutu, a Farm Systems and Sustainability Officer with Marshal Papworth Fund partner charity Ripple Effect in Kenya – said: “I was really motivated with what Alice is doing on her farm especially how she has diversified streams of income across her business. It was lovely to see how she has planned the farm and strategies she has put in place to have enough feed for her beef herd during winter. There was a lot to learn from her farm as well as from her advice.”
Students, members of the Harper Adams University team and Marshal Papworth Fund committee members also visited Featherbed Fruits run by the Rymer family. Harry, who has taken the lead in developing this new enterprise, showed the students a two-acre high-tech greenhouse that is home to some 70,000 strawberry plants. All the plants are grown in a hydroponic system consisting of coconut husk, incorporating biological control of pests and an irrigation system based on rainfall that is collected from the roof of the greenhouse, giving students a fascinating insight into sustainable practices in the horticultural industry.
Harry at Featherbed Fruits, talks to students about the hydroponic strawberry production
Sandra Lauridsen, coordinator of the Marshal Papworth Fund, said: “We are grateful to the field visit hosts today for giving our 2023 cohort a beneficial insight into sustainable farming across a range of agricultural and rural enterprises; these operations are transferable to farms in Africa and India, and we look forward to seeing how our students will put into practice today’s experience when they return home next month.”
The Marshal Papworth Fund provides scholarships for students from developing countries, including year-long Masters MSc scholarships to leading UK agricultural universities and colleges, and a bespoke 10-week short course, developed with Harper Adams University. To date, 243 students have been educated at UK agricultural universities as part of the Marshal Papworth Fund scholarship schemes.