How it all started…

In the spring of 2013, a group of students from Wageningen University, inspired by Irene Cardoso and Heitor Mancini Teixeira from Brazil’s agroecology movement, decided to start up a project called Farm Experience Internship. Heitor, student from Federal University of Vicosa, tells about the Brazilian experiences:

The Estágio Interdisciplinar de Vivência

In Brazil family farmers and traditional communities play a very important role concerning food production and conservation of natural resources. They are responsible for the production of approximately 70% of the food consumed in the country and in many cases manage their production systems in a more sustainable way, seeking for the integration between nature and agriculture. Although their great contribution for society, the knowledge developed and disseminated in educational institutes of superior level is often disconnected from the reality and needs of family farmers. On the one hand their traditional knowledge is underestimated regarding research and extension at the University. On the other hand the knowledge produced at educational institutes is too theoretical and often orientated towards large scale industrial agriculture, creating gaps between family farmers’ needs and research. Besides, many University students of agriculture-related topics have no experience with farms or farming and are not aware of what`s happening on the ground.

Estágio Interdisciplinar de Vivência (EIV)

Based on that and supported by Social Movements, it was initiated in 1989 by University students a project called Estagio Interdisciplinar de Vivencias (EIV), in the municipality of Dourados, Mato Grosso State. The EIV is a tentative to bring closer University and Society, Scientific and Traditional knowledge. The students are sent to experience and live the rural reality of family farmers and social movements, making possible to connect what they learned in the farm with their studies, as well as, develop their critical thinking. This open space for new possibilities of intervention and dialogue, during and after the process of academical education of the students. Currently the initiative gained national scope, being adopted in many Universities throughout the country.

In the Federal University of Vicosa – MG, the EIV started as an extension project in 1996, developed in partnership with the Landless Movement (MST – http://www.mstbrazil.org/; see also documentary), Atingidos por Barragens Movement (MAB – http://www.mabnacional.org.br) and a local NGO called Center for Alternative Technologies of Zona da Mata (CTA-ZM – www.ctazm.org.br). The process involves students from different disciplines and is divided in three main stages: Preparation (6 days), Farm Experience (13 days) and Collective evaluation (4 days).

Nowadays the EIV is gaining recognition inside the University but also in a national level. Recently the government created a financial line for extension projects directed exclusively for the development of EIV`s. Any public Brazilian University can have access to this resource through an annual call for applications. (Heitor is the co-author of an interesting article about the EIV, published in Farming Matters, 2013. Read the article here or download the full magazine for free here).

FARM EXPERIENCE INTERNSHIP 2013. The FEI internship wanted to provide the participants with holistic approach on sustainable agriculture. Together with that, participants would spend a part of the internship at an organic farm in The Netherlands. After the first farmers and students showed their interest, the project was ready to become a reality. In order to make the project stronger we looked for partnerships. We found supporters such as the Bolster, Ileia, Boerengroep, Otherwise, BoerenVerstand and the chairgroups of WUR for Farming Systems Ecology and Rural Sociology.

On the 12th of August the internship started with 18 enthusiastic participants. Bridging science and practical experience of farmers came closer through the viewpoint agroecology and interdisciplinarity.

FEI 2013

After two week of experience at organic farms in The Netherlands, the participants went through the evaluation phase. Collectively, they assessed their experiences and talked about the change in their perception about farming (organically). They met inspiring farmers who work the land with passion and with all the hope in the future of agriculture.

There were nice discussions with the input of the students who came with their theories. I like to show the CSA, because I am proud of it and I like to share this knowledge with people who have interest in CSA’s.– Pieter Lammerts, Biologische zelfoogsttuin De Nieuwe Ronde

The student worked and had lunch together with me. In the last day we had a barbecue. The student set a tent in the farm. It was a very nice experience, the student integrated very well in the farm, we had nice conversations and he followed well the working rhythms. “It’s funny to notice: Heitor (student intern) comes from the other side of the world and still we have so many ideas in common. Unbelievable!”. – Ravi van Marissing, De Raatakker

“You (the FEI team) are pioneering an idea that has been going on for years!” – Taco IJzerman, De Ommuurde Tuin

We worked together in the field, opening space for discussions and conversations. The work is very diverse in the farm and we explained many things  to the student, who didn’t know basic things of farming! It’s good to see how other people, in this case students, see farming. The farmer get other views and get to know their customers! The FEI it’s a good idea, very important for the students to learn with practice and connect it to their theory” – Angelien, Welmoet en Linde, De Stroom

This project is a good thing to do. It’s nice to teach people and explain them the vision of the farmer. Students are very theoretical, we need to meet in the middle. It’s important because in the future students will be researchers or even work with EU regulations, so they need to understand the reality. The course can make a bridge between academical and practical. It should be obligatory at the University. – Andree Jurrius, De Lingehof

And it goes on..

The first FEI was a big succes: Farmers were enthusiastic, students were amazed by all beautiful experiences – some even stayed working on the farm after the FEI! This had to be continued for next years! Stichting Boerengroep and Otherwise looked for students who would like to organize the FEI as an internship for their Msc study. Together with enthusiastic volunteers and organizers of previous year, as well as the chairgroups FSE and RSO, Caren Krul and Elske Hageraats (Boerengroep) started on the second edition of the FEI. This website was filled with inspiration, links, documents and stories. A FEI manual was made so that students of other universities can also organise a FEI on their university. Contacts were made with other organisations and foundations, new farmers were contacted, key note speakers were arranged and on the 5th August 2014, the second edition of the FEI started with a wonderful group of enthusiastic participants from all over the world!

Everyone – students, farmers, researchers – agreed: the Farm Experience Internship is of crucial importance to really bridge science, practice and research (agroecology) as a way to build, defend and strengthen the food sovereignty movement in the world. Wageningen in that sense, is a very special place, since it is an international university. Participants of the FEI are coming from all over the world – and they bring this knowledge and experience back home. Stichting Boerengroep therefore decided to create internships, where international students can join in the organization of the FEI and start organizing this program at the university in their country as well. It’s a dream that one day, the FEI will take place in every country, and students, peasants, researchers etc. can exchange knowledge regarding different realities and experiences. Together, we are building a strong food sovereignty network!