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Missionary still sowing seeds far from home

In an earlier life, he was the driving force behind Mountbellew Agricultural College, but for decades he’s been quietly synonymous with a similar operation – albeit in a very different climate – high in the green and rolling hills of rural Kenya.

Brother Tony Dolan left his indelible mark on the education of generations of young farmers through almost two decades at Mountbellew – most of those years as college principal.

He himself is an agriculture degree graduate from UCD in 1971 – and in his day, a noted Leitrim and UCD footballer – whose passion as an agricultural educationalist has benefitted farmers in two very different parts of the world.

At Mountbellew, he led the development of new dairy and beef units and associated training at the college which in turn enabled many young farmers in the region to successfully navigate their way in a rapidly modernising agriculture of the time.

While Principal, he was also on the Board of ACOT – the national advisory and agri training body later subsumed into Teagasc – and was Chairman and Secretary of the Private Agricultural and Horticultural Colleges.

After Mountbellew, the next phase of his life took him to rural Kenya when he took over as Principal at Baraka Farmers’ Training Centre in Molo, Western Kenya in 1989.

Life later took him away from there 20 years later to move to a remote region of Northern Uganda where he and his establish an agricultural and rural development training centre to assist farm households who were surviving on subsistence agriculture and also refugees from South Sudan who were in camps in the region.

But Baraka Agriculture College has remained close to his heart – and that’s why he was delighted last week when the FBD Trust announced that it will provide capital funding which will allow the college to upgrade its dairy facilities to provide a much-improved learning experience for students and small holder farmers in the catchment area of the college.

Baraka Agriculture College was founded in 1974 by the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru to educate and train the newly settled people of Rift Valley in Kenya. The college is governed and managed by the Franciscan Brothers.

It is a sister college of Mountbellew Agricultural College, and from 1989 to 2009 it was home to Brother Tony, after he’d spent a similar period at the helm in North Galway.

In all he has worked in East Africa for 34 years, and that was why he was delighted to say that the financial support ‘will greatly enhance the dairy infrastructure at the college, and this will provide a much-improved learning environment for the students’.

“The ambition is to enhance Baraka Agriculture College as an innovation support and training centre, which will work with Co-ops in support of small holder farmers and rural youth in East Africa,” he added.

It’s also the first developmental project outside of Ireland to receive support from FBD Trust.

The Kenyan college offers a wide range of courses ranging from Level 6 (Diploma), Level 5 (Certificate) and tailor-made short courses across the sustainable agriculture value chain.

From the mid-1980s the concept and practice of Sustainable Agriculture for Rural Development (SARD) evolved at the college.

The college, through its outreach department, has over the years partnered with a number of development agencies to come up with development interventions within East Africa in improving the livelihoods of resource poor people.

More recently, Baraka Agriculture College has partnered with Teagasc and Greenfield International in Ireland, and with KALRO and Self-Help Africa in Kenya, in the delivery of a Dairy Research and Development Project sponsored by the Irish Embassy in Kenya.

The focus of this work is to support smallholder farmers in Kenya. The improved infrastructure at Baraka Agriculture College as result of this funding will greatly enhance the effectiveness of this project.

Chairman of FBD Trust, Michael Berkery said they delighted to support the work of Baraka Agriculture College in Kenya.

“The work of the college in supporting young farmer education, as well as supporting small scale farmers in the catchment area of the college, will greatly help farm families improve farm productivity and profitability,” he said.

“The Franciscan Brothers who set up the college in 1976 have a long history of achievement in providing agriculture education in Ireland and in East Africa,” he added.


Pictured at the announcement of capital funding by FBD Trust to Baraka Agriculture College in Kenya were (from left) Dr Seamus Crosse, Greenfield International; Br Tony Dolan, Franciscan Brothers; Mary Dunphy, FBD; Michael Berkery, FBD Trust; and Professor Pat Dillon, Teaga

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