With a historical focus rooted in agricultural training and education for youth, 4-H is one of the world's largest youth development organizations, found in more than 80 countries in North America, South America, Central America, Europe, Asia and Africa. With 540,000 volunteers, 3,500 professionals, and more than 60 million alumni, the 4-H movement supports young people from elementary school through high school with programs designed to shape future leaders and innovators. Fueled by research-driven programming, 4-H'ers engage in hands-on learning activities in the areas of science, citizenship and healthy living.
4-H's history started in the late 1800's when researchers at U.S. public universities saw that adults in the farming community did not readily accept the new agricultural discoveries being developed on university campuses. However, they found that young people were open to new thinking and would "experiment" with new ideas and share their experiences and successes with adults. In this way, rural youth programs became an innovative way to introduce new agriculture technology to their communities.
The seed of the 4-H idea of practical and "hands-on" learning came from the desire to make public school education more connected to country life. Early programs tied both public and private resources together for the purpose of helping rural youth. Building community clubs to help solve these agricultural challenges was a first step toward youth learning more about the industries in their community.
A. B. Graham started one such youth program in Clark County, Ohio, in 1902, which is considered the birth of the 4-H program in the United States. The first club was called "The Tomato Club" or the "Corn Growing Club". T.A. "Dad" Erickson of Douglas County, Minnesota, started local agricultural after-school clubs and fairs also in 1902. Jessie Field Shambaugh developed the clover pin with an H on each leaf in 1910, and by 1912 they were called 4-H clubs.
When the US Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 and created the Cooperative Extension System at USDA, it included work of various boys' and girls' clubs involved with agriculture, home economics and related subjects, which effectively nationalized the 4-H organization. By 1924, these clubs became organized as 4-H clubs, and the clover emblem was adopted.
The Cooperative Extension System is a unique partnership of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the 109 land-grant universities (in every state and territory) and more than 3,000 county offices.
As a publicly funded, non-formal collaborative national educational network, Cooperative Extension combines the expertise and resources of federal, state, and local governments. Cooperative Extension is designed to meet the need for research, knowledge and educational programs that enable people to make practical decisions.
Through the local county and state offices, extension staff provides research-based information, non-formal educational programs and technical advice directly to individuals, families and communities that enable them to be self-reliant and improve their lives. Historically, these efforts have been described in various ways - as major projects, programs, areas or core programs.
Today, 4-H has an expansive reach, serving youth in rural, urban, and suburban communities in every state across the nation. Youth currently in 4-H are tackling the US' top issues, from global food security, climate change and sustainable energy to childhood obesity and food safety. 4-H out-of-school programming, in-school enrichment programs, clubs and camps also offer a wide variety of science, engineering, technology and applied math educational opportunities – from agricultural and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection and computer science – to improve the nation's ability to compete in key scientific fields and take on the leading challenges of the 21st century.
4-H also has an expanded global presence through the development of the International Farm Youth Exchange. The Exchange helped to develop similar 4-H programs in more than 80 countries throughout the world. 4-H has taken root in 13 countries in Africa, with more partners identified every year. Angola, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa and Zambia are a part of a today's 4-H global network. These programs are preparing the world’s young people to meet urgent global needs, including hunger, sustainable livelihoods, and food security.
By 2015, 4-H will equip 250,000 young people in Sub-Saharan Africa with the knowledge and skills needed for improved, sustainable livelihoods. The goals are to:
- Build consensus that youth are the solution to solving the world's challenges.
- Build capacity and capability of 4-H programs to reach youth with high quality positive youth development programs.
In 2010-11, with support of private sector partners, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cargill, DuPont, Motorola Foundation and Nike Foundation, National 4-H Council worked with Tanzania 4-H to pilot-test a model of collaboration. The pilot provided customized technical assistance, access to web-based and digital technologies, and networking. A prototype for a virtual Global 4-H Knowledge Center was developed and tested as a means to provide research-based content, tools, and mentoring for front-line 4-H workers, as well as 4-H administrators. Field research was conducted in rural Tanzanian communities to understand needs and challenges for girls and young women to fully participate in 4-H programs. Drawing from this research, intervention strategies have been developed and packaged as a toolkit available to diverse partners and programs.
Building on the pilot with Tanzania 4-H, DuPont and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are providing support to strengthen the capacity of country-led 4-H programs in Ethiopia (emerging), Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. Key strategies include to:
- Build in-country leadership capacities
- Increase public and private investment in country-led 4-H programs through innovative partnerships
- Establish knowledge systems that will provide 4-H and other organizations with access to high-quality
Today, 4-H programs in three countries are serving as hubs of excellence to implement these strategies:
- Tanzania – 4-H Leadership Institute - Tanzania 4-H, in partnership with consultants, is leading the development and implementation of an on-going 4-H Leadership Institute which offers training and peer to peer learning for African-based 4-H leaders and mentors about positive youth development, agricultural innovation and research-based farming practices.
- Ghana – 4-H Enterprise Gardens - 4-H Ghana is partnering with 12 districts (in the Eastern Region), Ministry of Food Agriculture (MoFA) and Ghana Education Services (GES) to engage schools to develop 4-H Enterprise Gardens. These gardens are serving as learning laboratories to effectively integrate the science of positive youth development, agriculture and innovative partnerships. Ultimately, the 4-H Enterprise Gardens program will inspire young people to explore agricultural careers and prepare for a role in feeding the world through market-based, youth-in-agriculture projects and sustainable models for food security.
- Kenya – Monitoring and Evaluation & Knowledge Center - Kenya 4-H (4-K) is guiding the development and implementation a country and regional M&E framework that: 1) measures programmatic impact and 2) aggregates data on a common set of standards of operation to measure organizational and management development. In addition they are leading the engagement of Africa-based knowledge providers to lead, develop, and support the Global 4-H Knowledge Center - a virtual repository of agriculture and positive youth development content (see http://www.4-hglobalknowledge.org).