On the 23rd March earlier this year I was informed I would be joining the rest of the Youth Agro Entrepreneurs research on a farm visit. Below are excerpts of my report detailing my experience at Songhai farm in Porto Novo, Benin Republic.
The main objective of Songhai is to train young agricultural entrepreneurs who, once established, become pillars of community - capable of commanding respect and attracting the surrounding populations to the new kind of agriculture practiced on Songhai farm. This training does not stop with the acquisition and mastery of techniques of agricultural production. Songhai continuously follows up with its trained students from the pre-establishment stage through to the establishment of their farms and beyond. All the various departmental activities of Songhai converge directly or indirectly to these established farmers. At the second level of training, there is a team of workers charged solely with the follow-up/accompaniment of the farmers. This is the reason the farmers are situated at the center of Songhai's organizational chart - all the different sectors contribute to the development of the farmers.
Challenges Of Songhai
The Songhai Centre faces a few salient challenges operating under the present model as gathered from the visit. Training program needs to incorporate Information Technology (IT) skills into the current syllabus to prepare the trainees for dealing with the present reality of entrepreneurship programs globally. The intriguing aspect to this issue is that, there is an Internet café present on the premises but only used for commercial purposes to cater to demands of visitors/tourists. Interviews with Personnel and Trainees indicate a wish to see this aspect of training introduced on the program.
The impact of the activities been carried out at the Centre, on the personnel and the immediate community can easily be noticed. Strategically located a few hundred metres away from Porto Novo's central market, it serves a useful source of obtaining foodstuffs and farm produce for retail purposes without incurring steep transportstion fees. Motivation was generally high amongst staff and all adhered to strict time managed regimes. The circular approcah to production adopted by the Integrated Farming model also extends to personnel. Staff rotation between various departments and sections of the farm created a high level of team spirit and commraderie. Individual staff all seemed to have sufficient information to be able to perform the duties of various department thus creating a very robust staff pool. The challenges faced by the present operating model of the Centre need to be addressed in expansion or replicating of a similar enterprise. Information technology is ubiquitous to every sector of global economy. Developing agro entreprenuers that would go on to be successful and impact on their immediate societies, need to be IT savvy to a certain rudimentary level. Motivation amongst students and job security can be increased by deploying a model that allows the trainees to earn in the process of learning. Trainees with astute entrepreneural skills gain thus stand a chance of saving a kickstarter for their proposal, no matter how small it might be. The integrated farming model operated at Songhai Centre Porto Novo is a feasible approach to boosting the productivity of small to medium scale farming and developing a sustainable agricutural enterprises for the youths. Its a model that is gaining popularity fast and is evident in the profileration of its branches across neighbouring Nigeria and other West african countries. The future of integrated farming looks bright and I would recommend a visit to the nearest site to anyone interested in venturing into agro-entrepreneurship.