Under the sun, a group of apprentice market gardeners spread microorganisms capable of fixing nitrogen from the air and mineral salts in the soil. All are dressed in red and green T-shirts in the colors of Songhai, on which there is an eagle, symbol of the center, and a slogan: “Africa raises its head”.
In 2011, Hubert Wiwédé Dansou was still among them. Today, it has an agro-pastoral farm of 2,126 square meters, the Jardin des Béatitudes, which combines market gardening, fish farming, rabbit farming and pigsties. Since his cucumbers are prized locally, Hubert plans to expand the area of his farm and then welcome other young people to train them in agricultural techniques and management.
Songhai, the great Beninese school of farmer-entrepreneurs, is an hour away, near Porto-Novo. It is at the exit of the capital, on a hectare of bad land, that the Dominican priest Godfrey Nzamujo opened his “mother farm” in 1985. Thirty years later, it spans more than 22 hectares and looks like American-style campus.
Hubert Wiwédé Dansou is one of the 3,370 people trained by the Songhaï center. He then opened his farm “the garden of the Beatitudes”, which combines market gardening, fish farming, rabbit farming and pigsty.
Hubert Wiwédé Dansou is one of the 3,370 people trained by the Songhaï center. He then opened his farm “the Garden of Beatitudes”, which combines market gardening, fish farming, rabbit farming and pigsty. Credit: Benjamin Polle
Since 1989, 3,370 men and women aged 18 to 35 have graduated from a 30-month course, free for Beninese and costing between 40,000 and 135,000 CFA francs per month (from 60 to 260 euros ) for the others. Each year, 320 new students are recruited, and 550 Africans welcomed for 3 to 6 months for training in farm management or new agricultural techniques. Like Hubert Wiwédé Dansou, 1,770 are self-employed, 12% of whom are women. Encouraging figures when almost one in four people are hungry in sub-Saharan Africa, paradoxically a majority of peasants. “Compared to other agricultural schools in the country, Songhai is at the forefront and enjoys enormous visibility, which Godfrey Nzamujo, a charismatic character, knows how to maintain,” analyzes a Beninese expert.
No wonder, then, that the new prime minister, Lionel Zinzou, chose Songhai for one of his first official visits. On June 27, 2015, he defended the project to promote agricultural entrepreneurship, a national replica of the Songhai model promised by the President of the Republic, Thomas Boni Yayi, who completed his second and last mandate in 2016. At one year As of the end of the program, only two of the eleven agroecological zones planned have emerged. But the pace “will accelerate,” assured Lionel Zinzou.
Read also: “Songhai is a project for a new African society”
This notoriety, the open air laboratory of “Brother Nzamujo” owes it to its results. Yields reach two to five tonnes per hectare per year for maize, one to two tonnes for sorghum and two to three tonnes for soybeans, while the national average did not exceed 1.4 tonnes per hectare in 2013, all grain productions combined. The goal: to allow local producers to supply their own market and create rural jobs, while Africa is importing more and more food.
Agriculture is the backbone of the “Songhai integrated system”. The plots of lettuce, eggplant, cabbage, melons, carrots or tomatoes are carefully maintained, mulched and watered. Inexpensive seeds suitable for tropical and arid climates are being tested. The ambition: to minimize the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which indebted farmers and sterilize the soil.
Elsewhere, guinea fowl and quail enclosures rub shoulders with laying hens, broilers, pigsties and fishponds. Some people’s waste feeds others according to a “circular” logic. The cassava chips or the rice bran are incorporated into the recipe for the feed, pellet feed given to the animals. The viscera of butchered beasts are placed on straw to attract flies. The maggots they lay, rich in protein, serve as a small fry for catfish and carp, the water of which – from the toilets – is purified by hyacinths. These water plants, hunted everywhere like dogfish, are used here for their filtering properties. They are then buried in a methanizer with other organic remains which, when decomposed, produce biogas, used in the restaurant kitchen. Finally, a gasifier converts the biomass of twigs or oil cakes to provide electricity, in combination with solar panels.
Local processing of agricultural raw materials
Another yield accelerator: machines, still very rare in African family farms. A foundry manufactures them on site, most often from recovered materials. One can thus acquire a very useful manual peanut huller for 85,000 CFA francs (129 euros).
Last step: the local transformation of agricultural raw materials, the foremost of African political leaders. Since 2010, no less than six production lines have been established in large warehouses. Eighteen tonnes of husked rice can come out every day, as well as plantain crisps, floating pellets for fish – previously imported from Israel and the Netherlands – or bottles of drinking water, tomato or mango juice (6,000 per hour). The latter are blown in Porto-Novo from recycled plastic, with Chinese machines.
At the end of the chain, the products are stamped Songhaï, then sold in the shop in the center of Porto-Novo and via a national distribution network. Songhaï draws 43% of its revenues from them, which reached $ 12.5 million (9.3 million euros) in 2013. The rest comes from training (18%), services (11%) and generated activities. by the bank, the hotel, the cybercafé and the swimming pool of the center, visited each year by 20,000 tourists.
However, some former students are worried. “Animal production would not be considered” organic “in Europe and half of the ingredients of certain processed products are imported”, regrets an ex-student. “The level of teachers is very low and everything rests on Godfrey Nzamujo. When he leaves, can Songhai’s reputation be maintained? “. Other difficulties are emerging: the sustainability of farms and the cost of acquiring land by graduates with a small borrowing capacity, recruitment at BTS level which excludes young illiterate peasants … “Songhai presupposes a rural middle class which does not yet exist, “analyzes a Beninese specialist.
Songhai Leadership Academy to train 180 executives
Blandine Araba, collaborator of Mr. Nzamujo, disputes this version. “All of our raw materials come from our centers and from local agricultural entrepreneurs trained by Songhai,” she said. We organize mass training, in short cycle, for people in the trade. Recently, more than 500 low-income farmers from across the country have benefited. We use inexpensive, locally available, easy-to-adopt technologies that increase productivity. ”
The process is underway: from September 2015, the “Songhaï Leadership Academy”, funded by the French Development Agency (AFD, partner of “World Africa”) to the tune of 350,000 euros, will train 180 managers who will “strengthen the current centers and will support the creation of new sites ”, explains Géraud Terrisse, project manager at the AFD office in Cotonou. And other centers, run by Songhai elders (“proof that Mr. Nzamujo’s presence is not necessary,” said Blandine Araba), have opened in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ultimately, fifteen countries in the region will host it.
Thirteen sites currently exist. The largest of them, that of Katsina in Nigeria, covers 15,000 hectares – a real city, which should allow more than 50,000 young peasants to make a living from their activity.
Benjamin Polle, contributor to World Africa, Porto-Novo
Learn more at http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2015/10/08/benin-songhai-l-ecole-des-fermiers-entrepreneurs-fait-des-emules_4784990_3212.html#qGD61OqSdQli37A8.99