Benin: a reception with ambassador Jan

Pascal Gbenou, founder of the Sain Farm School in Benin: "I teach them farming methods. But not just that. I also teach them how to gain self-confidence."

Jan Robberecht is a Collibri Foundation ambassador for its Benin projects. At the end of May 2017, he received a visit from Pascal Gbenou, founder of the Sain Farm School, which caters to local young farmers supported by the Collibri Foundation. Together, they discussed the educational approach developed by this training centre.

Pascal Gbenou paid a visit to Jan Robberecht. Jan, a Collibri Foundation Ambassador, spent a long time at the Sain farm during his trip to Benin in November 2016. The farm school is run by Pascal. Twenty of the thirty Benin young people supported by the Collibri Foundation completed part of their training there.

So, on 26 May 2017, it was Pascal’s turn to make a stop in Rebecq, in the heart of Walloon Brabant, to visit Jan. Jan could not wait to ask him loads of questions. About the farm school. About how the students were progressing... He took the opportunity to explain some aspects of Belgian farming to Pascal.

Let’s go over the different roles for which you are responsible in Benin.

I am the sponsor of the Sain Farm School cooperative. This is an organic farming operation (fish farming, livestock, various crops) that trains young people on how to be a farmer and leads them to start up a sustainable business. I also participate in promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an agri-ecological approach that enables rice growers to increase yields without using fertilisers or chemical pesticides. Lastly, I am active in several professional associations.

What is your approach with the young people on the Sain farm?

I show them what to do. Then they try it on their own. They have to learn how to do it themselves. (Editor’s note: The approach developed by Pascal Gbenou is unique to Benin. The trainee immediately puts his theory training into practice, in a field or with livestock. Based on the principle that experience is the sum of past errors, the Sain Farm School training is precisely that of enabling the young farmer to have a go, even if he makes mistakes. So that he can learn from his mistakes).

What do you teach them?

I teach them farming methods. But not just that. I also teach them how to gain self-confidence. We take in young people from all parts of Benin. This is a real asset. Because I learn a lot from them as well. They stay with me for 18 months. This lets me to keep an eye on their progress. And I stay in contact with them. They all belong to an association, to maintain a form of solidarity among them. Seventy-six of them have created their own businesses.

What are the challenges you face?

I started by facing up to my family. My parents didn’t think that a young academic had a future in farming. But I persisted and I succeeded. I then wanted to prove that farming without any chemical products could be successful. And I succeeded. After this, I was able to develop a training system that is not based on external resources. At the moment, I am organising a monitoring system for young farmers who have attended the Sain farm. This is my fourth challenge. And there is still much more to be done!

What becomes of the young people who have completed their traineeship under the Collibri Foundation?

The experience with the young “Collibris” is similar to that with my other students. But their traineeship is shorter (3 months). Two groups of 10 have already done their traineeship with me and have created their own farming business. The second group are being followed up more closely than the first. The 20 young people have created their own association: the Benin young farming entrepreneurs organisation (OJEAB). It’s clear that their training has enabled them to create lasting relationships with one another.

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