"Nous sommes ensemble, ou bien?"

Thibault has been closely involved in our rice project in Benin since the end of October 2016. As a student in the International North-South Partnership he completed a 6-month internship at Uniriz-C. in Glazoué. He supports and evaluates the three groups that follow the training at Ferme SAIN, the training centre for young rice farmers. Discover how he experienced his visit here.

Nous sommes ensemble, ou bien?

Two weeks at Ferme SAIN and the founding of the OJEAB

- By Thibault Geerardyn

Groups one and two returned to Ferme SAIN in mid-January for training, but most of all to get to know each other better. The first week focused on fish farming and agro-ecology. It was then time for the first group to return home, while the second group stayed another week to finish off their training with a business plan. Besides being a practical course the aim was also to give the two groups plenty of opportunity to get to know each other better and to swap ideas. The spontaneous foundation of the OJEAB (Organisation des Jeunes Entrepreneurs Agricoles du Bénin) just goes to show what a success this was, and that these young people are facing the future with great courage but most of all as a team.

The young people hit it off immediately on the first evening, sharing their training experiences. They laughed about the strict instructors, imitating them with great energy. They recalled and shared their memories, and jointly decided on the menu for the coming week.

During the week, besides their practical training, the young people were also given the time to get to know each other: cooking together, a football match and some swimming in the Ouémé were the perfect recipe for a relaxed atmosphere, putting an end to mentions of group one and group two, and making more and more reference to “Nous sommes ensemble, ou bien?”.

Increasingly I heard talk of ideas on working together, until on one particular evening it was decided to set up an organisation. Once everyone had been able to present their own ideas a democratic decision was made on the name of the organisation. The OJEAB was born. The following evening there were similar democratic discussions regarding the logo and articles of association. Even to the extent that they took group three into consideration, who are to start their training in early February.

Fish farming

One aspect that was missing in the training and that the entire group was interested in was the matter of fish farming. So, in order to respond to that particular question, we organised a four-day course at Ferme SAIN. There the young people learned in a practical manner how to go about it.

After a short theoretical introduction they were supervised as they ran through the various phases of artificial reproduction. They learned to select the correct fish, about the process of insemination and how to monitor the larvae. They also visited a local fish farm, where they received plenty of practical tips from experienced fish farmers. This training will allow the young people to start farming fish for themselves. They can also pass on their skills in the local area.

Agro-ecology

The fact that the process of fish farming is covered in a relatively short time meant that we were also able to organise a workshop in agro-ecology. We started by explaining the meaning of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). And we discussed the dangers involved. This was followed by a trip to the vegetable garden, together with the expert Lucien, to learn in practice how to keep soil and crops healthy in a natural way. The young people learned about things such as how to make their own natural insecticides using leaves from neem, papaya and garlic. They also learned how to restore the soil after disease (by planting onions), and a technique to nourish the soil with waste charcoal and manure.

The young people listened attentively and could hardly believe their eyes. They learned many practical techniques that they will be able to use immediately, as there are few or no costs involved and because all that’s required is plentifully available in their surroundings. Lucien was not surprised when they asked him to come back later that week, which he also agreed to do. Group one left to get on with their own businesses, with a great feeling of satisfaction, not to mention as a member of OJEAB.

The business plan

Group two stayed for an extra week to work on a business plan. They were first given some lessons, allowing them to set to work autonomously during the second half of the week. It was hardly a simple task to develop a plan for the coming five years. However, after a few days of blood, sweat and tears, and working late into Friday night, the young people headed home with a business plan.

Their training is complete. Now it’s time for the real test. A test that they will not have to suffer alone, but together with the other members of OJEAB and the local support person. I for one see plenty of potential and I look forward to visiting the young people again and having a guided tour.

Read more about our rice project in Benin or take an even closer look by watching the video of ambassador Jan’s immersion trip.

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