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Agriculture: a weapon of mass construction

Father Godfrey Nzamujo, the spiritual father of the Songhai initiative in West Africa, recently visited Seed Valley. Nzamujo is convinced that a more efficient agri-food chain is the key to social stability and reducing poverty in West Africa. He wants to achieve a more profitable agrarian sector not step by step but in great leaps. For this reason, he is looking for better varieties and different crops.

One of the possibilities that Father Godfrey is looking into is growing tomatoes in heat-reflective foil greenhouses. In his country, Benin, there are high margins to be made on tomatoes. They are widely used and processed there, but mainly from imports. Tropical downpours and disease make unprotected cultivation nigh on impossible. Father Godfrey does not want to spend years working out how African growers can earn money from growing tomatoes; that would be a case of reinventing the wheel. By entering into partnerships with suppliers of high-grade expertise and propagating material, he wants to take a leap forwards in a short time. Among others, he talked to experts at Wageningen University and producers of foil greenhouses about it.

Terra incognita

In Seed Valley, he spoke to Syngenta and East-West Seed. On behalf of Syngenta, Pim Neefjes pointed out that the firm does have productive tomato varieties that grow well in the tropics, but that West Africa is something of a “terra incognita” as far as sales of tomato seed go. This is almost entirely due to a lack of organisation and lack of purchasing power among local growers. And that is exactly what Songhai Center is aiming to change.

With the aid of a number of batches of samples from Syngenta, Songhai Center will shortly be setting up pilot projects with trained horticulturalists at 17 locations across Benin and Nigeria. If the approach succeeds, the partnership with Songhai could mean that Syngenta will start selling high quality tomato seed in 15 African countries where Songhai Centers are being set up.

Passionate pioneers

East-West Seed made its name in South-East Asia with West Frisian know-how. The firm is not yet active in West Africa, but the inspiring story of pioneer Father Godfrey Nzamujo stirred a sense of recognition in Simon Groot, founder of East-West. Within a few minutes, the two passionate pioneers were deep in conversation about yard long beans or haricots kilométriques, warty pumpkins, ratatouille and tomato soup. Simon Groot also promised to allow Songhai Center to test a number of his varieties and crops.

Songhai Center

Agriculture and horticulture in Benin (West Africa) are inefficient, risky and unproductive businesses lacking in diversity. Due to the lack of options for storing, packing, processing or transporting the harvest, a large part of it rots before it reaches market. For many Africans, agribusiness offers little perspective and thus it attracts no investment. The rural population moves to the cities, where prospects are hardly any better. If the agrarian population can be made more productive and profitable, and given the prospect of properly paid work, the downward trend and mass depopulation of the countryside can be broken. And that is exactly the objective of Songhai: to make African agribusiness more competitive. It is the key to banishing poverty through the development of the West African countries. Or, in the words of Nzamujo: a weapon of mass construction.

Millennium Objectives

25 years ago, Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a Catholic priest and engineer, set up Songhai Center in Benin. He saw that successful agriculture and horticulture require structure, management, technology, marketing and credit, but above all training of young people. The Songhai model is based on agrarian communities. Originally started at a single location in Benin, the model has since successfully grown to become a Regional Center of Excellence, which in the coming years will be applied in 15 African countries. His project contributes to the United Nations’ millennium objectives agreed in 2000, which are focused on putting an end to global poverty. The project is being supported by the UN organisations FAO, UNDP, IFAD, ILO and UNIDO.


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