Africa’s population is forecast to double by 2050. Meanwhile, the continent’s average cereal yields have shown little improvement since the 1960s in contrast to steep rises in productivity throughout much of Asia. Over the same period, Africa has moved from being a net exporter to importing a quarter of its food. Rapid population growth, poor infrastructure and persistent underinvestment have negated the benefits of new technology, improved seed varieties and increased international trade in food. Tapping into Africa’s potential for self-sufficiency, building on its inherent strengths, demands a different approach. (http://www.un.org/en/africa/osaa/pdf/pubs/2013africanagricultures.pdf )
Towards a Solution
Songhai Centre in Benin was created in 1985 by Catholic priest Brother Godfrey Nzamujo to address this challenge at the local level. Its mission is to develop sustainable agro- ecological methods and techniques and train a critical mass of young people equipped with the technical and organizational capacities to produce efficiently and in a sustainable manner. The integrated system provides a natural value-chain platform for the participants.
The Songhai model is changing the way in which rural communities in many African countries share ideas and experiences, transfer technologies and train new generations in building sustainable farming practices at the grass-roots level. It is an integrated system of development, creating and building ”green rural cities” designed to tackle the triple challenge of environment, sustainable food production/poverty and youth unemployment, and reversing rural exodus. The technologies used are developed through cooperation with China, Thailand and Viet Nam and many African universities and institutions.
Songhai offers a unique integrated development system. It is not simply the usual training, technology transfer or production model. It is an innovative institution that has four components:
It is a technology park, where new ideas and techniques are developed and contextualized, and as such, it is a knowledge enterprise through cooperation with other institutions and countries (in China, Thailand and Viet Nam as well as in Africa) where sustainable technologies are developed and contextualized;
It is an industrial park and production centre, where techniques and ideas are turned into enterprises and into different types of production activities in an integrated manner;
It is an incubation/training/human resource development centre, a mother firm/farm, an effective incubation space where new competences are developed. At Songhai, trainees are equipped with new techniques and methods developed at the centres (technology parks) to enable them to become more productive and efficient. By participating in production activities, the trainees, facilitated by mentors who are practitioners themselves, develop organizational and managerial competences to enable them to become functional individuals and entrepreneurs; and
It is a service centre. After training, the job is far from over. Trainees need to be leveraged with services such as marketing, input procurement, hospitality services, and networking, financial/loan and advisory services to enable them to stand on their own and create synergy and cooperation among themselves.
Since the beginning of the project, the Centre has trained over 2,000 young people in sustainable and organic farming, value-chain practices and business-creation skills. About 1,200 of these young farmers have gone on their own to create different centres and facilitate the creation of sustainable farms in their regions. As a result, thousands of local farmers are now able to establish their own Songhai communities, generating employment and increasing agro-production and their own incomes. The Songhai aim is to build a critical mass of catalysts. Songhai service centres and networks also provide new seeds, new technologies and market opportunities for them.
Songhai offers a holistic model that builds on the interrelationship between environment, agriculture, technology, services and industry and includes skills development. It encourages the use of local resources, the combination of traditional and modern practices, technology adaptation and diversification of activities. As such, it promotes zero waste and total productivity through bio and agro-ecological practices. The model therefore offers rural communities the opportunity to use and manage their resources sustainably while promoting local economic development.
The sustainability elements of the Songhai model are as follows: (a) use of sustainable and authentic technologies, causing the centre’s productivity to increase every year; (b) an environment that is not only protected but enhanced; (c) products that are of high value (for healthy living, healthy ageing and disease prevention), in greater demand and fetch higher prices; (d) training of functional individuals who become productive and efficient entrepreneurs; (e) a production and service centre designed to facilitate a value-chain platform (primary production, value addition through processing, marketing and an input sourcing mechanism within its network); and (f ) a design that enables it to become self- sustaining within three to four years after inception.
The Songhai model is being replicated in 15 African countries, building on its growing numbers of incubated entrepreneurs who reinvest in their communities to create new opportunities. The model is easy to replicate as long as there is adequate support through linkages and networking among participants. Partners and beneficiaries include local farmers, women and youth, national and local governments, universities and research institutions, the French Development Agency, Eliminate Poverty NOW, FAO, IFAD, ILO, Oxfam- Quebec, the Songhai Women’s Capital Fund, UNDP and USAID.
Contact: Songhai Centres firstname.lastname@example.org
Countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Togo, Viet Nam
Project name: Songhai Centres
Sustainable Development Goal targets: 2.3, 2.4, 8.3, 12.2, 15.9
Supported by: Governments, private sector, Eliminate Poverty NOW, French Development Agency, FAO, IFAD, ILO, Songhai Womens Capital Fund, UNDP, USAID
Implementing entity: Songhai Centre
Project status: Ongoing
Project period: 1985 to present
URL of the practice: http://www.songhai.org/index.php/en/home-en
Related resources: Songhai Centre brochure.