City graduate, country graduate
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CTA. 1999. City graduate, country graduate . Spore 84. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46549
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore84.pdf
Ever since public authorities stopped recruiting staff, the movement has swelled: all over the developing world, more and more young unemployed graduates are thinking of working on the land, full or part-time. At least they will get fed, be able to...
Ever since public authorities stopped recruiting staff, the movement has swelled: all over the developing world, more and more young unemployed graduates are thinking of working on the land, full or part-time. At least they will get fed, be able to see their way through to the end of the month, make their retirement safe and, sometimes, give the village a bit of a boost. Many of them are, it is true, reluctant farmers but some have gone out and got specialised training to make their elders land prosper; others are using their various graduate disciplines to diversify production. All in all, they are changing the face of farming, and turning it into a real profession. Not always with success, mind you. Agriculture is not always easy on experts. We examine some portraits of the prodigal or novice graduate farmer. In the beginning, there was the father. The father pastor of the Presbyterian church of Cameroon. In 1953 he took out the land rights on the family estate at Mbenguè Souk, a village 160 kilometres from the capital. It had rich, fertile soil. The railway line was a stone s throw away, and the station just two-and-a-half kilometres; quite an asset for shipping away the cocoa production of the Reverend Father Sendè, a farmer by trade. Father Sendè encouraged his sons to stay close to the land, despite their various university journeys. Pierre became a gynaecologist. Jean-Victor, a graduate in urban planning and an architect by training, had studied in France. His wife Georgette was a barrister in Cameroon. Yet in 1963, they picked up the baton from father Sendè, and grew cocoa and cassava. In 1977 the farm really started to develop. It was when the youngest son, David, came back home: rather than become a civil servant, the young agriculturalist, who had trained in France, settled down in the village and set about replacing his father s cocoa with oil palms. His brothers pooled their savings and bought four chain-saws and two tractors, second-hand. Jean-Emile, a nephew and mechanical engineer, built two oil presses. The initial investment was CFA 28,600,000 (about E 43,664), and they had to find a way to cover their start-up costs and the quarterly cleaning of the machines. Gradually, by buying up neighbouring plots, the Sendè estate grew to cover 70 hectares of palm, five of orchards, another five for pineapples, together with two ponds producing fish for family consumption or distribution to villagers. The Sendè s also had other crops such as bananas, cucumbers, new cocoyams, taro and maize. Nowadays their pineapple juice is on sale in supermarkets throughout Cameroon. Most of their oil palm production has been leased to the parastatal Socapalm company, which processes it into palm oil. The success of the family has had a strong ripple effect on the community. Seasonal workers are employed for heavy work. Six full time agricultural workers work alongside David. The Sendè s really have contributed to the uplifting of the farming world of Mbenguè-Souk, notably through sharing ideas and resources through Common Interest Groups (known as GICs) which they started up. The Common Interest Group of Souk tree-keepers (known as GICARSOUK), for example, brings together all orchard owners in the village. It will soon be time for the farm to be handed on again. The Reverend s grandson is thirty now, so this story will go on and on The engineer and the plants Stephan Tongo was trained as an engineer in the national training college at Vierzon in France. In the early 1960s, he took up a post in the national railway company of Cameroon, as the manager of rolling-stock maintenance. At home, in the villa garden, he started raising chickens, setting out a chicken run with fences among his mango and guava trees. He made his own incubators, feeding troughs and watering troughs. It all started as a hobby, but gradually it became a means of seeing his way to the end of the month and feeding his family. His talent as an engineer provided a good foundation for setting up a real farm. With help from his sons and his mother, by 1982 he had a battery farm of 1,000 laying hens, and 500 meat chickens, and a growing clientele. Then one sad day a supplier gives him some bad feed, and it killed his chickens. At the same time, he was promoted to a job that took all his time, leaving him with none for looking after his poultry. So Stephan Tongo sold out, sold everything. A few years later, after retiring from the railway company, he started playing around, out of interest, with medicinal plants. He visited old healers and he joined in a research project to make the National Herbarium of Cameroon. Learning to treat stomach upsets and other illnesses, he launched a research centre called 'Besoka ba Miele', which means 'the secret of plants' in the Duala language. He carried on healing, started to grow medicinal plants, and continued to innovate: he invented a process for pasteurising his potions, and discovered that some of the plants can be administered to the sick in the form of infusions which he now makes himself. The greenhouse that he built on the corner of his house serves as a pharmacy where he directly picks the plants he uses to treat his patients. He has become involved in surveying the major herbs and barks which treat malaria and asthma. His ambition is as strong as ever: now he wants to expand his plant crops and have a huge reserve of medicinal plants, producing them on a large scale. From spectacles to tobacco and back again Serge Andriantsitohaina has always had a calling for the soil. He was born into a family of tobacco planters, and as a child he would dream of raising chickens and keeping a plantation of maize to feed them. He graduated as an optician in France, but back in Madagascar he saw the opportunities laid before him by an extension campaign on growing geraniums, and he grabbed them. He decided to run the family estate located an hour-and-a-half from the capital. He hired consultants, cleared the land, set up with a biochemist for distilling the flours, and engaged twenty families to look after the land, and to grow food crops (rice). At harvest he employed 80 workers. Having become well-known, he found himself elected as mayor of the commune, and started to see a path of considerable profits roll out before him. And then, suddenly, three years of investment and hard work were wiped out by a disease which killed off his geraniums. Three months ago, in mid-1999, Serge turned back to the old loves of his family, and re-invested in tobacco. Not for him any export, since he sells his produce to the state monopoly Ofmata (Malagasy Tobacco Authority), nor any technical risks: Oftmata extension agents provide seeds, fertiliser and technical training. The support provided by Oftama, Serge recounts, is more and more pathetic. But, look on the bright side, the land is being worked, the rice crop is still there, and the small farmers have keep their work. As for himself, Serge is going to take up his optician s business again. His wife will stay in the country. And he won t be standing at the next communal elections. Many geraniums dead, one computer scientist down He started his career as a computer scientist at IBM in Montpellier, France. When David Rajaonson returned home to Madagascar, an unexpected niche opened up for him, in the form of low production of geraniums in neighbouring Réunion. How about growing geraniums? OK, why not? He could get his hands on 50 hectares of agricultural land outside the capital Antananarivo. He teaches himself agriculture, and off he goes. For 13 years his company, with its 60 agricultural workers, plants, gathers, distils and, in the end, exports essential oils from geraniums and other aromatic plants. And then one sad day an uncontrollable disease decimates his entire plantation. 'Being a farmer is the most difficult profession of all, David nods. A farmer has to deal with natural disasters, insects, shortages of fertiliser, not to mention the motivational problems of your personnel The international agencies will send no end of experts to study the problem but they contribute nothing new. All you see is a dribble of funding which doesn t get the results you expect. You know, the Malagasy farmer knows how to plant, and he knows his land. All he needs is the means. If you added up all the money spent over the decades on international expertise, you would have enough to pay for improved seed varieties, fertilisers, tractors, dams.' David in the meantime is looking to return full-time to his profession as a computer scientist.