Making a statement
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Ze, Cyprien Essong. 2002. Making a statement. Spore 100. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47664
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore100.pdf
It's thanks to his travels that he finally meets up with Spore, which he uses a lot on his farm. We first met on a Roman hillside in Italy, where he was organising farmers' encounters during the World Food Summit. A month later, on another hill, in...
It s thanks to his travels that he finally meets up with Spore, which he uses a lot on his farm. We first met on a Roman hillside in Italy, where he was organising farmers encounters during the World Food Summit. A month later, on another hill, in Brussels, Belgium, we caught up with him again. He took time out from his course on globalisation to wrap up our interview. He s visibly taken aback at the question: Do you still regard yourself as a young person? 'Sorry to say so, but no. When I look at all the problems affecting youth today, especially in rural areas, I can t call myself young anymore. I am bound to look at myself as an adult, who can do something for young people. I m an adult because I feel I have to help them. If I thought I was still young myself, then I would have to wait to be an adult, and I don t want to wait.' Has he always been so impatient? He looks back, with a room-size laugh, at 'when it all started. It was on 28th November 1990 that I came back home to my village, Torba1, 138 kilometres east of the capital Yaoundé. I had qualifications under the belt, and I was a parish adviser and leader of small group of just six young people.' So where does youth stop, or is it eternal? 'As far as MIJARC is concerned, at both national and international levels, it is between the ages of 15 and 35. Of course, it varies from culture to culture. Some of our members may even be in their fifties, but we insist that office-holders are between 15 and 35.' How about being a farmer, how do you see yourself there? He pounces back, as if being a farmer is eternal. 'Oh yes, not a shadow of doubt. I am a farmer, I shall forever be a farmer, even if I end up doing something else. Right now on my farm, we are harvesting our field of groundnuts. My wife and I have five hectares.' He looks a tad forlorn about being away from home. 'I m not so sure she copes on her own like that. When I m in the country, I go home every weekend to work with her. And when I m away, I pay for someone to help her, to stand in for me.' 'I have always been focused on farming. My life-long project is centred on agriculture. Nothing will please me more than if things work out well with my farm; I shall stop all the other things that I do. It s where I can do the most for my family and for others, where I can be sure to raise my family well. And it can serve as a statement for people who follow me. I shall be able to say Listen here, you d be better off trying this seed or that one. The thing is that young people don t know how to choose seeds; they re full of goodwill but a bit short on experience. When I started I didn t have any experience either. That s what I would like to put right. I want to make a practical statement.' Statements are important to you, right? 'Very. They re what attracts people s attention, especially young kids. We should not be sitting around, not when they are wanting to get on with their lives. They can do a lot, they re full of potential, they need the chance, to build up their confidence. I also want to make a statement to those adults who could be doing something, but aren t, for young people; I want to get them to work too.' All well and good, but isn t it the case that young people in the village have absolutely no choice but to stay? 'Absolutely, none at all. It s impossible to get a job in town; there s next to no recruitment going on, and, you know, even when a young man has got qualifications, he ll most likely have a wife and children too, so how can you expect him to live in the city? They ll stay at home, in the village. But to survive there, they ll be needing some knowledge.' So being a farmer is just something you have to do? His eyes flash, we ve touched a raw nerve here. 'Listen, listen good. Being a farmer is a matter of pride, you have to be proud of being a farmer. Some of the kids in the village say that they ended up there by accident. They really wanted a good job in town, or in Europe or America. That s not the attitude to take. The education system has taught them to think like that. We ll only get our pride if we change the content of education.' 'But there are other barriers too. Top of the list is the traditional one about having access to land. You may have the skills you need but you won t get very far if you haven t got the land The second issue is about being able to invest. As well as skills, you need to have real money to start off with. And then young people don t have any collateral, can t get a guarantee, and so they won t get any loans from the banks. That s really disappointing for them.' He s gone almost sullen. Let s talk about change, what should be changed? 'We need to have a thorough review of our rural advisory services, and liberalise their management. Then we need to appoint advisors and workers with a specific focus on youth. If we stick to a service full of generalists, we re going to make all sorts of compromises to try to keep everyone happy. At the end of the day, it s the young person who s going to be left to fend for himself. If, on the other hand, we have a focused set-up, we can devote the proper attention to young people, with lots of energy and commitment, and then things will move.' It sounds rather similar to the positive discrimination towards women that got some things rolling, gender-wise, 20 years ago. 'That s right. We should be talking of women-focused strategies in the same breath as youth-focused ones. We should even bring in child-focused issues. That should be the priority today because it helps to define the world of tomorrow.' How about CTA, do you see it as a partner for young people? 'Easy. CTA has an important role to play in shaping attitudes, through training, as well as an information task. So it should be joining in those efforts which aim to help young people to better understand agriculture, to love it, and to get into it.' [caption to illustration] Cyprien Essong Zé is a Cameroonian farmer, 34 years old, with a training in finance, and skills as a trainer. In July 2000 he became the pan-African coordinator of the International Movement of Catholic Agricultural Rural Youth (MIJARC), and sits on its board. The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.