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Agro-Bootcamp gets green entrepreneurs into shape in Benin5 minutes read

An Agro-Bootcamp in Benin aims to teach basic, traditional ways of agriculture in order to push a self-sufficient Africa.

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Participants to an "agro-bootcamp", aimed at preparing young people for a future sustainably working the land, cook on site

Machetes in hand and wearing a straw hat against the sun, the participants of an “agro-bootcamp” in the farmlands of Benin harvest maize, cowpeas and rice.

“Cut at the base,” says Oluwafemi Kochoni, an organic farming teacher, who runs the agricultural workshop to prepare young people for a future sustainably working the land. “Then leave the plants in place, we will bury them – they will decompose and fertilise the soil.”

Participants to an "agro-bootcamp", aimed at preparing young people for a future
Participants to an “agro-bootcamp”, aimed at preparing young people for a future sustainably working the land, follow an entrepreneurship training on April 16, 2019, in Tori-Bossito, just outside Benin’s economic capital Cotonou. – Camp organisers want to show young people struggling in the crowded cities looking for a job that working the land can offer an alternative and successful livelihood. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

It’s beginner’s advice but the programme in Tori-Bossito, just outside Benin’s economic capital Cotonou, aims to teach basic, traditional ways of agriculture to those who have forgotten or never known life on the land. In Benin, a country next to oil giant Nigeria, some 80 per cent of its 11 million people depend on agriculture, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Most are subsistence farmers eking out a living growing crop on small plots where a lack of infrastructure and flooding that can wipe out harvests and seed stocks are key challenges. But the “agro-bootcamps” take place close to the suburbs of the city and are aimed at a different market.

They are part of a wider movement to encourage self-sufficiency on the continent, which boasts of about two-thirds of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land – but spends $64.5 billion a year importing food, according to the African Development Bank.

For 27,000 CFA francs a week, agro-bootcampers learn agricultural techniques, follow marketing courses and can network with successful agro-entrepreneurs.

Agro-bootcamp – fostering ecologically-aware businesspeople

Like in traditional farming, the agro-bootcamp way of life is communal on the three-hectare plot of land put at its disposal for the week by a family in exchange for baskets of vegetables.

Participants to an "agro-bootcamp", aimed at preparing young people for a future sustainably working the land, are seen cheer as a colleague uses a machete on a plant
Participants to an “agro-bootcamp”, aimed at preparing young people for a future sustainably working the land, are seen cheer as a colleague uses a machete on a plant on April 16, 2019, in Tori-Bossito, just outside Benin’s economic capital Cotonou. – Camp organisers want to show young people struggling in the crowded cities looking for a job that working the land can offer an alternative and successful livelihood. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

On the edge of the fields, a border hedge of moringa plants and grasses are grown to help stabilise the soil. There is also a fish farm in a pond, and another area to grow mushrooms.

Behind the scheme is the Gardens of Hope, an organisation promoting sustainable ways of farming. “The advice usually received by farmers is based on the use of chemicals,” said participant Rachidi Idrissou, an agronomy student in Benin.

“We think of quick yields – and not sustainable production to preserve our land.” Benin is a youthful country; nearly two-thirds of the population is aged under 25. Camp organisers want to show young people struggling in crowded cities looking for a job that working the land can offer an alternative and successful livelihood.

Originating from Africa and Europe, the 25 participants in this third agro-bootcamp are mostly men and of eight different nationalities but share a vision of an ecological and sustainable way of farming. They sleep in tents and are kept busy from dawn until long after dusk.

Living quarters for the participants of an "agro-bootcamp", aimed at preparing young people for a future sustainably working the land
Living quarters for the participants of an “agro-bootcamp”, aimed at preparing young people for a future sustainably working the land, are seen on April 16, 2019, in Tori-Bossito, just outside Benin’s economic capital Cotonou. – Camp organisers want to show young people struggling in the crowded cities looking for a job that working the land can offer an alternative and successful livelihood. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

“Our belief is that to solve the employment problem in our countries, young people must create their businesses with awareness of ecology of the climate,” said coordinator Tanguy Gnikobou.

Agro-Entrepreneurship is ‘A philosophy’

Of the 85 people who have taken part in the last two bootcamps, 10 have already launched new agricultural activities, farms or enterprises, according to organisers. Social networks mean that participants and organisers can stay in touch for support as they develop their farms and small businesses.

Participants farm in ways farmers did before the massive movement of people to the cities. “Initially, it was an alternative to conventional farming, to return to ancestral methods with the respect of the environment,” said Kochoni. “Then it became a way of life, and a philosophy.”

Tomatoes are grown at an "agro-bootcamp", aimed at preparing young people for a future
Tomatoes are grown at an “agro-bootcamp”, aimed at preparing young people for a future sustainably working the land, on April 16, 2019, in Tori-Bossito, just outside Benin’s economic capital Cotonou. – Camp organisers want to show young people struggling in the crowded cities looking for a job that working the land can offer an alternative and successful livelihood. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

More camps are planned for later in the year in other parts of Benin, then in Chad and Ivory Coast. Cheikh Amadou Bass, 36, a civil servant in Nouakchott, capital of the desert nation of Mauritania, owns a large plot of land the size of five football pitches in his home village.

Bass dreams of showing his young compatriots that rather than crossing the sea in search of a new life abroad, there are opportunities on the land. “With nature, you have everything at your fingertips,” Bass said, enthusing about how manure means chemical fertilisers are not needed. “I have made a great discovery,” he added.

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Heavy rains threaten Uganda’s coffee crop quality

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Uganda’s coffee crop quality could see a decline in the coming months as heavy rains across the country have reduced the amount of sunshine necessary for bean drying.

Uganda is Africa’s largest exporter of coffee followed by Ethiopia and grows mostly robusta variety.

The country has been pounded by unusually heavy rains that started in August resulting in deaths, displacement and extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure.

Western Uganda, including the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains , some of the biggest coffee growing areas, has received some of the most intense rains.

Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), the state-run regulator, forecasts Uganda’s bean exports will climb 16 percent to 5.1 million 60-kg (132-pound) bags in the current crop year ending September.

The country’s coffee output has surged in recent years, the fruition of a government programme that has been distributing free seedlings to farmers to expand acreage and replace aging trees.

Authorities say their target is to help boost annual production to 20 million bags by 2025.

The beans have traditionally been Uganda’s biggest commodity export but were recently overtaken by gold which now annually earns the country over $1 billion.

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Business rescue team rule out mid-June return for SAA flights

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South African Airways business rescue practitioners have rejected an “unvetted” statement released by the state-owned airline indicating plans to resume domestic flights from mid-June.

The national carrier had on Tuesday, announced that its planes will be back in the skies between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

But Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, the business rescue administrators, say the airline had breached communications protocol by issuing a statement which “created an unfair expectation on our relevant stakeholders, including SAA’s customers, as well as employees who are on unpaid absence as a result of the travel ban which led to the halting of the company’s operations, compounding its financial distress.”

SAA’s media statement had gone out without the approval of the practitioners as demanded by the business rescue procedure.

With the government of South Africa announcing that the country will enter into lockdown alert level 3 from June 1, domestic air travel will be permitted but only for business purposes.

The business rescue practitioners said SAA planes will remain grounded until a better understanding of what the level 3 regulations entail.

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Tanzania, France sign water supply loan agreement

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Tanzania has signed a loan agreement with France to finance water supply projects that will benefit about 770,000 people in the country’s Morogoro municipality.

The French government will extend the loan worth about $76 million to Tanzania through its French Development Agency (AFD), according to Dotto James, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Planning who signed the agreement on behalf of Tanzania.

“Upon completion, the water supply in the Morogoro municipality will increase from the current 37,000 cubic meters a day to 108,000 cubic meters a day,” James told a press conference following a signing ceremony in Morogoro.

AFD Country Representative for Tanzania, Stephanie Mouen says the project will improve the well-being of the people in the municipality and it will also improve the environment.

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