COTONOU — Mahoub Damala is a young agriculturalist. After completing his studies at a Benin high school specialising in agriculture, he registered at the Songhai Centre in Porto-Novo in 2008, to further master agricultural techniques. Today he has become a rural entrepreneur.
The 40-year-old has established himself in Djigbé, a village in the southeast of the country, with a poultry operation on three sites. “I’ve got 600 chickens. I collect about 560 eggs a day, which I sell for 100 CFA francs (around 20 cents) each,” he told IPS.
The agro-businessman explains that he keeps his chickens for 15 months before replacing them with new ones. “At the moment, I can sell a layer for 3,500 CFA (around seven dollars),” he says.
For the past year, Damala has employed two other youth for his operation. He’s also expanding his activities, with about thirty rabbits in hutches on one of his sites. “What matters here is the number of females, because they reproduce. There are males also, but they’re for sale and breeding,” he said, explaining that he began this new project with just five rabbits.
Damala is also trying his hand at aquaculture and growing banana trees. “Today, I earn my own bread, and more: I can offer something to those who work with me. All this is thanks to the experience gained at the Songhai Centre which also supported me financially at the end of my training.”
Damala is among a hundred-odd youth who have received training at the regional centre. Each year, the Songhai Centre welcomes 150 or so youth who are trained and then helped to set up agro-pastoral projects of their own.
Created by a priest, Father Godfrey Nzamujo, in 1985, the centre was originally a simple collective of vegetable growers on the outskirts of Cotonou, says Guy Louèkè, Songhai’s administrator.
“Benin’s Songhai Centre is not a demonstration centre,” he says, “but a collection of small enterprises which serve as models. When a young person leaves here, she is capable of managing all aspects of a business, not just a production unit.”
According to its website, the centre emphasises the development of cultural, technical and organisational skills to empower individuals and communities. It promotes the linking of agriculture to industry and services and the development of green rural cities.
“I’ve been at the centre for three months, and at the end of my training I plan to set up my own business in Cotonou,” says Denis Kpodé, who is studying soya oil production at the centre.
“My dream is to become like the former apprentices who are today running their own businesses,” said Bénédicta Oké, a trainee in the artisanal sector.
The centre in Porto-Novo, in the country’s southwest, presently employs 500 people, including 300 trainees enrolled in an 18-month training programme.
The centre, which is accredited by the United Nations, is extending its work beyond Benin. It has a working site in Nigeria, has signed agreements to set up in Liberia, and has also purchased land in the Republic of Congo for a training centre in that Central African country.