YALI Voices: Mandela Washington Fellows Talk About Agribusiness

Kangoma Turay and Sylvie Sangwa, who contributed to this YALI Voices blog, are 2017 Mandela Washington Fellows.

Kangoma Turay on the Importance of Agriculture in Africa

Kangoma Turay is the founder of the Young Farmers Association. With his organization, he helps students interested in agriculture gain practical experience by sending them to rural Liberia to increase production for farmers who are not seeing improvement.

Turay believes agriculture is the key foundation for environmental and economic prosperity in Africa. His advice to YALI Network members and to all young people: “I would like to encourage all … to go into agriculture. … Because in a country that does not have its foundation as agriculture, it stands on nothing. We first have to focus on agriculture … because in Africa, most of the young people are not interested in agriculture. … We should prioritize agriculture.”

Turay and his organization prepare young entrepreneurs for careers in agriculture by providing agricultural training and writing recommendations for those who volunteer at Lofa Young Farmers Association. Turay helps others become career ready by providing computer training programs and certificates, a component that is increasingly more important in the workforce.

The Young Farmers Association stresses the importance of gaining knowledge in agriculture to improve practice and production in farming. It is a cycle that benefits everyone, with farmers learning how to improve their land and consumers benefiting by using the products the farmers produce. Turay encourages his students to cultivate innovative thinking by providing ideas on sustainability for the farmers and in return learning farming practices from the agriculturist. Turay’s advice to those interested in agribusiness: “If you are getting into agriculture, you should clearly define what you want. So, if you just focus on one thing and keep working hard then you will succeed. … First, identify one problem and then focus on that.”

Sylvie Sangwa’s Sustainable Model of Farming

Sylvie Sangwa works to create a sustainable model of farming. How does she do this? She takes a small hectare of land and improves it naturally by herding animals like chickens, diversifying the land with crops such as fruit trees, and selling jam from the harvested fruit. Her model strives to move away from the conventional method of farming to a model of preservation that uses no chemicals. One of Sangwa’s main goals is to preserve the land and environment so the next generations can enjoy the results of sustainable farming.

In response to a question about how YALI Network members in agribusiness can learn from people in different countries, Sangwa, from Rwanda, said, “We do not really have the same challenges. … So, it’s up to each country to have to work on what they are facing in terms of agriculture. … But then when we looked at our business … we were all almost on the same stage where we don’t really know what we do. …. So you need to kind of focus. First, narrow down the problem. Then is your solution really the best and how best can you implement it?”

Sangwa learned fresh perspectives on running an agribusiness while in discussion with other YALI members. She learned “to think in terms of business to whatever sector we’re doing … how to analyze the business. How to have, like, a bigger picture. Don’t just stay focused on your daily routine.” In response to the question “So what kind of large-scale agribusiness practices can be used for small-scale farms,” some of the ideas Sangwa stated were using simple, nonmechanical tools and relying more on current weather information and not plant simply based on the season. Sanga’s advice to agribusiness professionals: “I would also encourage young people who are looking for employment to think innovatively and try to address the problems that are there. We should try and come up with solutions of our own — not just sit there and wait for something to happen.”

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.

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