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Farmers’ Hub: introducing young agripreneurs from the Sahel to innovative greenhouse farming

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The Farmers’ Hub project, supported by CTA and the Syngenta Foundation for a Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), is benefiting young farmers in Mali and Senegal. The initiative aims to improve the productivity and quality of fruit and vegetable farming using greenhouses, whilst creating youth employment opportunities. After a year of operation, the young agripreneurs have shown promising results and significant profits.

Established in 2019, the Farmers’ Hub project is supporting 22 selected youths in Mali and Senegal to invest in agriculture. The project provides training sessions in greenhouse farming and business management, and has equipped the agripreneurs with 13 greenhouses, technical equipment such as seedling trays and machinery, and agricultural inputs and plants. During the first year of the project, the agripreneurs have used these resources to rent out their agricultural machinery and equipment, and provide advice to other producers in greenhouse farming.

All the agripreneurs are also taking part in continuous training to ensure optimal usage of the greenhouses and proper care of the plants. They are trained by Sidibé Agritechniques and Passion Nature, two private sector companies with agribusiness expertise in Mali and Senegal, respectively. Passion Nature, for example, provided participants with training on investment strategies and business management in November 2019. The youths were also trained in management and entrepreneurship by the local incubation centres, and from September 2019 to January 2020, they were trained on seed production and processing techniques by Mali’s World Vegetables Centre.

To foster knowledge sharing, the project hosts field days whereby visitors are invited inside the greenhouses and are introduced to the concept and objectives of the project. In Mali, 342 farmers and 100 university students had the opportunity to take part in the field days so far.

The project has trained the youth on use of the mobile platform e-Hub, which was initially developed by SFSA in Bangladesh and allows for data collection and transaction management.

Provided with mobile phones and tablets to input their data and monitor their activities, but also with small printers to issue invoices for their clients, all the agripreuneurs in both countries have access to and make use of this mobile tool. The next step in the app’s development is to add an SMS alert option to send extension messages and practical information.

To improve the sustainability and environmental outcomes of project’s farming activities, the agripreuneurs are testing new methods of fertilizer generation, for instance, using filao, rice husks or peanuts shells, to decrease their dependency on imported fertilisers. To facilitate the process, the Farmers’ Hubs have been provided with incinerators. The youth are also testing alternative materials for seedling trays, such as wood or polystyrene, instead of plastic to reduce their production costs.

In West Africa, East Africa and Asia, where the project is located, the Farmers’ Hub model is an innovation that sparks the interest of many farmers but also government officials, donors, NGOs and the media. In Senegal for instance, this interest – and the performance of the agripreneurs – has resulted in the country’s 10 Hubs generating more than €20,000 in revenue through their nursery services alone. The Hubs have served more than 1,000 farmers with machinery rental services and advise, and have provided training to more than 1,000 farmers on good agricultural practices.

The performance of the Farmers’ Hubs in Senegal has allowed them to take part to the second season of Ferme Factory, a TV show that aims to encourage youth to invest in agriculture and thus limit their migration. The filming took place from June to December 2019, at one of the Hubs, and 38 young agripreneurs participated.

With the project showing promise and attracting local attention, the next step will be to assist the youth in establishing ties with financial institutions. This will enable the Hubs to further grow their activities, and guarantee their sustainability.

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