At 30 years old, tropical agronomist Willy Mboukem from Cameroon, is starting his own agribusiness consultancy agency. The Farming Agency aims to help people become more productive in agriculture, and will teach farmers how to use drones and grow organic crops. Whilst studying for his masters, Willy was introduced to CTA and Spore magazine. He tells us what impact this had had on himself and others.
I first came across Spore magazine when I was studying a master’s degree in tropical agronomy at the Higher Institute of Agronomy of Lisbon in Portugal. One of my professors, Dr Manuel Correia, was also Chairman of the Executive Board of CTA, so he sent us the newsletter from Spore each month to help us learn about new techniques. After completing my masters, I went to work in São Tomé at a 400 ha cocoa plantation. The operation was pretty big. The farm produced different tropical fruits and vegetables as well as cocoa, and it also ran a restaurant and a guest house.
The director of the plantation was already using Spore so there were magazines readily available. I also took with me a box of CTA resources published in Portuguese, including some Agrodox books, which I used to create a library for all of the workers on the plantation. One of the most important things about this information from CTA was that it was focused on the tropical world and ACP countries in particular, so it was all relevant information that could be applied in São Tomé.
I became director of the plantation 3 months after I arrived. I carefully reviewed all the topics covered in Spore and other CTA publications to improve productivity on the farm, but the topic that I found to be most useful was livestock management, including how to rear rabbits. I used these books in particular to help the farm workers start small businesses. The plantation would give the workers some money to start the business and, if they were successful, they would continue to provide them with some financial support. Another interesting topic was compost making; how to use what we already had on the farm to make really rich organic fertiliser. We used the compost in our vegetable gardens and to create cocoa seedlings.
I no longer work at the plantation, but I know that my library still continues. The farm is in a remote, rural area where it is difficult for people to access information, so the library has had a really big impact – especially for the youth, who can access the books they need to set up their own businesses and become financially independent. The plantation has also made it mandatory for the 15-20 managers to spend a few hours in the library each week to research how to better care for the farm livestock through, for example, planting different types of grasses to improve nutrition.
For about 2 years now I have been podcasting about supply chains and value creation in Africa and, in 2019, I attended the African Green Revolution Forum in Accra, Ghana as a journalist. It was really amazing to meet CTA’s Director, Michael Hailu, at the media briefing. He made himself available and we talked about chocolate processing and the use of CTA material. It was a really good surprise.
I was shocked and saddened to hear that CTA is closing because no other organisation produces the same kind of information. In Africa, the majority of people work in agriculture, and one of the things we really need is knowledge about how we can do things in a different, more efficient way. Thankfully, most of CTA’s publications are freely available online, on CGSpace, so I hope that future generations will continue to find them and benefit from all of the practical and impactful information.