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Agro-Bootcamp gets green entrepreneurs into shape in Benin

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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South Africa’s Foschini to halt Kenya, Ghana operations

South African retailers have recorded poor performance in the last year, due to slow economic growth and currency devaluations

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South Africa's Foschini to halt Kenya, Ghana operations
(File photo)

South African fashion retailer, the Foschini Group is considering shutting down its Kenya and Ghana businesses.

The firm’s Chief Executive Officer, Anthony Thunstrom, affirms that at least, six stores will be affected in both countries.

South African retailers have recorded poor performance in the last year, due to slow economic growth and currency devaluations that had hit sales.

In July, department store chain, Woolworths pulled out from West Africa for a second time.

The Foschini Group will review economic growth, legislature and lease negotiations in Kenya and Ghana before making its decision.

Come September, in its home market, Thunstrom says The Foschini Group will launch a smaller format Sportscene store that will enjoy entertainment features such as a basketball court and a DJ booth, in an effort to lure millennials into its stores and away from online players such as Naspers’ majority-owned Superbalist.

The store will be launched in September in Johannesburg’s upscale Sandton shopping and financial district.

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Total Mozambique gas project will go on despite insurgency

Total will also acquire US energy giant Anadarko’s assets in Algeria, Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa

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Energy major Total on Friday said it remained committed to a Mozambique liquefied natural gas project on the country’s northern coast despite deadly Islamist insurgent attacks.

Total will become the operator of the $25 billion Rovuma LNG Project whose construction began on August 5 in the Afungi Peninsula.

The company is also set to acquire US energy giant Anadarko’s assets in Algeria, Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa, strengthening Total’s position in Africa.

But the area where the project is located has been targeted by jihadists since October 2017, claiming more than 300 lives.

Attackers in February launched an assault on a convoy of vehicles from an Anadarko contractor, killing one worker and injuring others. 

This led to the suspension of operations for a few months, with activities only resuming after the government announced the deployment of armed forces.

Several hundred suspected attackers have been arrested, according to authorities, but sporadic assaults continue.

On Friday Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne reaffirmed Total’s commitment to the LNG project saying it “is a unique asset which perfectly fits our strategy and our skills.

“Please be assured of the commitment of Total to bring the best of our human, technical and financial capacities to further strengthen the project execution … in the interests of all those involved, including the government and people of Mozambique,” he said in a statement.

The project is expected to be transformational for Mozambique, creating an estimated 5,000 direct jobs and 45,000 indirect jobs.

The country’s gas deposits are estimated at 5,000 billion cubic metres and would make Mozambique a major exporter of liquefied natural gas.

The use of natural gas is on the rise globally as countries struggle to meet energy demands and shift away from using coal.

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Kenya plans to tax OTT services like Youtube, Netflix

The over-the-top services (OTT) will soon be required to declare the incomes they derive from Kenyan consumers

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Kenya plans to tax OTT services like Youtube, Netflix

Kenya’s Information Communication and Technology (ICT) ministry is working on completing a new tax scheme.

This framework, reports say, will be used to tax foreign online streaming media services such as YouTube and Netflix.

The over-the-top services (OTT) will soon be required to declare the incomes they derive from Kenyan consumers.

OTT services include all applications that offer voice, video and messaging services over the internet.

Communications Authority Director-General, Francis Wangusi says online content providers exploit the Kenyan industry. Yet, neither the government nor artistes benefit from them.

According to Wangusi, “many countries have policies that guide these services and that is where we are heading as a country”.

He adds that technologies that will facilitate taxation of OTT services are available.

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