Romain is 30 years old, handsome, personable, and well spoken. He is humble, but with a quiet confidence that stems from his talent and the high level of success he has enjoyed in just a few years time. As he talks you can tell this is a sincere, kind-hearted young man with great passion and perseverance. At his young age, he is already a role model within his community with a widespread reputation. We have a half hour of video of Romain telling his story which we plan to edit down and post on YouTube. (As soon as we figure out how to edit video and post on YouTube!) We’ll let you know when it’s available. It’s well worth seeing.
Like most, Romain started with virtually nothing. Neither of his parents had any experience with farming. His father abandoned his mother and their children early on. His mother wanted Romain to become a driver or mechanic. They make a decent living. In her experience, only poor people farm.
One day on TV, Romain saw a show about a successful American farmer who was making a fine living and felt he could do the same. He had no money to attend the local agricultural school. But he heard that the Songhai Center provided scholarships to local Beninians and applied. He was only 17 at the time, too young for Songhai, and was turned down.
Undaunted, Romain waited a year, took the oral exam again, and was finally admitted. His mother was certain he was headed for a life of poverty. But Romain told us, “Even though I had never held a hoe, I believed God will be with me. I will learn to farm, and with my farm I will take care of my mother and my siblings.” He was determined to show the world that he could be a success.
At 18 years of age, Romain was one of the youngest to ever attend Songhai and at 19 one of the youngest to ever graduate. He’s also a relatively short guy with a modest build, not the ideal make-up for the demanding physical work of farming. “Nobody believed I would complete the training.” But none of that mattered to Romain.
During his 18 months at Songhai, Romain was particularly drawn to animal husbandry. The business plan he prepared for final graduation was for growing cassava, cowpeas and corn, because he knew he wouldn’t have the money required to set up an animal feeding operation. Unfortunately, he did not win one of the few Songhai startup grants.
Eventually, Romain found a job working for a veterinary service, doing vaccinations, anesthesia, etc. He was quite good at it and word quickly spread. In a year or two he had saved enough money to start raising pigs on his own and was beginning to do quite well. But one day a farmer sold him a sick pig, and before he realized what was happening, the disease spread through his entire herd. All his pigs died. He was devastated. He decided animal husbandry was too risky and refocused on crop production.
His city, Seme, has sandy, unproductive land which it rents to farmers. Romain applied to lease a plot and was approved. But it took 6 months to raise the necessary funds, and when he returned, the plot had been leased to someone else and no more plots were available. His mother gave up on him. His fiancée left him.
At this point, Romain thought, “I will be like Esther before she went to the king. I will pray to God and he will take care of me. I have nobody but I still have God.” He prayed three days, meditating on Esther’s story. When he returned to city hall, a miracle happened. A plot was now available!
From this small plot, Romain has now expanded to 10 acres. Even though it is still poor land, he grows tomatoes, peppers, carrots and other vegetables, and is so successful that he has become famous in the region. Farmers, local agricultural experts, and agricultural engineers from Iran and China come to ask advice. He makes presentations to farmers associations and at Songhai Centre. He works hard, expects his 15 employees to work hard, and helps them to become independent farmers as well.
Romain understands well the concept of supply and demand. He looks to grow what will be in limited supply to maximize the value of his crop. Benin is a small country, so Romain studies what is NOT being grown in the surrounding countries – Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo – and plants those crops. He is so successful that he can sell everything he grows right from his farm gate. He is a rich man now – he earns $2000 a year, and has already started saving for his retirement.
What does he say the keys to his success are? Not money, physical stature, university education, or an army of employees. First, Romain tell visitors, it’s hard work and intelligence. And then, “Know yourself; know what you are worth. On my own, I could have done nothing. Like Esther, I could not have succeeded without God’s help.”