Monday, November 23, 2015

EPN Heroes: The Humble Beginnings of the Songhai Centre

 In our last post, we discussed how Father Godfrey Nzamujo is reversing the logic of poverty at work in Africa by tapping into what he describes as "5 Core Capitals." In this piece, we'll take a closer look at how those "5 Core Capitals" came to fruition in the form of the Songhai Centre.  

After visiting one of the thirteen Songhai Centre technical schools, one might assume that such an expansive and innovative program had massive amounts of initial funding, and a great platform to start from.  Well the surprising truth is that Father Godfrey turned 2.4 acres of infertile land into one of Africa's most impactful agricultural education centers with barely any resources at all.  

The program started in the mid-1980's. West and Central Africa had just experienced the worst famine in recent memory. When Father Godfrey returned to his home country of Nigeria to pitch his idea for an agricultural training and research facility, government officials scoffed at him. "They seemed far more concerned with securing foreign aid and lobbying for charity,"  said Father Godfrey, "than in doing the hard work of empowering people in poverty to be productive." 

Undeterred, he traveled to the neighboring country of Benin to try his luck. The national officials there were more impressed with the potential benefits of hosting Father Godfrey's revolutionary Songhai Centre.  Nonetheless, they too seemed more interested in securing international aid than in financing grassroots efforts.    

They gave Father Godfrey one hectare of land (roughly 2.4 acres) to begin the first Songhai Centre. The land was thought to be infertile and worthless. He was not granted any staff so he recruited local workers. With a makeshift team of seven high school dropouts, and much of his own savings, Father Godfrey converted a desolate strip of wasteland into a thriving, self-sustaining agricultural system. People from all over Africa took notice.  

Word reached Europe that an African scientist and his small team were transforming the way agriculture was done in West Africa. France sent a small delegation to provide Father Godfrey with additional expertise and funding. Unfortunately, they also brought a competing vision of what current and future Songhai Centres should be. 

The European scientists assumed their job was to take over day-to-day operations of the Centre. They envisioned a research facility primarily operated by scientists, not local farmers. Against the wishes of the Benin government, Father Godfrey respectfully dismissed them.  To him the Songhai Centre had to be a place where local people learned skills to transform the lives of their families and communities. And the Songhai Centre has thrived. 

Now people from all over the globe come to learn from Father Godfrey and his team of locally trained agriculturalists. And when foreign countries help fund his programs it's because he has proven time and again that his intuitive understanding of African agriculture and the economy are second to none. Father Godfrey's heroic determination and unmatched expertise are transforming thousands of lives and proving his favorite saying:  "Agriculture can be a weapon of mass construction."  

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