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Songhai Centers

Comparative analysis of how the Songhai Centers in Benin and Liberia serve a models for training, adult learning, innovative field methods and successes in addressing the sustainability NGO involvement

Porto Novo, Benin & Bensonville, Liberia

The case study will explain how and why the Songhai Center works as a model in sustainable agricultural development and how the center serves as a model for training, adult learning, innovative field methods and successes in addressing the sustainable NGO involvement.

In the early 1980's, a small group of people led by Father Godfrey Nzamujo determined that the level of development in Africa was grossly insufficient and sought to develop a new way that could improve the lives of African people and restore dignity and self esteem. The result was the creation of the Songhai Centre.

The Songhai Center is a center for training, for production, hands-on activities, research and development of sustainable agricultural practices. The Center remains a non-governmental organization with a mission to fight poverty by transforming subsistence farmers into active producers. The main center is located in Porto-Novo with satellite centers in three other regions in Benin and now in Liberia, called Songhai Center of Liberia (CSL). Although Songhai model has been successful by linking agriculture to industry and commerce by harnessing local resources and promoting sustainable social entrepreneurship, it has some challenges to overcome. Some of the documented challenges farmers must overcome include: Land uses, access to financial capital, climatic changes, selling products at a competitive price, and organizing and facilitating farmers’ networks are issues that need to address. These issues are further coupled due the lack of interaction between this model and a country-wide support extension and advisory system. In the context of Liberia, the Songhai model serve as an interesting case to understand because the project is committed to programs and activities that positively impact and sustain the lives of African people.

Authors’ Involvement:
John Paul Owens worked for five years in Benin on a soybean production project financed by USAID and administered through Catholic Relief Services. The project promoted soybeans production as a nutritional additive to the local food staple. When the project began, soybeans were almost an unknown crop in Benin. The project achieved its success by working with the regional and local extension offices as well as with the women' groups. The extension model involved instruction, field demonstrations and seed distribution. Today soybeans are abundant in Benin and the Songhai Center processes soybean for oil and foods. Mr. Owens has visited the Songhai Center and remains in contact with the Beninese extension agency (Ministry of Agriculture), University of Benin and US Peace Corps Benin.

Dr. Michelle Eley can travel to Liberia to tour the Center and speak with Center’s leaders and program participants to understand how the Center is being operated (e.g., institutional capacity, farming methods, techniques, and/or practices being taught, audience being served, benefits & potential problems with the model, research and development activities etc.) and document the similarities and differences between this Center and one in Benin. Dr. Eley has worked extensively with a non-profit organization that has helped to provide quality education for youth in Brewerville and Bopolu (Liberia) for over a century now.

Data and Methods: 
Through literature reviews, published reports, unpublished reports and contact with the Centers, researchers will identify organizational, educational, technical and funding factors that contribute to the success of the Songhai Center. Case studies conducted with Center personnel and trained farmers would be the optimal sources of data. Dr. Eley will conduct the field work in Liberia and Mr. Owens and one graduate student will conduct the field work in Benin. Both will conclude the fieldwork in Benin.

Expected Results: 
The case study review could explain how the Center works as a sustainable agriculture model and the feasibility of using this model in other West African countries. The case study will concentrate on:

- Sustainable agriculture practices including recycling and post harvest practices
- Training models
- Creating viable agricultural enterprises
- Enrollment
- Support for and training of staff
- Funding and revenue sources
- Center expansion plans
- Inclusion of underrepresented groups

Importance to MEAS future efforts:
The Songhai Center was built on premise that not only are technical skills in agriculture are needed, but a cultural change is necessary as well. The Songhai Center operations can be divided into three key areas: agricultural and entrepreneurial training; production units and research and development into sustainable agricultural practices. For MEAS project, it is important for the team to understand how the model is being implemented and where the divisions overlap. The Songhai Center has the potential to serve as a training program model for West Africa and other parts of the world. Focusing on Liberia is important because after a long and debilitating civil war, the country has become very dependent on donor support. Establishment of the Songhai Center in Bensonville would give them an opportunity to provide vocational/entrepreneurship training for their people and better utilize the opportunities that are available to them. This case study will allow us to understand what aspects of their program structure are transferrable in different contexts and what lessons they have learned using this approach, notably in the field of agricultural education and how the adoption of this model can be financially sustained over time.