Our agricultural training project in The Gambia gets into the midst of the pandemic – and turns it into an opportunity.
They came to learn. They wanted to do it differently from what their family and relatives practice. They did not want to be content with the meagre income from subsistence farming. Nevertheless, for many young Gambians, agriculture is the only future career option if they do not want to work in the tourism industry.
Together with Momodou Bah, project manager of the youth project in Ballingho, Gambia, we have designed a two-year dual education program and created extensive training materials for the various areas of agriculture. An explicitly entrepreneurial component aroused great enthusiasm – finally a way leading to profitable agricultural entrepreneurship. The lively interactive form of teaching was highly motivating.
The pandemic reaches the African continent
Then the pandemic also reached The Gambia, and on March 16 all training facilities had to close. We were lucky, since we were also a systemically important producer of food. The training contracts of the first 40 young people in the camp were converted into employment contracts. From then on, the lessons took place unofficially, in the vegetable patch, so to speak.
But it did not completely replace the motivating interactive lessons and frustration spread. The continuous assurances of a soon resumption of the program were no longer effective, and three young students dropped out.
Now, half a year later, we can finally hold classes in the classroom again and try to make up the missed workload by doubling up our theory lessons. Finally, food for the brain again! A second group of 40 trainees can now also start with a two-month delay.
Disruption as an opportunity
It takes some courage to see the pandemic as an opportunity, but does the pandemic not exactly reflect our entrepreneurial approach? Haven’t we taught resilience in times of volatile market economy? That’s why we take up exactly this topic, so that we can grow beyond disruptions and difficulties in their later careers. We see precisely this challenge as an opportunity.
But such manifest disruptions are nevertheless draining. It is not enough that European agricultural goods are flooding the Gambian domestic market and drastically reducing the scope for farmers to earn money. Not enough that, due to a lack of manufacturing industry, there are hardly any job opportunities for the almost 150,000 unemployed Gambian young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Not enough that there is hardly any adequate training in the agricultural sector, then there is the pandemic, which plunges the small West African country, which lives largely from tourism, into an existential crisis. In the global index of national economic performance, Gambia is trailing behind in 175th place out of 193.
Effects on our project work
Although we fortunately did not have to close our training center, our Gambian NGO was clearly affected by the economic downturn. The abandoned hotel industry did not take our vegetables and eggs anymore, we could only serve the local markets with a locally adapted assortment. Roadblocked.
We had to adjust earnings forecasts and postpone investments, but at the same time we did not take away the hope of making profits in the agricultural sector. Difficult, when the trainees see how hard the project has to struggle with the economic losses.
We are countering the market decline with further diversification: beekeeping, aquaculture, food processing, etc., but due to lack of income our Gambian NGO is not able to cover the operating costs alone as planned.
Global impact of the pandemic
In the countries of the global South, poverty and hunger are given greater weight than the damage to health. On the African continent, the population is young – and apparently more resistant. The experience of the Ebola epidemic has also encouraged bold measures to contain Covid-19. However, the economic damage is immense for countries that are already among the poorest.
The global North, in its self-centeredness in the pandemic, seems to see no responsibility for developing countries. Corona aid and debt relief only disguise the fact that worldwide funds for development cooperation are being melted down. Will we only react again when migration pressure threatens our prosperity?
Our vaccine: Knowledge
The young people in our training project in The Gambia are showing how it’s done – they study, six months late, for the ‘proof of knowledge’ of the first semester of their education. The second semester follows at double the pace. In September 2021 they want to take their exams as comprehensively trained farmers and shape their professional future.
To this end, we are switching from analogue to digital. Many volunteers, primarily Lufthansa Group employees, had designed and taught the entrepreneurial modules – an important part of a training concept adapted to the needs of the country.
The development of digital modules demands even more. More empathy, more creativity and teaching units designed down to the last detail, in order to ensure the continuation of business management knowledge transfer. Analogue can be improvised, digital must be perfect. With worksheets, video recordings, instructions for the teachers, etc. the volunteers create an interactive teaching. The enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge of the young Gambians is the greatest motivation for the volunteers.
Motivation also for the development of a mentoring program “Business Coaching”, which accompanies the first steps of the young people into professional life. For more information, visit www.sabab-lou.de/projekte/gambian-youth-project/