When alumni Komlan Batchey ‘15 and Haissa Toure ‘15 heard of an opportunity to intern at Kawan Africa through the African Careers Network, the pair partnered up to assist 2019 Anzisha Prize fellow and co-founder of the organization, Graff Accrombessi, to create a natural pesticide for tomatoes as effective as a chemical one.
Graff Accrombessi at the 2019 Anzisha Pitch Prize Competition.
Kawan Africa is an enterprise, which produces and sells tomato puree. Graff has convinced local farmers in Benin to produce tomatoes organically, which she sources to produce the puree. However, she finds that the run-off from other farmers in the region, who use chemicals in their production, contaminates the organic farmers’ production. The challenge was on for Komlan and Haissa.
Coming into ALA, both Komlan and Haissa had an established passion for agriculture. “I used to grow groundnuts near my house when I was younger and would do so with my aunt every summer break.” shares Haissa.
She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Rochester. Komlan was also surrounded by various farmers while growing up and he became interested in their work. He saw farming as a solution to fighting hunger and poverty. “I followed my dreams to improve access to food for all and fight hunger and malnutrition. I am one year away from becoming an agronomic engineer as I am currently studying at EARTH University in Costa Rica.”
This year’s travel restrictions posed the biggest challenge to the internship: not being on site in order to see how farmers were producing their tomatoes and what strategies they employed. The pair relied on digital communication with Graff to gain context about the issues on the ground. Nonetheless, the two-month long internship was a success.
The team developed a pest management program with the goal of keeping the tomatoes organic by using less or no chemicals products. Komlan and Haissa recommended a number of natural pesticides and pheromones to trap the insects and other pests from damaging tomato production and eventually increase the yield. This strategy was shared with Graff.
“The internship was a good experience. Despite the time and geographic differences, we managed to meet. The Interns were able to suggest some products that I had never heard about and were not available in Benin. I have ordered them from Nigeria and will use their strategies to test their proposed solutions.” Graff commented. No matter the results, this partnership realised and reinforced the importance of our mission at ALA, to develop a network of young leaders who work together to solve issues in Africa.
On advising young people to join the agribusiness space in Africa, Komlan shared the following sentiments: “Agribusiness is a fast-growing sector on the continent therefore it carries a lot of opportunities. There is a high demand for more food to be produced. We can have a lot of value-added products from agricultural products. If you get into agriculture, you will be making a big difference, feeding people. We also need to acknowledge that agriculture is the backbone of many African countries’ economies. Haissa adds, “Agribusiness is a flexible sector where we can bring various innovations, especially in Africa. I encourage women and young girls who want to do agribusiness to be aware of what they don’t know and seek out people who have experience in those areas. Most importantly, they should make sure to learn a lot about what they want to do to do before starting it, in order to avoid discouragement and disappointment. I invite them to be courageous, persevering, and patient, these are qualities that will be very useful for a farmer.”