Visiting a project of Mennonite Economic Development Associates in Senegal gave Ben Horsch new perspectives to share with friends, family and neighbors back home in Germany.
One of the key narratives he plans to share is the need for a shift in European perceptions of Africa.
“The way Europeans think about Africa is quite different from the reality,” he said.
Horsch will tell people about meeting committed entrepreneurs who are working to create jobs.
“We saw people that were well-educated,” Horsch said. “Those entrepreneurs that we saw here, they knew exactly what they want. The biggest problem for them is access to capital. Success will come. They will do it.”
Horsch was part of a group of 15 people who visited MEDA project sites in May. The group included three Germans, 11 Americans and two Canadians.
The group met several MEDA clients, including two food-processing firms, members of a horticultural co-op and a rice demonstration farm.
MEDA’s AVENIR project aims to improve farming households’ socio- economic well-being and resilience.
The project focuses on benefiting 11,500 women and youth, including creating decent work for 6,941 people. It focuses on four agricultural value chains: cashew, mango, baobab and rice.
Senegal’s population is young, with a median age of 18.5. Over half the population of 18.1 million people is rural. The World Bank estimates that about 36% of the population lives in poverty, earning less than $3.65 U.S. daily.
For Horsch’s wife, Agnes, the Senegal trip was her first visit to a MEDA project.
“I knew about the problems here [in the Global South],” she said. “But to see it was another thing.”
A farmer’s wife whose parents were farmers, Agnes Horsch did farm field labor as a girl. That helps her to understand some of the challenges facing small-scale women farmers.
“The organization of these [small-scale Senegalese] farms will change,” she predicted. “They need credit. They need systems.”
Sandy Stauffer, a New York state dairy farmer, agreed.
“I’ve always known there was poverty in the world, and I’ve seen it before,” he said. “But this trip just drilled into my mind how much poverty there is and how far we have to go to improve the conditions, especially for the [farming] women.”
For Daron Showalter, a member of Hyattsville Mennonite Church in Maryland, the Senegal trip was his first introduction to MEDA’s work. He said North Americans who have easy access to loans and banking services don’t realize how different it is in the Global South.
“These [services] simply didn’t exist for many folks in Senegal, and you see how critical it is for organizations like MEDA and its partners to fill that space,” he said.
Showalter was impressed that both Paulin Bossou, the director of MEDA’s Senegal project, and Pierre Diegane Kadet, MEDA’s West Africa regional director, were born in the region and have worked in Canada. They can understand the local Senegalese languages and cultural nuances in a way Westerners simply can’t.
“In the business development world, I think [having projects led by local staff] is pretty crucial,” he said. “I was very impressed that MEDA sees this as well and is acting on it.”
Hollins Showalter, Aron Showalter’s brother, who attends First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis, was “impressed with the focus on women and youth, as well as the importance of factoring in environmental impact.”
Bernhard Landes, a German farmer and renewable energy systems developer, was impressed by Moulaye Biaye and Tina Ephraim, a young African couple who left good jobs in Europe to create jobs for others in rural Senegal, processing cashew juice and making cosmetics from mangoes that have previously gone to waste.
“They come back, basically in the middle of nowhere, and start this business,” Landes said. “They take their own money and invest it.”
He was also struck by the commitment shown by Hamady Sow, a man who started a business processing baobab nuts and growing vegetables with no capital backing. Sow has built his firm, Vision Afrique, into a substantial enterprise, providing jobs for over 750 rural women.
MEDA is partnering with both firms, giving access to capital that will allow them to purchase equipment to expand and create more jobs.
When entrepreneurs succeed, Ben Horsch said, “it will be a big benefit for the region and the people.”