The main objective of Songhai is to train young agricultural entrepreneurs who, once established, become pillars of success - capable of commanding respect and attracting the surrounding populations to the new kind of agriculture practiced by Songhai. This training does not stop with the acquisition and mastery of techniques of agricultural production. Songhai continuously follows up with its trained students from the pre-establishment stage through to the establishment of their farms and beyond. If this were not the case, the objectives of Songhai would only be half met. All the various departmental activities of Songhai converge directly or indirectly to these established farmers. At the second level of training, there is a team of workers charged solely with the follow-up/accompaniment of the farmers. This is the reason the farmers are situated at the center of Songhai's organizational chart - all the different sectors contribute to the development of the farmers.
WHAT IS THE SONGHAI FARMERS' NETWORK?
The network of Songhai farmers is a vibrant entity, which, like an organism, is composed of structures closely linked and interrelated to one another. The weakness of one structure leads to a breakdown of the entity as a whole. The National Network of Songhai Farmers (RENAFERS) is made up of indivisible units (cells) which are the individual farmers themselves (about 250 farmers are currently established in all the regions of Benin). They are then grouped into local coordination units based upon their geographical location. The Songhai graduates initiated this structure due to the increasing number of farmers and the resulting difficulty of communication beyond the annual meetings. The Network began with 5 coordination units in 1995, established on the basis of geographical proximity and the need for an exchange of ideas on the technological level. Although appealing, the idea was not accepted by everyone at the onset. It was not until certain zones distinguished themselves and accumulated enough experience that others followed suit. Today, there are 8 regional coordination units within the network of Songhai farmers.
The proximity of the farms within a regional coordination unit offers the following advantages:
- Ease of meetings and visits.
- Organization of de-centralized training on the farms, and the ability to take full advantage of the real context farms can offer as training support.
- Opportunity to help one another with localized technical and agro climatic problems; members of the same zone can share information relating to regional weather patterns.
- Development of a local market system. Within the regional coordination units, it is easier to create market outlets by centralizing the buying and selling of products.
- Organization of needed services. Some agricultural equipment can be acquired to serve the farmers, townspeople and other groups of the same coordination unit according to clearly defined management rules.
- Examples include a de-hulling machine for rice-producing zones,
- a tractor with the needed accessories for working extended areas,
- and a supply truck for the transportation of products and raw materials.
- Decentralization of documentation. In the absence of rural centers for documentation, a structure of information dissemination at the level of each regional coordinating unit is very useful. Linked to the Songhai center for documentation, it is possible to renew or update the documents, taking into account the specific needs of each zone.
- Establishment of a savings and credit system.
A national committee has been set up to coordinate and harmonize the activities of the different national coordination units. The group represents the network within other local associations and structures, and attends meetings at Songhai where the farmers are represented. The committee is made up of 7 members elected for a period of 3 years:
1 Training officer
1 Women's officer
Orou Bare Chamesdine
Dah Zoundji Gisèle
Bio Bangana Kassim