In this installment of Boing Boing tv's ongoing BBtv WORLD series, I travel to the West African nation of Benin to visit the Songhaï Center, a green tech project designed to develop a new generation of "agricultural entrepreneurs," and foster economic sustainability.
Benin is nestled between Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria along the continent's midwest coast -- this shore was historically known as the "Slave Coast," and Benin was a major center in export of slave labor to the Americas. Today, Benin's people are struggling with a cultural shift from a traditional, mostly agrarian society, to a more urban, industrialized economy -- and the largely impoverished country depends on foreign aid.
The Songhaï Center was founded in the mid-'80s by Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a Dominican priest and Nigerian native, on a few acres of swampland granted by Benin's former president. What began as an experiment in small-scale sustainable development to fight poverty has since become a popular institution, and a symbol of Africa's potential for self-determination and prosperity.
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Aid creates dependence, but small businesses foster independence, the group's logic goes -- and unlike other anti-poverty projects, this one exports more than it imports: specialty food and beverage products produced here (cashew butter, cookies, fruit beverages) are sold and shipped to France and elsewhere around the world.
In this episode, we walk through the main Songhaï Center in Porto Novo, a coastal town near the Nigerian border, and we witness a variety of projects in action -- "integrated farming, biomass gasification, microenterprise and IT for rural communities." Here, agricultural and technical pursuits merge in uniquely African ways. Read the rest