Today, I’d like to invite you to find out more about Flavien Kouatcha, who is almost 30. Flavien is an example of youth entrepreneurship in Cameroon. We were on the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellowship programme, an American programme for detecting talent. Since he was a child, he’s always wanted to have the best job in the world and, as he likes to say, “feed the planet”. His parents and grandparents are farmers.
He has just been appointed National President of the Cameroon branch of the Junior Chamber International (JCI), an international NGO of young active and enterprising citizens that aims to be the largest global network of young people aged between 18 and 40, who are creating positive change both in their communities and in the business world. By rising to this challenge, Flavien wants to be a better bridge between enterprising young people and politicians. “I feel that in Cameroon its role is even more crucial, because our population, which consists mainly of young people, needs direction, encouragement and strengthening regarding their individual intellectual ability, as well as support with creating wealth and businesses” he explains.
I’ve always wondered how one goes from engineer like him to farmer in a society such as there is in Cameroon where everything is tied to appearance. “What you need to know at the outset is that I’ve always wanted to do this job, but my parents were against it. As they never had an opportunity to have a decent life, the means to subsist or do studies, my parents put everything into their children’s education. They wanted to see me become an engineer rather than a farmer”, Flavien Kouatcha explains.
I enjoy learning, and I knew that to open a business I needed to see things from various standpoints. Marketing was the way to understand the psychology of those who would become my clients.
Flavien Kouatcha, CEO of Aquaponics
Prior to creating his company in March 2015, the entrepreneur, who has a Masters Degree in Science and Industrial Technique from the UCAC-ICAM Institute, first spent three years working in port maintenance whilst taking online classes to obtain a Masters specialising in marketing and public relations. “I enjoy learning, and I knew that to open a business I needed to see things from various standpoints. Marketing was the way to understand the psychology of those who would become my clients”, he adds. After this Specialized Masters Degree, he studied urban agriculture at the University of Urbana Champaign.
“People are increasingly migrating to large towns and cities. Living in a village is great, but at the end of the day those who consume our products live in towns and cities”, he notes. Flavien explained to me that between the village and the town, farmers lose half of their produce due to logistical problems such as the state of local roads. That means, he tells me, that having 2 hectares in the village often provides the same income as having one hectare in town.
4 years after the creation of his company, “Save Our Agriculture”, he is continuing to move forward. Having started with growing tomatoes and chilli, over the last 3 years Flavien Kouatcha and his team have now shifted their focus to aquaponics.
Maybe a little explanation is needed here! Aquaponics is a type of farming that combines the terms aquaculture and hydroponics, the former being the raising of fish and plants in an aquatic environment and the latter being the cultivation of plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. So aquaponics creates an ecosystem between the cultivation of plants and raising of fish whose excretions are used as fertiliser.
“Save Our Agriculture”, Flavien’s company, has adapted this practice to the African environment, and more specifically to the Cameroonian environment. His goal was to enable Cameroonians, who mostly live in urban areas, to undertake this type of agriculture at home with no major constraints, with the advantage of having a high-quality animal and crop production at home. For Flavien, this is the future of agriculture, and we’re willing to believe him. “Aquaponics results in higher yields than traditional farming, as it requires less input – notably in terms of water – and emits 20% less carbon into the environment”, Flavien explains.
Flavien and his team’s work on the ground has been increasingly recognised since October 2016, by the general public of course, who continually order more kits, but also by private structures and international competitions. The prizes range from 80,000 CFA francs (122 euros) and 250,000 CFA francs (380 euros).
We have always been told that economic growth and development are a logical result of industrial revolutions, and in this discourse agriculture comes a poor second. I’ve always found the idea that economic, social and cultural progress depends solely on industrialisation and urbanisation to be a shame. Flavien Kouatcha and his action with “Save Our Agriculture” remind us again that we need to put an end to the economic evolutionism that sacrifices agriculture for industrial development and then services.
We need to keep in mind that agriculture is pivotal to the development of countries like Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon or even Senegal. Apart from oil-producing countries, no country in the world has developed without enjoying the support of competitive agriculture. So let’s all support our farmers!