Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Derek and Rebecca write: Benin Bible Institute's Agricultural Site in Oumako

Zoe told you about our visit to Songhai Agricultural Project, which has been running for about 30 years. This place inspired BBI to start their own agricultural program for their students, a dream they've had for years now. BBI purchased land about a 1.5 hour drive from Cotonou, where BBI is located. It's a beautiful site, and Dominique is a former BBI student who spent 18 months at Songhai studying their agricultural methods. 

This dream of having an agricultural program has been unfolding for years now.
  • 11 years ago, they purchased 4.6 hectares of land near Oumako 
  • 8 years ago, Bonaventure (BBI's director) planted trees around the property, including fruit trees like mango, papaya, and banana
  • 3 years ago, Dominique started to study at Songhai
  • 10 months ago, Dominique moved onto the land to start creating an operational farm on the land
We really enjoyed our tour around the property with Dominique. He is a wonderful person - engaging, inspiring, and very knowledgeable about ecosystems, plants, and animals. It's clear that Songhai taught him well! He has been living at the Oumako site for about 10 months, and they now have many vegetables, trees and crops planted, a well dug and a water tower in the works, a house for Dominique and volunteers/guests, a chicken barn, and a rabbit barn.

Dominique with a tree seedling
looking at day-old rabbits
2 week-old rabbits
holding the big rabbits
Dominique and Bonaventure
okra plant
aromatic leafy plant, good for making sauce

Dominique pumping water at the well
Dominique talked about how important it is to build relationships - to establish healthy "human ecosystems." And now that he's been there for 10 months, people in the village are getting to know and trust him. Many women from the village come to the farm to get fresh water from the pump, or pick vegetables to sell in the market. The women pay Dominique for the produce they pick, and this money is used as income for BBI. This provides financial support for BBI, and helps them to keep their student tuition rates low enough so that they are affordable.
a woman from town picking chili peppers

a family from the village coming to the farm for water and vegetables
At first I didn't understand this connection between a theological/biblical program and an agricultural project. But now I get it, and I think it's such a wonderful idea. Many pastors who study at BBI and pastor congregations work without any pay. Since there isn't enough to pay a pastor in some churches, agricultural skills can give them another source of income. At the same time, teaching them things like sustainability, crop management and plants/creatures that work well together can benefit their whole community, not just one pastor. The idea is that these methods will keep spreading through Benin - that you can start small, and that anyone can farm to make a decent living.

Dominique holding a tiny red fuzzy creature that Eden found
So the goals of this project are many:

  • to provide a teaching/training place for BBI students to learn valuable agricultural skills
  • to provide an income stream for BBI
  • to extend BBI's reach to villagers in various communities through the teaching of sustainable agricultural practices
  • to nourish bodies and souls
In BBI's Baccalaureate program, students will be required to take a course in agriculture. Dominique teaches BBI students about growing seasons, species compatibility, and ecosystems. He knows about native plants that are good for health, for cooking, and for fruit. He is experimenting with the grafting of citrus trees, and is mixing local and imported species of chickens to produce a heartier breed for meat. Something interesting that we learned is that if you graft a grapefruit or orange branch onto a lemon one, it produces a bigger, better fruit than if it were just a grapefruit tree. Dominique is also experimenting with various species of plants planted beside each other, like yams and maize corn.

Because Benin is a tropical country, there can be multiple growing seasons in one year.

As we often experienced in Benin, there are immediate plans and bigger dreams. Some of these dreams include:
  • finishing the water tower. This will create a way of irrigating the plants in the dry season. Right now, much of Dominique's time in the dry season is spent carrying water from the pump to the plants. With an irrigation system set up, this will free up his time to expand various other projects on the farm.
    water tower, currently under construction
  • creating a pond for raising fish. Dominique is engaged to be married next year, and his future wife specializes in fish/pond management. These will be very useful skills as they create a fishfarm on the property.
  • creating a snailery for raising snails. Both fish and snails would be sold at the local market for food, just like the chickens and rabbits are now.
  • purchasing a pick-up truck. We experienced the ride from Cotonou to Oumako. To say it is bumpy is a HUGE understatement. The road is not paved, and in the rainy season the potholes are MANY. BBI has dreams of purchasing a vehicle to use for trips into the village of Oumako, as well as trips to Cotonou. 
  • purchasing more land adjacent to this property to expand their crops and farming practices. Land is quite costly for them, at about $10,000 per hectare.
  • building a small residence for BBI students on the property
  • expanding their "cash crop" of plants that can be sold for more income, like the laurel plant (sold at a good price for perfume, soap, etc.), and a forest of trees that provide valuable woods (like teak, eucalyptus, acacia) for building furniture
  • expanding their training. People in the nearby village have been asking Dominique for training on how to use these agricultural methods themselves.
    "tree of life"
    tree seedlings
local and imported varieties of chickens
compost pile
Plants feed the chickens, the chickens' manure enriches the compost, the compost feeds the plants, and the plants provide feed for the chickens. A closed loop, beneficial at many levels. In the same way, teaching skills that provide an income for pastors will connect them with the broader community, provide employment and visibility, and an opportunity to explain why they are doing this, which in turn "grows" more church folk, including potential future pastors who will farm and tend plants and souls. We left inspired by this dream for a vibrant, healthy socio-theological ecosystem and look forward to continuing to support this project so that they can realize their dreams.


  1. What a joy it was to read all that you wrote there Derek and Rebecca... thank you so much!

    We definitely share your enthusiasm for the project!

  2. Thanks for reading it! I know it's a lot to take in, but it was a very inspiring project for us to visit - one we're looking forward to supporting in the future.

  3. It's so exciting to see how the project is developing. It's also inspiring to read Dominique's reflections on the importance of developing relationships and the idea of "human ecosystems" and the "closed loop". They're doing some amazing things. Love it!

    What also amazes me is the amount of information and detail you
    have been able to provide (and remember) with having seen and experienced so much while you were there. Wow! Sue S.