Ester Botta and Abdoulaye Somparé
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Agricultural entrepreneurship and vocational training as a valid alternative to migration in Guinea

In this first episode of IOM’s Research Series podcast, Dr. Ester Somparé and Dr. Abdoulaye Somparé share the findings of their research on migration dynamics in Kankan, Guinea. Talking about the promising perspectives of agricultural entrepreneurship and vocational training, these seasoned researchers shed new light on how young people find success at home today.  

Dr Ester Botta Somparé is an anthropologist and lecturer at the Kofi Annan University and the Julius Nyere University in Kankan, both in Guinea. Originally from Italy, she lived in Kankan, in Eastern Guinea for more than ten years and participated in several research projects on youth migration, both with universities and development actors. Her status both as a migrant and local researcher in Guinea gives her research experiences a unique perspective.

Dr Abdoulaye Wotem Somparé is a sociologist and Vice-rector at the Julius Nyerere University in Kankan, Guinea. Abdoulaye is Guinean and is specialized in the sociology of work. With a group of colleagues he founded the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Kofi Annan, which he directed for several years until 2017. Now he occupies the position of Vice-Rector at the University Julius de Kankan. In addition to his academic responsibilities, he is also a regular consultant for the World Health Organisation (WHO), with which he started collaborating since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Ester Botta Somparé and Abdoulaye Wotem Somparé are contributed to the MigChoice project, a collaboration between the IOM, the University of Birmingham, and several universities in the region, funded by the UK government.

Marianne: It was challenging to join in Kankan, in the Guinean tropical zone, two illustrious researchers named Doctor Ester Botta Somparé and Doctor Abdoulaye Somparé, both anthropologists. To do this, we invited them to join us on the radio to discuss their research work on migration and development projects. I let you attend this fascinating program.

Presenter: Agriculture occupies an essential place in the economic landscape of Guinea but faces many challenges. Agriculture is often seen as an unattractive activity for young people. However, during your research, you made the acquaintance of young agricultural entrepreneurs who, far from this observation, translate on the contrary a much more positive vision of agriculture for the younger generations. So, could you first tell us about the profile of these young entrepreneurs?

Ester Botta Somparé: Absolutely. There are eight peasant federations in Haute-Guinée, and among these, we were interested in the federation which deals with the market gardening sector, the rice sector, and the yam sector. This led us to work in Kankan Ville, even though it is an urban area. Around Kankan, there is an important activity of peri-urban agriculture, particularly in market gardening and then in certain villages, particularly Tintioulén for the yam Sabadou-Baranama, the rice sector. So, within the framework of these groups, we got to know some young people who are promoters of entrepreneurship projects within the framework of agriculture. First of all, it must be said that these groups, I am talking above all about market gardening in the framework of peri-urban agriculture, are essentially female groups. It is generally an activity reserved for women. Market gardening, a few years ago, was of little interest to men. So much so that we said we tended to ridicule men when they were involved in this kind of activity. But within these groups, 90% are women who use this activity, in general, to help their husbands supplement daily expenses or to meet their needs. But alongside these women, we met men who have other priorities because they participate in these groups. They carry out specific economic, social projects, so to be able, for example, to build a house thanks to market gardening, to be able to set up, expand their activity, finance several projects and several socio-economic projects. Among these, we met young people who have graduated from the vocational school of agriculture and breeding of ENAE.

Above all, they are not only them, but above all them, who are the carriers of projects within the framework of agricultural entrepreneurship. These are young people who are trained in this vocational school, agriculture and breeding, and who are therefore intellectuals, but who invest in this agricultural activity with a lot of passion, by putting their expertise and transferring their knowledge within groups. For example, they can show women, often women, older people, certain activities, specific new techniques, certain agricultural innovations. They are also young people who work as consultants for private entrepreneurs for example, by helping them to manage their breeding of hens, chicks, etc. So these young people are very optimistic. They have received solid professional training, both theoretical and practical, and they feel that they have a job, that they have skills that will allow them to succeed in Guinea. They also have elders who are somewhat their model, who have evolved in cooperatives, but who, afterward, set up small businesses. They are also doing very well in market gardening, managing to meet their needs and have access, thanks to market gardening, to an almost constant income. There is someone who told us market gardening is like a tontine. “Whenever I need money, I collect my salad, and I sell it”. These are short-cycle crops, so the produce is almost always available and it’s possible to have access to a regular income that you can count on, and that allows you to achieve something.

Presenter: In the fieldwork, within the MIGCHOICE project framework, you seek to understand better the links between migration and development interventions. One of the main themes that emerge from your field concerns the training of young people in Guinea.

Abdoulaye Somparé: In terms of education, there is not a very big difference. Everywhere we met young people attending school, young graduates of bachelor’s degrees, young graduates of vocational schools such as Don Bosco or ENAE, the Kankan Vocational School of Livestock Agriculture. But what struck us a lot; there is a huge difference, a contrast between university graduate students’ professional projects. Because we had already carried out preliminary research concerning professional integration and its studies, already published in articles, show that Guinean students have a very vague idea of ​​their professional project and their professional paths. Only students from wealthy families and having executive parents have an idea of their future path. They know that they will go abroad, but others do not know apart from these young people. They do not have a concrete plan. A lot of young people say I want to be an entrepreneur. Some people come to schools and educate students. Anyone can be an entrepreneur. But when you ask them how you plan to organize yourself concretely, you will find that they have no concrete idea on this side.

Presenter: I turn to Madam. You were talking about this organization that these different entrepreneurs have on the agricultural side. You have met these young people. You were talking about their profile, but how does that translate in terms of mobility? And what relationship do they have with their country of origin?

Ester Botta Somparé: These young entrepreneurs do not want to leave. That struck us a lot here, with young people in vocational schools, whether it was Don Bosco or ENAE. These are young people who do not have the initial project as a priority. They are of course, attracted to the idea of ​​Europe, which always has an appeal from the point of view of the imagination. They think, for example, that it is in Europe that they could one day carry out training, supplement what they have learned, or visit. But their priority is not really that of going there to work, of going to settle.

On the contrary, some told us about their friends, their parents who left and who find themselves afterwards to be agricultural workers in the fields, for example in Italy, collecting tomatoes, etc. And therefore, something is devaluing concerning the training they received. So, this youthful profile is really rooted in the territory.

A slightly different discourse can be made about the young people we met in Upper Guinea villages. In villages such as Tintioulen or Sabadou-Baranama we met young people who are less educated and find themselves in a situation where they practice agriculture. But their successful agricultural entrepreneurship plans through farming are somewhat hampered by family organization which is sometimes not very beneficial to young people.

Why? Because we are in a society, the rural society of Haute Guinée, in which the head of the family, therefore the father, or if the father is tired or dead, the big brother,  brings together his other brothers in the same concession. So they live together. The older brother, with his wives, the younger brothers with their wives and most of the time, they are devoted to working a family field. This is a family field managed by the eldest of the family, who provides food and expenses for everyone. Young people have

less time to devote themselves to their individual fields, which somewhat weakens their possibilities of accumulating capital through agriculture. This is why in these localities, many young cadets in families practice seasonal mobility. They go to the mines during the dry season, and they return to the village during the rainy season. This seasonal mobility in some cases is becoming permanent mobility to mining sites. So the temporary abandonment of agricultural activity to go to these mining sites and gain a certain capital which, afterwards, will be reinvested in several types of activities. Some use this capital to go abroad, to continue, and others, on the other hand, will reinvest it in agriculture, in their villages.

Presenter: There are also internal migrations in Guinea, not only external ones, towards mining areas, especially Siguiri and in the country’s east. What role could education play today in this mobility?

Abdoulaye Somparé: Yes, I think that mining areas attract many young people looking for a job. Whether in the SAG society in Siguiri, near Tintinian or in Boké, the CBG in Kamsar, Sangarédi, the mining areas attract many people because in these companies, there are workers who are much better paid and they lead a good life. They live in the best living conditions in cities where there is electricity, where these companies, sometimes, practice a de facto paternalistic policy. To integrate the workers more, a good part of their salary is paid in kind. They are very well housed and do not pay for drugs. They do not pay for food. So really, it fits into the city, and that attracts other workers, like the mining area of ​​Boké, more precisely Kamsar, where a lot of people have come in search of work. But even the 10% cannot find work. Those who cannot find work stay in the outskirts, called Kamsar center (Kamsar village), where they practice daily activities to survive. And you have to stay there. Some have been involved in these activities for a long time, and now they find it difficult to return to the village out of shame for returning without having enough money.

But we recently noticed that there has been an intensification of the production of mining in these areas, with the arrival of Chinese companies which give lower wages around 1,500,000 (Guinean francs) or 2,000, 000 (Guinean francs). But being in a situation of poverty and precariousness, young people are forced to accept. But since they work in difficult conditions and they are not well paid. These are young people who plan to leave one day according to our interviews. They work to try to win something because they can not stay. Above all, these are localities where the best houses, the most beautiful houses belong to migrants who live abroad, called the lower “Diaspo”, particularly people from the Diaxanke community and part of the Peulh community, but especially the Diaxankes. So the model of success has imposed themselves there, the “Diaspo”, as a social success model for young people.

Presenter: You have spent a lot of time with Guinean youth in different localities because you have traveled around Guinea a bit, you were in Conakry, you are here today. In the different rural localities, especially Kankan, a question: could you tell us a little about your study area and in particular, the group you visited? What interested you the most?

Ester Botta Somparé: During this research in Haute Guinea, we worked on both urban and rural areas. So, I think all the sites we visited were very important to us. The two professional schools, including Don Bosco and the ENAE, really gave us an idea of ​​optimism and confidence, in relation to youth, in relation to the prospects of youth to succeed. This has really changed us a little compared to the speech we heard from graduates of general education or students in Conakry, who really rehearse speeches imbued with a lot of Afro-pessimism. We have heard a lot of speeches that said “Here the future is blocked in this country, nothing works. It is only elsewhere that we can flourish. It is only elsewhere that we can be valued, genuinely showcasing our talent. Here, everything is relational, etc “. We have heard a lot, a lot of this

type of speech, and, on the contrary, we have met this more optimistic youth because it is already engaged in this process of training and professional integration. As Abdoulaye said among the students, it is sometimes a bit rhetorical idea: “Yes, one day, I will be a job creator. I will not wait for someone to give me jobs myself, I will create “but these are a bit of empty words, we do not know precisely what they will do. Whereas here, we have found a youth rooted in its territory and engaged in this formation process. So it was striking here while studying this groupings.

Other sites of the research, which were very interesting, were the gold panning sites. There, we saw that the gold miners also have so much particular social. A very organized world, even if it is an informal activity. And a special relationship to their activities and the risks they run in their activities. In these mining circles, what struck us is the fact that we have met young people who are ready to get rich quickly and quickly accumulate capital, run risks that are sometimes enormous with the dangers of landslides, accidents, etc. These risks arise in this mining area where gold panning is an ancient activity. We must not think of this as a recent phenomenon, but which has now taken on proportions and methods which did not exist before, with more massive exploitation, with machines. This exploitation now extends over the whole country. So these young people are ready to take all the risks to accumulate this capital, which predisposes them to take risks; otherwise, they are already used to that. So, for example, to attempt irregular migration by saying “But me, nothing scares me I dig holes, I go to the bottom of the earth and I risk my life all the time. So, why would I be afraid now to embark, to go to the Mediterranean to enrich myself? ” They are already in that somehow. So the work in these sites was also quite interesting.

Presenter: During your various discussions, your interviews at the various sites where you selected development projects, you were able to get closer to young people, better understand their situation and their migration projects. The link between young people’s education, professional integration, and migration has fueled your research questions. We sometimes hear that it is the lack of education that is linked to the desire to migrate. Is this really the case?

Abdoulaye Somparé: Oh, the lack of education may be one factor, but there are other more important factors. The lack of education could not be the main factor as we find among the returnees several graduates, sometimes graduates of Gamal University, Kankan University, Sonfonia, people who have five years at school, at university and trying to leave. Civic education that we observed at the Don Bosco school combines both technical and theoretical training and moral training. It is not just religious; it is a kind of civic course. Every day, they receive lessons and discuss with the masters. They internalize values that are useful for their country and their families.

It is true that we generally cite as the cause of clandestine and irregular migration, poverty, and the employment search. But migration is also linked to the character and psychology of young people. It is young people who migrate above all, and these young people consider the migration project as an ideal as an imaginary one. They dream of leaving. They want to be valued as young people. They want to have this “Diaspo” label. Otherwise, how can you understand the difficult living conditions of the young migrants that we found in Milan or in Paris? These young people live in very difficult conditions, but all they do is post their photo by showing up in front of beautiful houses. And suddenly, they are valued because as soon as you leave or are told that you are there, they say that everyone considers you as “Diaspo”, as someone who will succeed one day.  So there is that factor there. Since the Libyan border’s opening, young people’s migration or migration behavior can be analyzed as risk behaviors that exist everywhere. Young people take risks; they want to challenge: “I am a man, I take risks,” as she (Ester

Somparé) said. Among the gold miners, some people say a man, it is also someone capable of sacrificing himself.

But they never tell the young people directly who want to leave to be valued as “Diaspo” young people. They always speak on behalf of the family. I want to sacrifice myself for the family. I want to go to help my suffering family. While it is not always the poorest young people who leave. There are young people from wealthy families who took risks to leave, sometimes selling their daddy’s car to leave. I think that this parameter must also be taken into account in the context of raising awareness among young people.

Regarding migration policy too, developed countries are helping to maintain illegal migration. We must allow a young person who lives here to leave. He has the means, he wants to go for a walk, and he walks and he comes back. But if there is a myth, it is the embassies that create a whole myth. This myth also encourages many young people to leave. These psychological factors must also be taken into account to explain migration. Certainly, it is because of poverty, of access to jobs. When someone has a good job, he does not even think of going. But other factors lead young people to leave. Some young people have sometimes sold their homes because they want to go abroad.

Ester Botta Somparé: The root of the problem is that of finding a job that allows for promotion that does not only allow one to feed oneself, to eat. Sometimes Europeans look like this: “It’s poverty. People do not have enough at home, so they leave in despair ” Often, that is not it, especially in Guinea. The family really offers a bulwark where everyone finds their place and acceptable living conditions from the point of view of accommodation and food. It is about achieving something, being able to have access to mobility, and therefore a promotion. This also means being able to become someone who has a house and children attending good schools. These children can help their parents and their family, or also finance projects for young brothers. That is the key. The problem is to integrate professionally to be able to achieve this kind of goal.

Presenter: What is your view on the current situation of young people?

Abdoulaye Somparé: As a trainer and pedagogical manager, I am very worried about young people’s training because our students generally give more and more importance to grades to obtain the diploma than to the content of the training itself. I think young people are getting more pessimistic, Afro pessimistic, and believe they cannot react. We must not be successful here. Hence the importance of accompanying a few young people who are pioneers. They are very courageous. We must support them by financing their professional projects when they are going to succeed here and carrying out specific socio-economic projects, particularly the construction of a house. This support will encourage other young people to consider their future in Guinea as well. As she (Ester Somparé) has said most often, we have found that the young people, the majority of those who want to migrate, actually do not go there because they are hungry or starving Guinea. They are not going because they are exposed to insecurity. As we have seen, after the opening of the Libyan border, after Nigeria, in Italy, illegal migrants were more numerous. In Guinea, of course, it is a developing country. Of course, there is unemployment, but people, on the whole, are not starving. But they want to be promoted. They want to be promoted by building houses. This is why awareness-raising must go in this direction. There is a rivalry fueled by the success of some young people from the same neighborhoods or young people from the same family. There is an overinvestment in the construction of houses.

We should raise awareness in this sense because these rivalries help fuel migration projects by urging young people to take risks to leave. We have to get them to consider their success and promotion here. They need to understand that in a country, not everyone wants to get rich. But you have to try to earn a living by getting a job, getting married, having children, educating your children, finding a house, even a single house like the 80% of young French and Italians. Their hope is to buy an apartment and earn a living, to retire. But if everyone seeks to be the richest in a country, there is this mentality there. It involves people and develops illusions, whereas they are European countries. If you were not born rich, it is hard to be rich there. As she (Ester Somparé) said, the double gaze is important. In the context of awareness-raising, too, we must show the realities as the IOM has shown the journey of illegal migrants on the road to Libya. But it would also be good to go to Italy to see the young migrants there, who have all become canvassers, who buy small bicycles that go to restaurants from deliveries of pizzas, sandwiches, meals. They live in the most remote villages of Milan. They do not even participate in life there. They are entirely excluded. It would be interesting to see the living conditions of these people there to educate young people better.

Moderator: Thank you for answering all of these questions.

Abdoulaye Somparé: Thank you.

Marianne: Follow our podcast on your favorite streaming platform or directly on WWW.YENNA.ORG. This podcast is produced by IOM and funded by the UK government.

“The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in these podcasts belong solely to the speaker, and not reflect the view of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), its partners or donors. This podcast is protected under creative commons and can be used by third parties under certain conditions. For more information, contact [email protected].”

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