Michel is rapidly increasing organic food production by blending traditional agro-pastoral practices with modern techniques. His inclusive approach addresses farmers from all economic strata to engage in more profitable activities. By increasing organic farming and the natural breeding of animals, he is reversing the current food-importing trend and championing a new trend of exporting food.
The New Idea
Despite using modern methodologies, African farmers are struggling to carry their traditional production to a level of sufficient profitability. For this reason, Michel offers another way of leading and mentoring agro-pastoral speculation to restore the village economy and create sustainable jobs in rural areas. Acknowledging that some Western techniques do not work in this African context, Michel has tweaked traditional agro-pastoral methods and combined them with adapted, modern practices.
After observing animal behaviors, he developed simple techniques based on attitude and animal physiology to improve current practices and productivity of local species. Going against traditional academic teachings that promote the separation of different species, he proved that breeding various animals together in the same space immensely boosts the effectiveness of animal production.
His animal health promotion methods have spread across his local community as well as on a national level through education and training. His vision is to build an Africa where not only is animal food production sustainable, but one where the continent is exporting healthy food. Validated by the National Centre of Agricultural Research, Michel is scaling his approach.
His innovation lies in the fact that his approach is inclusive for all possible farming strata, including the poorest of the poor, as well as farmers who have access to advanced technology.
Benin is an essentially agricultural country where animal husbandry is a relatively secondary activity compared to crop production. Nevertheless, most peasant families raise poultry, cattle or other animals. Village poultry plays a major role in social cohesion (income generating activity for women) and cultural cohesion (use of native chickens and white eggs in traditional ceremonies and ethno-pharmacology). Restaurants across the country are supplied by these village farms to meet the quality of meat sought by customers. The national population of local breed poultry in 2007 was estimated at 12 million birds (FAO, UN Food and Agriculture Organization).
Village poultry is now facing difficulties in the fields of housing, food, health, and genetics. Practicing farmers would like to properly modernize and industrialize the sector in order to be more competitive, but they cannot acquire the necessary investment credits due to a lack of guarantees. A study in 12 provinces in Benin revealed that for each household raising 3 to 4 hens, over 100 chicks are thrown away per year (age ranging from 1 day to 2 weeks). For impoverished farmers, the use of a veterinarian is not a practical option. Poultry farming in Benin also has problems in terms of technical skills. There are few employees on the farms, and they are often uneducated or without proper training. Universities train African managers in industrialization and modernization, but not in techniques that are applicable in more traditional settings. Thus, the public administration lacks qualified staff to advise and assist traditional producers.
Due to these problems, the government has selected poultry as one of 12 priority sectors. Actions are underway to directly support production, such as the funding of more than a dozen poultry micro-projects by the National Fund for the Promotion of Youth Employment. This also includes the development of technical and economic benchmarks. Regarding the breeding of native chickens, actions to improve production and productivity are ongoing. At the same time the state has allowed massive importation of poultry meat to the detriment of local poultry farmers.
In 1999, Michel moved to Lokassa in southern Benin and decided to open a veterinarian's office. However, people there had previously had a bad experience with an older veterinarian and no longer wanted to use Michel’s services. Breeding also wasn’t a major activity. Facing a lack of customers and a drive for income, he decided to engage in animal husbandry, but was devastated by the plague. Close to bankruptcy, abandoned by his wife, and discouraged, Michel was on the verge of leaving altogether. He then came across an article saying that in his region, poultry production is 800,000 heads per year despite a 70% to 80% death rate in the stock. He realized that there was a potential in this area and considered developing a concept in which outputs were maximized and secured. He was encouraged by the growing number of poultry farming activities in the area and reconciled the farmers with veterinarians by demonstrating their important role in the treatment and prevention of diseases affecting the livestock.
He started a poultry farm in 2000 named "The Peasant's House" and designed models that improved the farmers breeding practices. He set up natural methods to protect chickens against thieves, insects, and other predators like shrews. Through simple and innovative techniques adapted to local poultry, he could get 40 chicks from clutches of 20 with a 90% survival rate. For example, he discovered that the rooster needs to mate 25 times a day, but being in an enclosed area in which hens are busy covering their eggs makes the rooster aggressive. In industry farming, chicks are isolated from the rooster, but this is not the case in a traditional farm. Michel assigned 15 hens to 1 rooster, creating a rotation between the nests and consistency with the rooster. This reduced the aggressiveness of the rooster and increased the frequency of egg-laying hens.
To create and increase the productivity of family farming, Michel worked on federation standards of many species and the synergies that create added value. He managed to harmoniously bring together 14 animal species in an area of 700 m². This included rabbits, chickens, guinea fowl, turkeys, goats, pigs, cane rats, and pigeons. Pigeons were a boost for the farm by providing additional income through their rapid reproduction. From 56 rabbits, he obtained a production of 2,500 per year, and 70 piglets from 3 local sows.
To share his agro-pastoral techniques in 2000, Michel brought together his research and experiments in a package of solutions called "How to produce 300 live chickens from 10 local hens in 6 months". He went to agriculture authorities, but they did not take him seriously, so he popularized the concept through his own individual and community outreach programs. He started with a radio advertisement and received nearly 1,000 demands from interested farmers. Then he went from village to village offering training. He asked for a contribution of 1000 CFA ($2) per woman and 1500 CFA ($3) per man. To ensure the sustainability of this source of wealth for farmers and food security for all, he included a veterinary care campaign. Michel taught basic veterinary knowledge and primary medical care such as the importance of vaccinations for sustainability of livestock. Impressed by the results, it became popular among farmers to use veterinary services for assistance and monitoring animals.
At "The Peasant's House", Michel received and boarded students for two years to contribute in the functioning of the structure. With the knowledge acquired, a young person can easily make 80,000 CFA/month, starting with 50 rabbits and six pairs of pigeons. Every last weekend of the month, “The Peasant House” offers training on emergency measures in veterinary care.
With the increasing number of demands, it soon became very difficult for Michel to provide individual monitoring for all. In 2004, he adopted a "village approach" community training on “agro-pastoral awakening”. This training created social mobilization to fight against poverty and hunger and stimulate the creation of sustainable jobs in rural areas. To have a greater impact, he decided to collaborate with NGOs and structures involved in livestock and agriculture activities in the rural areas to combine their efforts and give an improved support to farmers. His approach interested FAO (World Food Organization) and he was recruited as a consultant to support their food security programs in Cameroun, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville and Niger. He then developed a partnership with the National Society of Agricultural Promotion. However, the State Agricultural Administration voiced its disagreement on the pretext that Michel’s approach was not scientific, conventional or rational. The National Institute of Farming Research of Benin was dispatched in February 2012 to do research and analysis on his approach. The institute validated Michel’s concept and gave their approval for its extension. A national TV station made a documentary on him broadcasting the farmers who benefited from his training and the short and long term impact of Michel’s approach. He was then approached by municipalities, local NGOs such as Hunger Project and Plan Benin. To date, 3,000 people have been trained by Michel in Benin. He is a member of the technical education orientation committee and the Ministry of Higher Education of Scientific Research has requested that he set up units of the "The Peasant's House" in three universities.
Michel’s objective is to increase the capacity of "The Peasant's House" and evolve within five years to “The Peasant’s Village”. The houses - components of the village, will be classified by level and equipped with a combination of many techniques and sciences to match a variety of interests. Marketing and product processes that Michel has already started will be developed and controlled by the farmers. Michel has already acquired the village site and began farming activities that will complement the concept.
As a child, Michel was surrounded by animals. At a young age he realized that it was not just humans that needed health care when his goat died of an illness. After completing his college degree, he had the choice between being a doctor for humans or a doctor for animals. He chose to be a veterinarian and went to Ukraine for further education. Coming back home in 1993, he faced a State recruitment freeze and decided to turn to farming. He created a study group for the promotion of livestock in rural areas in 1999 and then “The Peasant's House” in 2000. His approach was challenged by colleagues, universities and scientists. Denigrated and despised, ridiculed and rejected, Michel Babadjide was blacklisted from all seminars and benefits by his peers and the Ministry of Livestock. However, this did not stop his work. Rather, he took every opportunity to promote his concept like in fairs where he met FAO representatives who tested his concept and hired him as a consultant.
On February 8th, 2012, the now veterinary doctor successfully defended his thesis in front of leading researchers of the National Institute of Agricultural Research of Benin. A documentary entitled "And yet he is the one who was right" was broadcasted on television in the whole country. This marked the beginning of collaboration with veterinary colleagues, academics, departments of livestock and technical and professional education platforms to expand the model in schools and colleges all over the country. Michel was pleased to see that with the validation, “The Peasant’s House” left scientific opposition and entered scientific mainstream. From 5 customers in the beginning, Michel’s veterinary clinic has a portfolio of 200 daily clients currently.
Michel is also promoting a paradigm shift in rural intervention methods and intends to open a larger training center on “How best to intervene in rural areas” with a logic of reform in the education system to train peasants with diplomas. For this, he made a plea to the President of the Republic of Benin and the Director of FAO.