François Prouteau: Hello Felix! Welcome to Angers. Can you tell us about your background? If I understood correctly before your training in Montpellier, you had already followed a training course in Togo?
Félix Dzamah : Yes, that's right. I did a degree in agronomy at a college in Lomé. Since 2015 I had one foot in Lomé and one foot in the university, it's the moment when we started growing Artemesia with my father, Antoine Dzamah, after meeting Lucille. This allowed me to return to Sichem very easily after my degree.
FP: Talking about Sichem, you've known it from the beginning?
FD: That's right, I grew up in Sichem. For me, Sichem is first of all my house, a house where I saw a lot of people passing by. I've been in contact with a lot of inspiring people. Sichem is truly a meeting place! A place of formation too, but above all a house where there are acquaintances. In the field of agriculture, it is a centre that has made a lot of progress, in different stages. There was a time when there were sessions, field schools, people living in the surrounding villages who came to Sichem to be trained in agricultural techniques, after the centre has evolved a little towards an opening to a reception centre. There is a strong link between IFFAfrique and Sichem due to its location on the site.
FP: So you had already learned about agriculture in Sichem?
FD: Yes, I would even say that this guided my choice of the higher school of agronomy. This choice is not disjointed, not disconnected from the fact that I grew up on a farm in Sichem. In fact, at first I wanted to go to medical school after graduation. But I wasn't retained, I had to have a long arm, someone to support my file. That's the reality in Togo. So I didn't choose that path. My father asked me the question: "What else would you like to do? ». We knew a professor at the School of Agronomy, so I thought that studying agronomy wouldn't be totally inconsistent for me. That's how I started, with the idea of going back to medicine the following year. And I liked the Agro School so much that I told myself that it was in coherence with what I felt about my contribution to nature and the link with the land, which seemed important to me, so I found myself in Agro and I continued.
FP: In relation to the bachelor's degree, when I meet young students from Togo, I often have the impression, not necessarily in the agronomy sector but in general in the sectors, that the young people who followed the training courses in Togo came out without any real qualifications and employability. Is this true in general, and is it also true in the sector you have chosen? In other words, at the end of your bachelor's degree did you really feel that you had already acquired skills, knowledge and abilities to work in this field in this higher education course?
FD: So I really had this hindsight when I came to France. The license I got in Togo, at the end in 2016, I asked myself the question: "What will I sell as a skill on the job market, how will I sell myself? ». At the university, you have a real bookish knowledge, you have a sum of courses to be burnt and given back. That didn't allow for analysis and taking a step back. In the end it really made me wonder about what I could really do, fortunately I had this connection with Sichem quite early in my life! I didn't ask myself any more specific questions about the job market. For me it was only natural that I should return to Sichem after my studies. It allowed me to immediately revalue what I already knew, such as jam production, I had basic knowledge in agro. So I wasn't as disturbed as other people might have been in people with an agronomy background like me.
FP: Maybe it's also because you already had a context and experience before your studies, and that made it easier for you to make the link between your studies and what you would do with them when you returned to Sichem. This wasn't necessarily the case for other students for whom training is disconnected from their projects and from a real-life situation.
FD: Absolutely! And it's not surprising that these young people, who don't have this anchorage, may think they are engineers and end up choosing the office rather than the field. You have to establish a real link with the land. After my training in Montpellier, I had a change of vision.
FP: You studied for two years in Montpellier?
FD: Yes indeed, I spent two years in Montpellier. As part of the "Agricultural System Resource and Development" master's degree, the main aim of this training is to train agricultural development players who will support farmers in developing countries. It is open to all tropical agriculture. Not just Africa but also South America, part of Asia. It was really very enriching.
FP: And in these two years, what field experiences have you had, outside university, that you have been able to go and see and from which you have gained something?
FD: We had three internships, two in France and one abroad. What impressed me in France is that the problems related to agriculture are common, we reach a point where agriculture in France and Togo and in other southern countries have the same questions. That is to say, what should be done to preserve the environment, the ecosystem and all that. Agriculture is no longer disconnected from its environment, there is a link with the territory, so it surprised me that farmers here have the same problems as farmers in the south. The periods when we were coming out of the academic training were the internship times.
FP: In relation to techniques such as agroecology or permaculture or this type of practice, which are the subject of a great deal of research and innovation, have you seen anything a little bit pilot that has particularly interested you?
FD: Yes, we were able to study a whole territory, the Drôme area. It is a region where there are organic market gardeners, we were able to see the panel of agricultural models through our various internships. During these internships, we arrive on a territory unknown to all. We try to observe, to see the landscape organization, and from all these elements we try to understand with its history and geography, the agriculture of the region. We go through the history of the region, what was done before, how agriculture has evolved. And we will try to see what future projections are possible for this region. We met people on small farms who were trying to find answers to the problems of climate change, preservation of the environment and the ecosystem. But not really a pilot centre, like the Bec Hellouin, which I dream of visiting.
FP: Do you think you will be able to go there before you return to Togo?
FD: I'm afraid I won't be able to visit it before my return. But maybe during another stay in France!
FP: So you're going back to Sichem. What have you received during these two years in France that you want to invest in your country?
FD: There are a lot of things, but what I give myself the freedom to do when I get back is to see what has already evolved during these two years. It seems important to me to see and really take note of the various changes that may have been made when I was in France. Then, to make a diagnosis, the major tool that I acquired during my training, to go and visit the farms, to see the farmers, to see how they can innovate on a daily basis in their different settings. That's what I plan to do when I get back. If all goes well in 2020, there will be a class from my school in Montpellier who will come to Togo for a collective internship.
FP: Could you explain in a few words what is Artemesia ? It was one of the motives of the deepening of these techniques that you wanted to see as part of your training, if you unfold the perspective of the culture of artemesia in relation to your background, how do you link things and what do you want to invest in this culture? Maybe you can remind what is the purpose of artemesia?
FD: Artemesia, is a plant that treats malaria. A plant, of the Asteraceae family, which is native to China. Initially in Togo when we received the seeds we had to adapt and acclimatize it in Sichem. Now we can make an infusion of it, and thanks to this we can cure malaria by taking it as a treatment for seven days, or as a preventive treatment two to three times a week. This is the work we have been doing in Sichem since 2015. This gave me a good experience of the particular cultivation of Artemesia that can save Africa from malaria, a good alternative for poor farmers. For my part, during my training in Montpellier, I saw a whole set of things that could be around Artemisia, my point of view regarding Artemesia has changed a little. Now I imagine rather a set of plants, a garden with artemesia but also other plants with virtues, interests for health, to allow farmers to have more income. My vision is no longer centered only on Artemesia but on a set of things that can improve the quality of life of African farmers, the inhabitants but also the economy in general.
FP: Great! Thank you Felix! Have a safe trip back to Togo!