Blog on LDF Internship in Southern Africa by Cedric Maforimbo (Louis Dreyfus-WHT Scholar 2017/18
The Louis Dreyfus Foundation (LDF) is an organisation whose vision is to “help alleviate hunger and poverty by bringing sustainable solutions to small farmers”. LDF makes this vision a reality through 22 projects in 14 countries spanning Africa, Asia and South America, where the focus is on sustainable micro-farming, education, environmental preservation and community empowerment. In running its projects, LDF partners with the Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), leveraging on the expertise of its staff and on its infrastructure.
LDF does not achieve the above-mentioned objectives through its own projects only. It also invests in building the capacity of young leaders who will contribute, through their own endeavours, to the realisation of LDF’s vision. In order to build local capacity, LDF’s approach is two-fold. Firstly, it partners with the Weidenfeld Hoffmann Trust (WHT) in providing leadership training and skills to Master’s degree candidates from developing countries at the University of Oxford. These student will then be able to apply these skills in improving the livelihoods of communities in their home countries during and after their courses. Secondly, LDF hosts interns from the scholarship programme. I studied an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management thanks to an award of the Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld Hoffmann Scholarship; I was fortunate enough to also have been selected for the internship and, in this piece, I’d like to tell you about my experience.
I was the inaugural WHT intern of LDF. I began my internship in the southern African country of Zambia, where I spent four months. Based at an LDC ginnery in the Eastern Region of the country, I carried out baseline, diagnostic studies on the socio-economic situation of rural cotton farming communities in Katete and Lundazi Districts. I did this with questionnaires and with focus group meetings with the rural communities, at which I heard from the communities themselves what their priorities for assistance were. I also reviewed LDC records of the farmers’ production and income from cotton and conducted key informant interviews with government agencies and non-governmental organisations in the area. On the basis of the results and analysis of this study, I went on to design a project that addressed the highlighted needs and carried out a feasibility study for this proposed project. I completed the work in Zambia with travel to and presentation of the outcomes of this work in Geneva, homebased of LDF.
I then moved on to South Africa to work on LDF’s projects as well. Based at LDC Africa’s headquarters in Johannesburg, I worked on developing new partnerships for the Foundation. The process entailed carrying out comprehensive mapping of potential project implementation partners across the country. This was followed by a thorough screening and shortlisting, and an assessment of the shortlisted potential partners on the basis of their alignment with LDF’s priorities and ethos, their technical capabilities and their track record. The shortlisted organisations were then invited to submit proposals of projects (aimed at sustainably developing small farmers) for funding partnership with LDF, which I also helped assessing.
My time on this internship was, however, not all work. I was incorporated into some of LDC’s Corporate Social Responsibility cum social activities as well as team building activities. In Zambia, I attended the Kulamba Traditional Ceremony of the Chewa People as part of LDC invitees, which event was a very interesting show and insight into the traditions of the area, incorporating intriguing dresses, dances and stunts. In South Africa, I participated in garden planting at a children’s home as well as in South African Murder Mysteries (a fun team-building game) at the annual LDC Christmas party. At the latter, I scooped the Best Character Award as all players had to dress and act certain parts in a “murder mystery” solving episode.
My work with LDF generated learnings for me in two categories, one being an operational learning category and the other being a personal learning category. The first, operational learning, relates to the power of collaboration. I found LDF’s model of working in partnership with LDC to be very effective. Because of the strong presence, network and rapport that LDC has within its countries of operation and with the communities in the areas of its operation, LDF’s work swiftly and easily gained traction. This would not have been the case had this partnership not existed. In Zambia, we were able to easily garner the trust of the community in order for them to be at liberty to avail all information concerning their socio-economic situation and to also express their genuine thoughts, concerns and desires. This was essential in enabling us to design projects which would bring about the highest gain for the communities. Communities seldom find it easy to trust new entrants but because our target communities (as they also professed) saw LDC as a company of trust and even as a member of their community, they were easily able to engage freely with us. The second, personal learning, relates to my personal upskilling. I was able to gather further skills by practice in project management, project design, partnership development and community engagement.
Both dimensions of improvement will help me with my personal work of building Weed2Pesticide, a startup which creates a rural community-led supply industry of a pernicious invasive weed, collects the weed and industrially converts it into a commercial bio-pesticide. Furthermore, at the time of taking up this internship, I had over 5 years of cumulative experience working with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and with government on natural resource-based rural community development. This internship with LDF was, however, the first time that I had to carry out development work within a corporate space (LDC) that runs on a comparatively faster-paced corporate culture of working (as opposed to the NGO/government culture). This came with as many steep learning curves as fulfilling spurts of growth in my skills. Further adding to my personal upskilling was the fact that I was allocated a professional development mentor, who is a senior officer within LDC Africa, with whom I could easily relate, as they were from my country of origin. I had regular meetings with them where together, we drew out lessons from their career to date and explored the various professional routes that I could take in the future, which greatly opened up my thinking and consequently, my horizons.
I sincerely thank the members of the Louis Dreyfus Foundation and the Louis Dreyfus Company for selecting me for this internship and giving me the opportunity to contribute to its vision. The Foundation’s cause is one that I strongly believe in, uplifting the lives of vulnerable rural communities in a way that also not only ensures but enhances environmental protection. The fact that LDF carries this work out at the interface between agriculture and natural resources, which neatly combines my background, expertise and interests, made the experience all the more exciting and fulfilling for me. I also extend thanks to the Weidenfeld Hoffmann Trust for creating the opportunity for me to be involved with the work of the Louis Dreyfus Foundation.
Early in the new year (2020), I will be moving back to Oxford in the United Kingdom where I will continue work on building up Weed2Pesticide, a startup which, as above-mentioned, creates a rural community-led supply industry of a pernicious invasive weed, collects the weed and industrially converts it into a commercial bio-pesticide.