By: Beth Ann Luedeker
Photos provided by Ryan Tomlin
During his senior year as a Plant and Soil Science student, with a minor in Horticulture, at Texas A&M University, Ryan Tomlin ‘16 learned of an opportunity to help teach agriculture to youths in developing countries.
After earning his Bachelor of Science in 2016, Tomlin accepted a job as an agronomist with Robinson Fresh, but continued to think about Africa. This summer he chose to join AgriCorps and spend a year encouraging youth and helping them learn to feed their growing nation through improved agricultural practices.
Founded in 2013 by Texas rancher Trent McKnight, AgriCorps is a non-profit organization focused on reducing hunger and poverty in developing countries through agriculture education. According to their website, the Corps Fellows serve ten to eleven month assignments in a developing country attached to the agriculture program at a junior or senior high school. Fellows receive a stipend equal to that of a local teacher, about $200 per month.
Tomlin’s journey started in August with several weeks of training in Throckmorton, Texas, followed by several more weeks in Koforidua, Ghana. From there he headed north to Mensah Dawa, a small community in the mountains near Asesawa and Lake Volta, where he will spend the next ten to twelve months.
“I live on my own, in a house provided by the community,” Tomlin said via email. “The house sits up against the forest/bush. I occasionally have electricity in one room; however, my source of water is a quarter of a mile away. It is a humble living situation, and I have grown to love it.”
In Mensah Dawa, about 75 percent of the population is involved in farming. Tomlin has found that one of his greatest challenges will be to change the community’s perception of the farmer from someone who is poor, to someone in an honorable and profitable profession.
Similar to early Extension efforts in Texas, Tomlin’s primary focus is on the young people. He is teaching Agriculture Science in the junior high school three days per week, with students ranging in age from 12 to 18. Mondays and Wednesdays he visits farmers and nearby 4-H clubs.
Tomlin feels that the community elders and Dadematse (chief) are extremely supportive and excited for what will transpire during his year there. Mr. Appiah, one community elder, gave the students an acre of land on which to farm. In early October, Tomlin and his students cleared the land by hand, built vegetable beds and planted. He hopes to stimulate their interest by experimenting with intercropping and crop rotation.
“I also plan to use this site as a tool and visual for extension, where local farmers can learn more about different cropping systems,” said Tomlin.
In Mensah Dawa the primary crops are cassava, corn and cocoyam (taro). Tomlin he is helping the local farmers start vegetable plots and begin cocoa production.
“Typically, farmers have small plots ranging from one to ten acres in which corn follows corn,” he said. “I hope to introduce a bean (legume), corn, cassava rotation and to motivate farmers to have small vegetable plots where they can grow higher value crops.”
Tomlin has also begun collaborating with Ed Sawodgi, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture Extension Agent in Asesawa.
“At times it is overwhelming and difficult to process everything happening around me,” Tomlin said. “I have learned that a key factor in the success of my journey is to take everything one step at a time.”