Meet Gonroudobou Marietta, Young Agricultural Researcher Lighting Up the Future of Agriculture
Ms. Gonroudobou Marietta is a young agricultural researcher from Benin in Western Africa. She is a big dreamer who is working to share knowledge and create a bright future for agriculture in Africa. The WFF sat down with her to learn about her story and how she connects researchers across generations and beyond borders through an online community called Agro Hikari.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with the WFF Africa. You are currently completing your PhD in Japan while at the same time working with an agricultural think tank and running your own online community space. Can you tell us about what you are doing now and how you ended up where you are?
Thank you. I’m currently a PhD student in Agriculture Sciences at the Department of Bio Production at the United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, based in the northern part of Japan. I am also working part time with the Director of the Environment and Climate Research Group at the Civic Academic for African Future (CiAAF), a think tank based in Africa. My area of study was not exactly agriculture initially, but after I got a chance to study in Japan, I just fell in love with agriculture.
That is interesting to hear! Japan is not as much of an agricultural-based country when compared to many African countries, so how did that happen?
After coming to Japan, doing a master’s degree, I learned a lot. I had a chance to visit some farms and I learned how people work in Japan, how they are organized and how they use techniques for better yield even in tiny spaces. Thus, I decided to pursue my PhD in Japan in plant production, and that also lead to my motivation to start working at CiAAF and to launch Agro Hikari - an online community space.
Before moving on to your Agro Hikari work, could you tell us a bit more about your research?
My research is about plant cultivation methods, more specifically, how to feed plants well so that you get better yields with a better quality. At our lab, we grow tomatoes in greenhouses and look at how to avoid the small cracking on fruits that allows fungus to come in and spoil the produce. This is one of the big problems in the region that I study in Japan, and the solution could contribute to improving farming everywhere, as reducing any injuries to vegetables would help farmers to produce better quality and yields.
Alongside your research work, you created Agro Hikari, an online space for agricultural researchers, with nearly 12,000 members joining to share findings and useful information on agriculture. How did you start it?
I started this when the COVID-19 pandemic came as I had more time, I could not go to school and I felt like I was not doing anything. I found people were interested in knowing more about agriculture and I helped them through private messages. Then I thought, okay, why not create a blog on Facebook? You know I fell in love in agriculture. I can share my small knowledge and tips that can help. For me it was very basic knowledge, but I realized that a lot of people back in my country and in Africa do not know these things but live from agriculture and wanted to know.
People like me are studying abroad getting new technology in agriculture and in many other fields. But they often just keep it in published papers, they don't really share it, and there is the older generation who do not always know how to read and who don't know what is happening. I chose African researchers around the world to join this group, so that they (producers and people back in Africa) know that it's possible for people from their countries that do this kind of work and they can use this information to improve their farming.
That’s why I'm organizing this on Facebook, where many young people engage, holding seminars by inviting African professors working in other countries, for instance, trying to bring them in to get the right knowledge, so that the young people can share it and we can improve things.
And the community is growing. I also wanted to touch upon the name Agro Hikari. What is its meaning?
I started my blog with my name but later renamed it Agro Hikari. Hikari means light, the brightness in Japanese, and it’s a word that I really liked. So I thought why not call my blog Hikari because it’s about bringing light to the agricultural sector and it’s for a bright future.
That sounds perfect. I also wanted to ask about how we can advance science-based actions in transforming our agrifood systems. What do you see as the key?
As we’ve been discussing, local agriculture, older producers, they have some knowledge that is sometimes very useful. For example, one of my professors worked with local producers who had old techniques using remaining ash. They did not know that ash is very rich in potassium and calcium. They do not know why, but it was their grandfathers who taught them. So what I think will be good to do is to involve them more in our research activities. For example, instead of doing our experiments in greenhouses in the university, we could use their sites, their fields, so we can learn from them more and give more scientific explanations, which would help them and also help us to have sustainable practices and less use of chemicals.
So your project is really about linking young people with older generations, researchers and producers, and then also integrating the online community with the physical field. Anything else that you would like to convey to the WFF community before closing this conversation?
I am a big dreamer. I give myself time to realize my dreams. For now it is Africa that I'm focusing on because I like going step by step, but in the future I would like to bring everyone in, not only in Africa, including scientific people, producers, young agribusiness people, and make it bigger. I believe that if we want to live and succeed, before we do anything, we have to eat first. So it's very important for us to make agriculture great again.
*This article is part of the WFF African Agrifood Changemakers web story series. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the WFF.