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Interview with Joshua Sena Alouka

“They should contribute their local knowledge”

Youth representative from Togo discusses
how to make sustainable development effective

Johannesburg, South Africa

Joshua Sena Alouka is the national coordinator of a youth NGO (non-governmental organization) called Jeunes Voluntaires por L’Environment (Young Volunteers for the Environment) from Lomé, Togo, West Africa, “We are coordinating the Francophone Youth Network and National Youth Association Network for Sustainable Development in my country.” (Joshua Sena Alouka ).

This interview was conducted by Nic Paget-Clarke for In Motion Magazine during the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26, 2002. Joshua Sena Alouka was interviewed after speaking at a forum sponsored by organizers of the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) initiative. The SARD Initiative is “a multi-stakeholder umbrella framework designed to support the transition to people-centered sustainable agriculture and rural development and to strengthen participation in program and policy development.”

  • Click here for frequently asked questions and answers about the SARD Initiative.
  • To see our full series of interviews and articles from the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26 - September 4, 2002 - click here.

Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development

In Motion Magazine: Why do you think the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) initiative is a good initiative?

Joshua Sena Alouka: One of the main things that I think is, for once rural areas are going to be the main groups who are going to profit from the initiative. It doesn’t contain a lot of bureaucracy, like a lot of projects. SARD, I think, definitely will be more channeled towards how projects can be implemented in communities, in local areas or on a national scale. I think this is something new. Also it contains a lot of detail that has been kept out of previous projects. We think that there are a lot of things that are new and since we are also united as major groups we hope that our contribution can help this to be better implemented.

Trade, capacity building, genetically modified organisms, local participation

In Motion Magazine: You raised a few concerns when you spoke. One of them was genetic engineering. What are your concerns?

Joshua Sena Alouka: The Youth Caucus is concerned about several important issues that need to be addressed. As you know, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Report 2002 showed that time is not on our side if we want to address environmental issues.

One of those is trade. We think that a lot of barriers are put on trade, as to products from developing countries in this quickly globalizing world. We know that the market of the developed world is closed to the developing world. The youth think that these barriers must be removed. The subsidies that are given to farmers in the North must not be stopped but lessened. That means reduced so that the products of the South also can be more competitive in the market.

Secondly, we think that capacity building is very important. Those who are working on the grassroots level -- women, youth, and poor farmers -- need to be educated. They need to know how to read and write. They need to understand what they are doing and how also they can profit from new technologies.

Today in Africa and in many countries in the South, we notice that a lot of youth are leaving their rural areas to go to towns and cities. Why? Because the farming is not commercial. They don’t get a lot profit from the farming. That is why they are leaving their places. We think that a lot of these youths, who are 35% of the world population, can stay in the local communities and further develop.

Third, we talk about GMOs, the genetically modified organisms. We know that in a sense they can help solve some kinds of problems, such as in medicine, etc., but as to agriculture, we don’t think it’s really the solution, that it is the messiah of the hunger problem.

The UNDP Report 2002 showed that GMOs can solve the problem of food security – we don’t think so. We think that biotechnology is good in some areas but first more research must be done. The precautionary principle is there and it must be used -- especially as to GMOs. People need to know what effect genetically modified maize, genetically modified feed, genetically modified everything can bring into their life.

We need to know what effect GMO brings on biodiversity, climate change, water, on forests, all these things. There must be agreement before it can be promoted.

Our last point is local participation. It is very important that we shift from the paradigm of previous times where a lot of projects were conceived in the office and brought to local communities and they said “OK, you farmers, we have this project for you. Start implementing it.” We want that people be more involved in the project conceptualization and implementation and even in the monitoring of this project. With this SARD initiative, we want it to be brought into villages. People should be interviewed and asked, “What do you think about this?” They should say what they know. They should contribute their local knowledge. We think that this is very important for sustainable development to be really effective in Africa and other places.

Eco-villages, agro-forest projects, AIDS, solar cookers

In Motion Magazine: Do you live in Lomé (the capital city of Togo)?

Joshua Sena Alouka: Yes, I live in Lomé but we are a national organization. We have various local branches. Our project now is to start eco-villages. To help local youth groups develop their village into an eco-village. That means to implement sustainable development in their village on a full scale. It is a new project we are trying to implement. We are here in Johannesburg to see who can be interested in helping local youth groups in implementing these eco-villages.

In Motion Magazine: What kind of work have you done so far related to this?

Joshua Sena Alouka: We are focusing especially on environmental education. We have video programs where we talk about this at various conventions, about the Rio agenda, about all the multilateral environmental agreements. Also we are organizing summer youth work camps. We invite youth from far away to come to villages. It is what you call volunteerism. They come and spend three weeks or one month in a village to build a school, to clean a river, or to clean the road – something like that.

Apart from that, we have some agro-forest projects that we are trying to design. We are in a mountainous region where there is a big, big forest that people, because of over-population, are going into. That forest was previously managed by the government. We are trying to develop some kind of project so that these people profit from their mountain without destroying its biodiversity.

We work on an AIDS awareness campaign. In the region where we are settled it is very sorry but every minute at least two or three people are buried. They die because of AIDS. So we have an AIDS awareness campaign.

Also we are trying to implement the use of solar cookers. We are members of the Solar Cooker International. It is about solar energy. We have solar panels that we use and we are trying to empower women as the main stakeholders, the main actors of human life, to produce these solar cookers with local materials.

Lastly, one of our achievements is sustainable development education. We are trying to integrate sustainable education in the national educational system.

We hope that very soon we can have more resources and more human resources to do all these projects.

In Motion Magazine: How did the group get started?

Joshua Sena Alouka: It started in a mountainous region. When I was very young I lived in a big forest. But if I bring you to my village today you will believe that you are in the Sahara. But you are not in the Sahara. You are in Togo in West Africa, which originally was in the tropical region.

It started from this point. We were touched by the degradation of the environment and we put together some youths, some children, and we started this thing. Little by little people started appreciating what we were doing.

I am a graduate of university. I have my whole family in the United States and I had the opportunity to leave but I decided to stay. It was very hard for people to believe that Mr. Sena, who we think is going to be a big man, decides to stay in the village. People didn’t appreciate that we stayed in the village to start these projects. But, little by little, they see the real effect, that the real consequence is the good impact that our work is producing on the environment. Now more children are involved in this environmental process, and they have started to have confidence.

Today, we are in four cities and we hope that by the end of 2002 we will cover the whole nation, and why not? We are developing a new system. We are setting up an information clearinghouse in Lomé, in the towns, wherever else. And this information clearinghouse will gather information, gather data and disseminate it through various villages. We know that we don’t have access to the Internet so we are trying this.

Village Tsiko

In Motion Magazine: What is the name of your village?

Joshua Sena Alouka: My village is called Village Tsiko. In the past, my ancestors were those who fetched water for the whole community. We were supposed to fetch water, but if you go to my village today there is no water. People travel a long way to fetch water. Now we are trying to see how we can help this population and maybe more villages also.

Published in In Motion Magazine, November 23, 2002
  • To see our full series of interviews and articles from the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26 - September 4, 2002 - click here.