Grow strong: African farmers, entrepreneurs revamp agriculture norms through Purdue partnership

January 28 2019


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Many farmers in the Republic of Cameroon usually grow just enough food to feed their families due to limited fertilizer and high-yield seeds, coupled with poor soil quality and lack of irrigation.

Scott Massey, a PurdueUniversity graduate and founder of Heliponix, a company that makes an appliance that fits under a kitchen counter and grows produce year-round, is hoping to change that by bringing sustainable agriculture methods in Cameroon.

Massey has been selected for a second Mandela Washington Fellowship to lead educational workshops at Cameroonian universities this month. Approximately 200 million hectares of suitable land remains unfarmed across Africa, causing many observers to wonder how African nations can unlock their full agricultural potential.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship seeks to promote agricultural development through the academic and entrepreneurial empowerment of African peoples.

“African entrepreneurs have immeasurable economic opportunities to market solutions using new agricultural technologies,” Massey said. “Our overall goal is to provide these resilient people the means to their own production and permanently break the cycle of dependency on foreign aid.”

Massey has used his extensive knowledge in hydroponic systems and agricultural engineering to develop GroPod, an in-home appliance that grows produce year-round. His background also gives him the unique expertise to teach innovative and sustainable farming techniques in Cameroon.

“In these workshops, we are implementing a new vertical farming technique that utilizes an adaption of the proprietary vertical farming technology also used in GroPod,” Massey said. “Not only will we be teaching the students about these advanced technologies that they can use to start their own businesses, but we will also be building model farms that they can incorporate into their curriculums to grow clean food.”

On this trip, Massey will travel with Daliwa Joseph Bainamndi, another Mandela Washington fellow, to give Cameroonian farmers vital information on developing and incorporating innovative farming practices into their work. The pair will lead lectures on hydroponic farming, entrepreneurship, 3D printing and computer-assisted design at the University of Ngaoundéré, University of Ngoa-ékélé and the agriculture school of Institut Superieur des Sciences et Techniques de Yaounde.

In general, African farmers struggle against nonexistent agricultural infrastructure and poor farming conditions, making subsistence farming the most advantageous practice. However, Massey and Bainamndi’s work could empower Cameroonian students and farmers to expand operations sustainably and successfully through entrepreneurship and innovation.

Massey’s work aligns with Purdue’s Giant Leaps celebration of the university’s global advancements made in health, space, artificial intelligence and sustainability as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. Those are the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

Massey received his first Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2018 when he traveled to Togo, Africa, to teach farmers there about the farming usages of hydroponics systems. Read more about his first trip here.

“This diplomatic humanitarian mission will fight the war against hunger on its front line and expand the addressable technology market to maximize global impact,” he said. “I look forward to the day that Africa becomes an environmentally and economically sustainable farming model.”

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