FOUNDER and executive director of WHYFARM Alpha Sennon has been named one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs by Ashoka—a globally recognised organisation based in the US that builds and cultivates a community of young changemakers and institutions from more than 95 countries.
Sennon is the first and only Asoka fellow from Trinidad and Tobago. The social entrepreneur, who believes youth are the key to innovating agriculture and feeding the world sustainably, created WHYFARM to confront a slow-motion, global food crisis that is already under way.
“I feel honoured and humbled to receive this recognition,” said Sennon. “It is a great achievement to know that I can inspire other young entrepreneurs to create their own space in agriculture. I want to be an example of how to build a social entrepreneurship organisation or project. Young entrepreneurs must focus not only on profits, but work with purpose. I want more young people to become social entrepreneurs so that they can come up with creative solutions to the problems they see in today’s society.”
When Sennon began WHYFARM in Quinam, Siparia, years ago, he never thought that one day their work would be globally recognised.
Farming and agriculture was something that came naturally to him. As a child growing up, Sennon, who inherited his father’s passion for agriculture, spent hours helping out in the family’s garden. Tending to chickens and ducks, watering the crops, planting citrus trees and picking mangoes were all part of his routine. It was clear that agriculture chose Sennon, but for a while he dropped it—no one told him that he could pursue agriculture as a full-time career. In fact at that time, youths were encouraged to study anything besides agriculture.
At university, Sennon pursued IT but after one semester the dean suggested that he give agribusiness a try.
“I was like, agribusiness? The country wasn’t really moving in that direction at the time; agribusiness wasn’t even a buzz word. But when I started the agribusiness degree I realised that it was what I was supposed to be doing all along...all the practical things I did on the farm as a child came into the classroom and merged with the theory,” he said.
Sennon had a burning desire to change the narrative around agribusiness. He felt children shouldn’t wait to get into university to understand food security and climate change adaptability.
“We have to bring in these conversations from as early as primary school,” he said.
He created WHYFARM, which aims to provide young men and women with the knowledge and skills to identify and recognise opportunities within the agricultural sector for self-sustenance and improved livelihoods.
Over the years they have worked with different partners and also hosted the first agripreneur summit in T&T. WHYFARM has worked with schools for career days and has consulted on community garden projects. Funding remains an issue, but whether they have funding to do a project or not—they still go out and do the work, said Sennon.
“We actively work and put in the sweat equity and it has paid off,” he said.
Sennon has received the Misk Global Challenge Award, which is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He was the TedX Amsterdam speaker in 2017 and was named 2019 Influencer of the Year by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Development.
Superhero of farming
To make agriculture more exciting, entertaining and educational for children, Sennon decided to produce comic books. And since every comic book has a superhero—he came up with a main character branded as the “world’s most powerful food provider” —Agriman.
“We have Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Captain America and Captain Planet—who was a big source of inspiration behind the development of Agriman. I want Agriman to have the same impact on children that Captain Planet had on me,” he said.
Agriman has since leapt off the pages of the comic books and is now the main character of a campaign which encourages children to “plant one tree and eat for free” and “be “rice-sponsible” and not waste one grain of rice”.
“We want these messages to be embedded in the children and create behavioural change,” said Sennon.
Food and water are essential for human existence; we need nutritious food that is affordable, reliable, healthy and locally grown—as opposed to relying on outside sources, said Sennon.
“One might say we can always get food from the US, Canada and Europe, but my question is: what kind of food? Would they send their ‘A-grade’ food to us? No, they won’t, so we have to secure our food and that starts with us,” said Sennon.” Of course things need to be done on a political and policy level but it’s also a family’s responsibility. Your kitchen garden is adding to food security because it’s growing here and it’s saving you money. We need to see about our food and nutrition security which leads to a healthy society- and everyone can do their part.”w