We are familiar with superheroes in comic books and movies flying in to save the world from danger. You might be surprised to know a Trinidadian superhero named AGRIman may be flying into theatres one day to help young people solve the world’s food supply problems. At least that’s what Alpha Sennon, Founder and Executive Director of WHYFARM envisions. In just two years, Sennon’s organisation (which stands for We Help Youth Farm) has had an enthusiastic response locally and has already gained interest in countries across the world like the USA, Rwanda, Haiti and Zambia.
Sennon, aged 30, developed the NGO to get young people interested in local agriculture. As he talks about why so few youth gravitate toward this industry, Sennon reveals that he speaks from experience. His father was a farmer and as a child Sennon hated agriculture.
“It always appeared to be hard work. It always appeared to be not cool, not fun, not attractive, not something I could do as a profession, to earn a livelihood, to see about a family.”
Perhaps because of his aversion to farming, it took Sennon some time to find the subject that would become his passion. “Why not try agribusiness?” suggested a dean at UWI and Sennon was hooked.
He began to see agriculture differently. The potential became more apparent as he visited other countries. During a trip to India the name WHYFARM came to him.
The organisation reflects his desire to help young people realise the potential of the industry. “Agriculture is more than just a farmer,” he says. “There’s science, technology. There’s engineer-ing. There’s heritage. There are arts, you know.”
Sennon wants to encourage youths to combat the issue of world food. “We want young people to take on this challenge and feed this country, feed the world by 2050.”
Dr. Wayne Ganpat, Dean of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the St. Augustine Campus, approves of his approach. "Alpha’s goal is to popularise agriculture among young people. He is transferring the message that it is a worthy profession.”
The WHYFARM team has been going into schools, and the response has been keen as they bring “agri-edutainment” into the classroom. It is not just a talk, but a captivating performance featur-ing AGRIman. Later on the school gets to visit an actual farm where Sennon often hears students exclaiming that they didn’t know agriculture could be like this. WHYFARM also has an online fan club where youngsters can suggest new stories and characters for the AGRIman comic book.
Like a kind of AGRIman himself, Sennon has been roaming around the world talking about his organisation and exploring new approaches. “Everywhere he goes Alpha is a good ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago, a good ambassador for UWI and a good ambassador for the Faculty of Food and Agriculture,” observes Dr. Ganpat.
Sennon has been a guest speaker at the United Nations. He gave a talk on innovation in Rome at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Last year he was one of the repre-sentatives at the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) fellowship programme. He joined 250 social entrepreneurs for a six-week exchange which included placements with organi-sations in 21 city hubs across the USA.
Sennon was impressed with his experience. He met with representatives of the PB&J Fund, and the Local Food Hub, discussing food safety, nutrition and agricultural investment among youth. He found himself considering incorporating a healthy eating component to WHYFARM.
For him, one of the highlights included meeting with Chic Thompson, author of “What a Great Idea.” Several projects are due to come from their collaboration, including starting a WAGI Labs (Thompson’s animation company) based in Trinidad and developing a creative activity-based curriculum for AGRIman.
Sennon is grateful to Dr. Ganpat, who first suggested agriculture to him, and to The UWI for its support. “The Faculty of Food and Agriculture contributed a lot to my development today and still contributes.” Dr. Ganpat is the supervisor for his thesis.
“It requires a considerable effort to get agriculture moving again,” he says. “We have to get the public to buy in. The Faculty of Food and Agriculture views it as our responsibility to undertake this task. Alpha’s advocacy fits into that nicely. I support him 100% and in fact we are looking into providing him a space on campus to work from.”
Looking at all the progress Sennon has made, it’s clear that he has his own super power: that of using his passion to make a huge difference in his community and inspiring young people. World agriculture and food security truly have a hero fighting for the cause.