Students and one alum from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University are launching a youth empowerment program in Rwanda called the Youth Ag-education Innovation Cooperative (YAIC). They have partnered with WeFeedUs and Building Bridges with Rwanda (BBR) to implement the program, which will begin in September 2015. Levi Brewer and Nate Haight, from the Bush School, along with Juan Whiting and Shiva Thompson, students in Texas A&M’s Agriculture International Development program, are leading the project on campus. Also participating are Taya Brown, who will enroll at Texas A&M in the spring and currently is studying agriculture and food systems at Washington State University, and Bush School alumnus Andrew McCardle, who also earned a master’s degree in fisheries and mariculture from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Building Bridges with Rwanda is a community development program that seeks to link residents and volunteers to rebuild Rwanda. WeFeedUs provides scalable commercial aquaponic models for growing sustainable food and supporting the development of renewable energy ecosystems.
YAIC’s goal is to change the negative perception of agriculture held by many young people by offering a viable agri-business model based on agri-tourism and aquaponics, both emerging growth areas within agriculture. They believe that unemployment can be reduced by giving young people tools that make them economically self-sufficient through entrepreneurial agri-business strategies and skills that add value to the country’s agricultural sector and also address food insecurity within Rwanda. YAIC’s long-term goal is to create a model that can be replicated throughout the world.
BBR founder, Lama Mugabo, is currently working with youth in Goshora, Rwanda. He has engaged YAIC and several universities, including Texas A&M, to establish study abroad programs that encourage intercultural exchange and agri-tourism. These overseas study programs offer American students an experience that has a significant impact, both for themselves and those they help in Rwanda.
In announcing the YAIC partnership, Mike Andrus, WeFeedUs founder and CEO, said, “We want to provide youth with practical experience and share our entrepreneurial spirit with young minds who will one day take responsibility for our planet.” WeFeedUs previously built a proof of concept aquaponic facility in Pennsylvania and now plans to build large scale agriculture innovation centers throughout the US and abroad. The centers will include aquaponic, hydroponic, and algae growth systems. By providing financial as well as in-kind support to the YAIC mission, WeFeedUs seeks to build awareness of aquaponic facilities and demonstrate their ability to provide sustainable solutions that address global food insecurity.
Nate Haight says, “We think this project is a good fit with the Bush School’s commitment to public service as a noble calling. Anyone interested in supporting, funding, or partnering with this project can contact the YAIC team at email@example.com, or follow our work on Facebook.”