Solidaridad welcomes partners, panelists and staff at anniversary conference

Solidaridad had the honour to welcome our international partners, panelists and staff from five regional offices for our 50th anniversary conference on 16 May. It was held at the TivoliVredenburg event location in Utrecht and featured four panel discussions on sustainable and inclusive development. One of the conference highlights was the keynote speech by Mawuse Hotor, a 26-year-old cocoa farmer from Ghana. Mawuse took part in the Solidaridad MASO cocoa academy and is now the proud owner of her cocoa farm. “The future of cocoa farming lies in the hands of the youth,” she said in her speech, full of confidence and passion for her work.

Mawuse Hotor addresses the audience in her keynote speech at Solidaridad’s 50th anniversary conference

Welcoming guests from around the world

The morning began with a welcome breakfast and coffee for our panel members, partners and Solidaridad staff from five regional offices. Soon enough, it was a diverse and lively gathering.

Guests gathering for the conference at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht

The story of Mawuse Hotor

Heske Verburg, Managing Director of Solidaridad in Europe and the main organizer of the programme, opened the conference and welcomed the audience, stressing the importance of solidarity:

Today, solidarity is not a luxury, it is a necessity in our interconnected world.

Following her opening address, Heske introduced the keynote speaker, Mawuse Hotor. 26-year-old Mawuse is a Ghanaian cocoa farmer and took part in the Solidaridad MASO cocoa academy, where she has learnt the ins and outs of cocoa farming. She is now the proud owner of 2.5 acres of cocoa farm in Ghana.

However, it had not been an easy road. Mawuse told the audience about her childhood in her village in Ghana, where poverty was a normal occurrence. Her parents are cocoa farmers themselves and they know from firsthand experience how difficult the life of a Ghanaian cocoa farmer is. Mawuse told about her perseverance to complete her school education, made difficult by her family’s financial situation and the struggle to pay the expenses.

Like so many other young people in her country, Mawuse moved to the big city in search of better economic prospects. But life was not easy there and she missed her family a lot.

Mawuse Hotor on stage. The image on the screen behind her is from the MASO cocoa academy in Ghana and shows her fellow students and herself

It was Mawuse’s mother, Mary Ahotor, who had told her about Solidaridad’s MASO cocoa training. Initially, Mawuse was not fond of the idea: returning to the village to become a cocoa farmer did not seem to her like a good economic prospect. With good humour, Mawuse shared with the audience what her mother then told her: "I am your mother, so you should listen to me!"

Heske Verburg, Managing Director of Solidaridad in Europe, and Mawuse Hotor together on the stage following Mawuse’s keynote speech

The future of cocoa farming – and of the youth

Mary Ahotor turned out to be right. In the course of the MASO training, Mawuse has developed a keen interest in cocoa farming and, following the programme, has managed to overcome the challenges of acquiring a piece of land which she now proudly calls her own cocoa farm. She has started earning money from the food crops that were intercropped in her farm. "Farming is my first love," she told the audience with feeling.

She is expecting to harvest her first cocoa this year, and will also start with her education to become a teacher. Mawuse is ambitious and full of dreams. She said, full of confidence:

The future of cocoa farming lies in the hands of the youth.

Panel discussion on youth employment. Mawuse is on the far left

The important role of the youth in a sustainable future also became further evident during the following panel discussions on sustainable and inclusive development. One of these panels looked at gender inclusive youth employment opportunities in Africa, where Mawuse was one of the panelists.

One of the main conclusions from this panel was indeed that gender-inclusive and sustainable youth employment requires a three-pillared approach: skills development (both technical as well as social, on-the-job skills); access to finance (it cannot be business as usual); and inclusivity in all aspects of employment.

Panel discussion on access to capital for SMEs

Panel discussions about sustainable and inclusive development

The other three sessions focused on climate change adaptation and mitigation, public-private partnerships and access to capital for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SMEs) in developing countries. All four panel topics address challenges and opportunities which form an important part of Solidaridad’s work worldwide. Each session was moderated by a managing regional director of Solidaridad and included five to eight panel members.

The panel members brought a wide variety of expertise with them, representing diverse sectors: the private sector, financial institutions, government, civil society and knowledge institutions. The input from the audience was also collected and used in the panel discussions through the app Mentimeter, the results from which appeared on the big screen behind the panelists.

Panel discussion on public-private partnerships

In addition to Mawuse, Walter Gutierrez, a coffee farmer from Peru, also joined one of the panel discussions, namely, on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Like no other, both Mawuse and Walter can share their firsthand experience with farming and its challenges and opportunities in a developing country.

Walter, for instance, has a lot of experience with implementing well-targeted climate-smart agricultural techniques in coffee farming. “We didn’t really take care of our soil before, but I learned to work in a more structured way. Now I see better results than the normal practice.”

Coffee is a crop which suffers a lot under the effects of climate change. Walter told the audience about the noticeable effects of climate variability, with both rain and sunshine coming at unexpected times.  

Climate change panel discussion, with audience feedback visible on the screen behind the panelists

"Affecting eternity, planting people"

At the end of the conference, Heske Verburg welcomed the four moderators to join her on the main stage and to give their short conclusions about the panel they took part in. Some very interesting ideas were put forward and the last speaker, Mandla Nkomo (Managing Director of Solidaridad Southern Africa), also shared the following saying in conclusion. It is based on a similar, well-known saying by the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

If you want to affect a year, plant corn;

If you want to affect a generation, plant trees;

And if you want to affect eternity, plant people.

In the coming weeks, you can read further about each of the four panel discussions on our website.

Moderators on stage for the final wrap-up of the morning conference and the panel discussions. From left to right, the Solidaridad regional managing directors: Heske Verburg (< a href="">Solidaridad in Europe), Isaac Gyamfi (Solidaridad West Africa), Rachel Wanyoike (Solidaridad East and Central Africa), Michaelyn Baur (Solidaridad Central America), and Mandla Nkomo (Solidaridad Southern Africa)

The morning conference was organized by our colleagues at Solidaridad in Europe. In this article, you can read further about the anniversary celebration event in the afternoon on 16 May.  

Read more about the history of Solidaridad.


Photos: Rutger Geerling