The Leaders of Tomorrow – Grâce Promise Houndafoche

The Leaders of Tomorrow – Grâce Promise Houndafoche

Grâce Promise Houndafoche:

“In My Country, Women Are Victims of Discrimination in Decision Making, Forced Marriages, and Marginalization”


Born and raised in Benin, Grace had a vision to help others from an early age. Although she saw herself pursue this through medicine, Grace was guided by her father to pursue agronomy. Seeing the power of such knowledge, Grace, as an agricultural engineer, is paving a green path for her community. “In My Country, Women Are Victims of Discrimination in Decision Making, Forced Marriages, and Marginalization”

Q: Tell us a few things about your country, and also your life’s story!

Benin is my country. It is a French-speaking country in West Africa with a population of nearly 12 million (World Bank, 2020) and an economy that is essentially based on agriculture. It is the former kingdom of Dahomey with several historical facts. Its political capital is Porto-novo and its economic capital is Cotonou. Benin has, in addition to small local markets, a large international market, Dantokpa market, which comes alive almost every day and facilitates commercial transactions between Benin and its neighboring countries. The current President of the Republic is Patrice Talon, who for more than 5 years has been implementing his Government Action Program for a ‘Revealed Benin’. On the societal level, Benin is committed to achieving sustainable development goals, which is explained by the active presence of non-governmental organizations and associations that campaign for the preservation of the environment, respect for human rights and the reduction of gender-based violence. It is a multi-cultural country where several religions such as Christianity, Animism and Islam are identified.

As for my life story, I am a young graduate in agronomy from the University of Abomey-Calavi. Currently 23 years old and from a family of three sisters and a boy, I graduated last year with a professional Master’s degree in crop protection. Indeed, after obtaining my baccalaureate, I wanted to continue my university studies in medicine to become an obstetrician gynecologist later on. I just had a vision to help others, especially women in difficulty of conception through my profession. However, after submitting my application for a scholarship for higher education to the Beninese government, I obtained admission and a full scholarship in agronomy at the National University of Agriculture (UNA), formerly the University of Agriculture of Kétou (UAK). In fact, when I submitted my application, I had three study project wishes to formulate. I chose medicine, then biomedical analysis and lastly plant production because my father also worked in this field as a research technician in acarology at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA-Benin). I saw him do it and he introduced me to agricultural production from a young age, but my vision was anchored in medicine.

After my admission in agronomy at the School of Management and Plant and Seed Production, in 2014, I was not as convinced of this choice, but my father reassured me by saying “Agriculture is a promising sector, you will know how to make yourself even more useful for the community, the people still need agronomists to feed, clothe, house, and care for themselves, but to go to the doctor, you need to be sick”. After I reflected on my father’s quote, I began my Bachelor’s degree courses in Agronomy. As time went by, I developed a great passion for the study of plants, these living beings that do not speak but provide us with enough services, and I already felt proud of the professional path I had undertaken. So, I quickly adapted my vision of caring for humans to that of plants and I launched myself on the branch of crop protection. I then graduated in 2017 with a professional bachelor’s with high honors. In 2018, I decided to continue with my vision of learning more about crop protection by enrolling for a Master’s degree in Pest Management and Valorisation of Bio-pesticides at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Abomey-Calavi. In 2021, I brilliantly obtained my Master’s degree with honors followed by the congratulations of the jury. Today, I am proud to proclaim myself an agricultural engineer, specializing in crop protection. Moreover, during my academic career, I developed a passion for the protection of the environment and today, in parallel to my title of agricultural engineer, I am an ecological activist and volunteer for several national and international organizations such as the Foundation for Climate Restoration and the International NGO Page Verte.

Q: How did you experience the global pandemic crisis, did it change your life or/and your views about the world? How?

The global pandemic crisis affected me greatly in 2020 as I had to go to the fields for my final Master’s degree thesis. In March 2020, the Beninese government instituted containment measures due to the magnitude of the pandemic and the high number of cases. This situation delayed the start of my experiments and therefore prolonged the academic year, since it was necessary to respect the barrier measures, the distancing as well as the cordon sanitaire imposed by the leaders to limit the spread of the virus. But in another sense, the crisis changed my professional habits and developed my other talents such as the use of software and telework applications such as Zoom and Google meet. On a global level, the pandemic has increased cooperation between countries in the North and South through donations of hand washing kits and vaccines.

Q: What are some of the key challenges in your society currently? 

The current challenges facing my society are: the high prices of agri-food products, the high prices of chemical fertilizers, phytosanitary products due to the closure of certain borders, the instability of the job market, the increase in the rate of unemployment and underemployment.

Q: Share with us some of the hurdles that you had to overcome in your life so far? How did you handle them?

I have been confronted with managing people from diverse backgrounds within a work team as a leader during my activities with the International NGO Page Verte. To overcome this, I have developed the ability to listen, be collaborative and share ideas as well as a participatory approach with all members when making decisions.

Q: If you were to ask one thing from our current leaders, what would it be?

I would ask the leaders to integrate the programs of management and development of the living environment in the projects of society; to ensure the application of the texts and laws in force for the protection of the environment, to involve more girls and women in the programs of mitigation, adaptation and restoration of the effects of climate change. I would also ask for a greater commitment from our leaders to achieve sustainable development goals.

Q: Why is the role of a mentor important for you?

My mentor has been and is a model for me. She serves as a guide in making decisions about certain situations. With her experience in working life, she gives me the guidelines to follow to better achieve the goals I have set for myself. For example, I aspire to set up a project to integrate environmental education with organic food in the schools of my community. My mentor has been very helpful in correcting this project and explaining to me the different positioning strategies to adopt in order to access funding. My mentor’s role is really important to me.

Q: Do you have a lesson that life has taught you and you would like to share?  

Yes, and as my mentor also taught me in my first meeting with her, here’s the lesson: “Life is a process, and for every goal you wish to achieve, all you have to do is be patient, plan the activities, and then create the necessary ways and means to achieve it and your wish will be carried out.”

Q: Name a project, a foundation or a person in your country that you think is doing great work in helping improve other people’s lives!

NGO Page Verte Benin

Q: What are some of the challenges that women in your country face and what efforts are made towards gender equality?

In my country, women are victims of discrimination in decision making, forced marriages, and marginalization of their participation in decision making. To overcome this, there are associations that carry out awareness campaigns to inform women about their civil rights. The Beninese State, advocating for gender equality, has opted for a mixed government with both male and female ministers.  Several calls for candidacies, particularly in the scientific world, insist on the fact that female candidates are highly recommended so that women can emancipate themselves and enjoy their full rights.

Q: Share with us a phrase, a poem or a story that means something to you.

Victor Hugo: «How sad to think that nature speaks and mankind doesn’t listen.»

Michelle Obama: «The only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them.»

Q: Share with us a project that you would like to make happen for your country or a cause that you are passionate about.

I am passionate about the cause of the environment and the preservation of biodiversity for a healthier and more sustainable agriculture. The project I am most interested in is the integration of environmental education in the national educational program, especially with primary school students. At the same time, women play an important role in the fight against climate change. Thus, I have at heart a project of sustainable development which specifically aims to: sensitize young schoolchildren and college students of Benin on the advantages linked to the consumption of organic products in their supervising establishments; set up greenhouses for the organic cultivation of vegetables and fruits in hydroponic mode (except soil) under associative status in schools and colleges in Benin; provide training in organic vegetable and fruit cultivation techniques to young people to supply their school canteens with good quality products; strengthen women’s capacities for empowerment through organic farming in hydroponic mode.

I would like to install this project in my country Benin and, if possible, in other countries of the sub-region in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to anthropic activity.

Q: Anything else that you may wish to add?

It will be a real pleasure and honor for me to meet my mentor, Mrs. Mirjana Prljevic, in person.

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