After spending more than a year and a half as a nomad travelling between Zambia, Kenya, and Sweden, Mikael Segerros finally has a chance to settle down. He will once again take up the post as team leader for the Agricultural Sector Support Programme (ASDSP) in Kenya, this time for phase two.
“I’ve returned to the office reserved for the programme advisor where I previously spent ten years managing two very large national programmes. So, it’s back to my old stomping ground – although there have been some institutional changes during my absence,” Mikael says.
Mikael has a Master’s Degree in Agriculture from Ultuna, the Swedish University of Agriculture, and his entire professional life has been dedicated to the sector. But his career has been a little different from that of most of his colleagues.
“My path was set on a chilly October morning in 1978 when I boarded a plane as a volunteer for an agriculture project in Angola. I spent two years there in a tent in the bush, far away from civilisation and the sole foreigner,” he recalls.
These types of undertakings either make or break a person, but Mikael liked it. He enjoyed the good relationships he built with the local villages. In fact, when that project ended, he returned to Africa and, with the exception of some two years in Sweden when he did some short-term assignments in South America and Asia, he has been true to agriculture in Africa for more than 40 years.
Mikael is one of the oldest employees in NIRAS – both in age and duration. From being a Sida employee at the National Soil and Water Conservation Programme in Kenya in the 1980s, he was recruited in 1990 by Swedforest for a position as training adviser to the SADC Environment and Land Management Coordination Unit in Lesotho. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Mikael found himself at NIRAS. “First Swedforest was bought up by Scandiaconsult, which was later bought up by Ramböll, which was finally bought by NIRAS,” the 67-year-old laughs, “I worked for them all.”
A long love affair
For Mikael, agriculture isn’t only his job. It’s his way of life. “My love for farming started when I was young. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I always helped my father cultivate crops at a large-scale garden at our family’s summer cottage in Grisslehamn, Sweden.” The output was so extensive, it almost made his family self-sufficient. Mikael would also help his grandparents who were small-scale farmers.
Now, he’s a farmer himself. Together with a Zambian partner, he owns a 109-hectare farm in Chisamba, Zambia, where he rears goats and cattle, and practices climate-smart agriculture. “It’s the only option for small-scale farmers to get a harvest,” Mikael says. Of course, it’s a bit more challenging for him to farm while he’s in Nairobi, but his love for his job makes up for it.
Looking back over past experiences in Africa, Mikael thinks many things have improved – not least because there is more peace. Having worked in countries at war in the earlier years and survived a few dangerous encounters, that’s something he appreciates. On the other hand, there is still much to do.
Honestly, I am as passionate about agriculture now as I was when I first started more than 40 years ago.
The more things change …
“I came to Africa in 1978 via Lagos and Luanda to work in the villages where I lived for two years. Thereafter, I’ve been stationed in Maputo, Nairobi, Maseru, and Lusaka, but continued working in the countryside. Imagine back then if I had only visited Africa for a few days to see how it was, stayed on in Europe, and then only returned 40 years later. Visiting the capitals today, I would never have been able to recognise the cities with all development that has taken place,” he observes.
“But in the countryside, I would have felt more at home because, with a few exceptions, hardly anything has changed. The houses look the same, people dress the same and do the same things, even fields look the same, if not worse. Unfortunately, poverty is very evident. Of course, there are a few things that weren’t there before, like mobile phones and motorcycles, but the challenge remains in these rural areas. We still do not fully know how to transform the countryside in a meaningful way so that people can stay there and make a decent living. Policies and strategies might be in place and a lot of resources are spent on them, but to transform these intentions into practice remains to be seen,” Mikael argues.
As the team leader of the newly launched ASDSP project in Kenya, Mikael will have a further three years to tackle that challenge, finding ways to create opportunities for Kenya’s rural poor to support themselves. But with four decades of experience, this old Africa hand is relishing the opportunity to try.