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And now, we learn about a boulder and a hill…

Busy, busy, busy…This quarter has been huge for our young agripreneurs in the GFAR-YPARD Young Agripreneurs Project. It’s now 10 months on since they thrilled the audiences at GCARD3 with their enthusiasm, drive and energy in describing their projects. These have all started with the young agripreneurs matched with mentors, engaged in coaching and training, and utilizing their seed funding aligned with their business plans. There have been the inevitable ups and downs – all part of being a young agripreneur and it’s great to see that they are all on track and embracing the challenges and opportunities that the YAP project has offered.

Josine Macaspac from the Philippines shares the latest exciting news on her Mechanical Post-Harvest Pest Removal System (MPReS) Project: a manually-operated, mechanical device that can be used by farmers to easily and effectively remove post-harvest and storage pests in stored rice, corn and other grains.

I’ve always liked the Greek story of Sisyphus. Here’s a quick Greek mythology lesson from a fountain of fun trivia (me): Sisyphus is one of the souls in the Underworld who was punished by the gods because of his arrogance. His punishment? To eternally push a boulder uphill, then watch helpless as it tumbles back down to the bottom. He has to do that every day, forever.

In the past, I’ve always liked the narrative of the story: a punishment for a sinner. But these days, I feel like I identify with the story more than I would like.

The story of being punished for arrogance, and the feeling of despair in finding yourself in an endless cycle that seems both futile and never-ending.

My arrogance? Well, about a year ago, I was talking to a friend in the agricultural engineering field, and she basically told me that, “Your project is going to be hard, and you’re going to fail more often than not, and I don’t think you’ll be able to accomplish much in a year.”

So you can imagine my elation – and that small part of me that wanted to say, “I told you so!” – when I was able to finish the conception and prototyping of the MPReS, when I’d raised some local and international interest in the machine, and after I’d even been able to visit Rome to take part in an AgTalk session last November. It was very exciting to be able to stand beside other young ‘agripreneurs’ in front of a whole room of seasoned, accomplished people in the agriculture field and be able to talk about our passion. For my part, being able to talk about my project and how it can help change the lives of Filipino farmers, was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

I felt, in that moment, that I had conquered the obstacles – my mountain, if you will -, and that I was able to push the boulder right to the top, despite everything that stood in my way.

It’s human, I guess, to be able to want to celebrate your victories, and more, to be able tell all the naysayers and doubters how wrong they were. After I had finished a working prototype of the machine,

I was feeling pretty confident that everything was going to fall into place and that it was going to be smooth sailing from then on.

How does the saying go? ‘Pride cometh before a fall.’

Where reality steps in and gives me a smack upside the head

So where am I now? Where are all the international agencies that I thought would be beating down my door, trying to get a piece of the action? Where are all the private investors who want to get in on this start up before it becomes a huge sensation bringing in a bunch of money?

After all the glowing praises and congratulations stopped, and once the hubbub surrounding the machine died down, I found myself pretty much at the same place where I was once I had finished the working prototype: standing in a fabrication shop with a working machine in front of me, and not one investor in sight.

I felt like Sisyphus, staring at my boulder at the foot of my mountain, dreading the thought of having to push it back up again to the top.

I could feel the despair gnawing inside of me. Is this how this project was going to end? Brief bursts of happiness, fleeting and false feelings of triumph, only to have it all washed away when reality comes tumbling down at you?

And now, the stage is set for (my) mentor

Here’s another fun tidbit from Greek mythology: Mentor is a character from the epic The Odyssey, who advises Odysseus on his journey. His name means ‘faithful and wise adviser’.

Is it a coincidence that we YAPpers, on our own, personal journeys, are given mentors to guide us? Mine was not technically a mentor, but still a person whose wise advice and guidance I’ve come to rely on during my YAP journey.

Rather than tell you what she said, though, I’ll include a transcript of one of our conversations:

Me: I’ve always felt like the least prepared out of the six of us.

Technically-not-my-mentor: Don’t compare yourself to others. The whole story is different.

Me: It’s hard not to. Since there’s a donor, there’s a constant pressure of feeling like you should be moving forward and producing something for them. For someone who has the emotional patience of a toddler like myself, it feels very frustrating.

Technically-not-my-mentor: Things can’t constantly move. Patience is a virtue. You can look forward to that great feeling when things seem a complete chaos and suddenly, one day, all falls into place. And Tadaaaaam!!

So, here I am now, still waiting for that “Tadaaaam!!” moment, but knowing that it’s human and normal to feel frustrated, somehow makes me feel better about everything.

And who is this “technically-not-my-mentor”, you ask? Well…

  This blog is also my own personal little “thank you” note to Marina Cherbonnier, whose sage advice, uplifting spirit, and unwavering faith made pushing that boulder just a little bit easier.

Thanks buddy.

And so, on the battle goes

What’s next for this Greek mythology-loving entomologeek?

The business side of it, I think, is easy. I have all the laboratory data available with me, and the field tests are just a matter of reaching out to people, scheduling live demonstrations, and getting the word out. Advertising, marketing, and upselling. No sweat for a social hurricane like myself. I enjoy talking with farmers one-on-one, or with cooperative groups who are willing to listen about my project. There’s something very fulfilling about seeing the changes in their eyes – from a sort of wary and cautious disbelief, to a spark of realization, to excitement in my idea – and the more people know about my project and how it can help them, the more I feel my own spark coming back to life.

It’s the more personal side of it that will be a challenge. Managing my expectations, waiting for results, and accepting that fact that things can’t happen on my schedule.

That’s the challenge, I think, for every “agripreneur” out there: to understand that while we love our innovations, businesses, and social endeavors, we have to wait a little for the rest of the world to see it that way.

I’m back to pushing my boulder in other words, but unlike Sisyphus, I’ll eventually reach the top, and I’ll stand there knowing that I was able to overcome this obstacle with all the guidance and help from all my mentors along the way.

Once there, believe me,  I’ll be saying, ‘Tadaaaam!!!’

This blogpost by Josine (“Jax”) Macaspac originally appeared on the GFAR blog.

Josine (“Jax”) Macaspac (josinemacaspac(at)yahoo.com), is one of six finalists in the Youth Agripreneurs Project, a pilot project targeting young agricultural entrepreneurs (“agripreneurs”), co-organized by GFAR and YPARD. The YAP Finalists launched their projects during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016.

Photo Credits:  1-Josine Macaspac; 2-Peter Casier; 3-Marina Cherbonnier