MEET BLECK

The Mastercard Foundation - EARTH University Fellowship Program

Bleck Tita Tabeh

Country: Cameroon
Track: Innovation Science & Research
Position: Agriculture and Innovation
Host company/organization: Agripool Ghana
About position: Create farmer investor partnerships. Mobilize data about farmer investors. Support farmers with novel technology and climate sensitive information.

Bleck Tita was born and raised in agriculture. Growing up on a banana plantation in Cameroon, he was surrounded by fruit and vegetable production and other farmers. After his father passed in 2006, Bleck, the oldest male child of his household, had to shoulder the responsibility and income to help provide for his mother and four younger siblings. Unfortunately, this meant that he had to discontinue his education. As his passion and fascination with fruit harvesting grew from his job as a harvester, Bleck became determined to continue his schooling: he worked all day on the plantation and studied rigorously at night. The first person from his community to attend school, Bleck dove into the field of precision agriculture at EARTH University, examining the link between cutting-edge technology and revolutionizing food production for small-scale farmers. Bleck’s efforts paid off not just for him: as of today, Bleck’s education at EARTH has inspired fourteen youth from his community to attend university and follow in his footsteps.

Bleck conducted his internship at the University of Florida at the Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC). There, he worked with postharvest management technologies because of their relevance in his community back in Cameroon, specifically with tropical fruits like avocado, soursop, citrus, and mandarins. As all these fruits are heavily produced in his hometown, he needed to learn how to reduce postharvest losses on them. Bleck and his team tested out their projects in nearby communities as well as in supermarkets such as Walmart and Applebee’s to help prevent fruit from rotting. He and his lab trained almost 70 farmers to combat citrus post-harvest loss and increase availability within the region; Bleck was also able to use his knowledge on food preservation to work with the general manager of Walmart and train Walmart workers. In addition to this internship being the best professional experience of Bleck’s career, he will go on to implement this same technology – in an affordable way – to help prevent food loss back in his home community in Cameroon. Bleck will utilize his intensive experience with Walmart to form a connection and market between Walmart and his community to further increase profits for local farmers. Though Cameroon produces many fruits, farmers experience massive food loss when transporting fruit to the market, thereby forcing these farmers to sell their products at an unprofitable price. Bleck desires to improve their lifestyle and profits by applying food preservation and postharvest management technologies to farmers’ produce. But Bleck’s goal also has a ripple effect: he intends for the increased profits of farmers to allow them to send their children to school and save money for family members to eat.

Honestly, there’s so many things I want to say to them but the most important thing I want to say to Mastercard is thank you. – Bleck

In fact, Bleck’s vision does not just stop at improving agriculture and farmers’ livelihoods. When he goes back to Cameroon, Bleck intends to get a job and continue with a venture he had started back in 2018, a nonprofit consulting business for farmers where he imparts advice on postharvest management and the market. However, he will also be starting another nonprofit venture, Education in Futures, which will provide his friends with the opportunity to study at night without forsaking their jobs as plantation workers. His venture will encourage these young workers to obtain their high school certifications and pursue other activities or projects in their lives. Both of Bleck’s nonprofits will build on each other to make both agriculture and education more accessible and far-reaching in his community. “I see that as one of the principal problems that is actually blocking my community from growth: opportunity for these people to actually experience other realities. Education is one of the things that’s really blocking it…Once we are able to change this narrative, more of the upcoming youth will really have that mindset to pursue other opportunities rather than conform to what they have. It’s a limiting factor to ending what we call forced labor and ending poverty.”

Bleck wants to acknowledge how much the Mastercard Foundation has supported him in achieving his goals. “Honestly, there’s so many things I want to say to them but the most important thing I want to say to Mastercard is thank you. Not only for the opportunity they gave me to be here but being able to use me to change the lives of many people.” For Bleck, the Mastercard Foundation was the key to pursuing his education without putting the lives of his family at risk. His scholarship stipend not only enabled Bleck to further his agricultural education, but it also provided food for his family back home. His father’s passing was the most challenging point in his life because Bleck felt pressured to choose between his education and supporting his family. But the Mastercard Foundation and EARTH University have made this choice easier.

EARTH has taught Bleck the value of accepting both the positive and negative consequences of your actions. It has also instilled in him the true meaning of community: “At EARTH we are all from different backgrounds. In my school, we have kids from seventeen different countries in Africa, kids from all over Central and South America, and a few kids from North America. All of us came in together and we didn’t know each other, but we ended up being brothers and sisters. People have found their loved ones here on campus. That’s how far it goes.” Additionally, EARTH has taught him determination. He entered University speaking English, German, and French and so thought learning Spanish would be easy: it wasn’t. Though Bleck struggled a lot with Spanish, the feeling of finally mastering the language left him feeling accomplished and as much a part of the EARTH community as anyone else. “I think personally EARTH has taught me about resilience,” he says. “It has its own ups and downs, but I think one thing I got was that you just have to be patient all the time and be open to new things and accept your mistakes. It taught me how to be resilient, how to be open to any outcome.” These are all values Bleck plans to take back home to help others, especially younger kids, forge ahead and pursue their dreams even when it proves to be difficult. As he further develops his ventures in agriculture and education, Bleck will be an agent of change in Cameroon, and a leading example of someone who has overcome obstacles to make a difference in the lives of those around him.

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