The Shaquille O’Neal of agriculture

Josh playing at Cornell

Josh Figini played basketball for Cornell University one of the United States Ivy League universities. At 6ft 9in or 205cm Josh is not as tall as Shaquille O’Neal (7ft 1in) but he is taller than other famous basketball players like Michael Jordan (6ft 5in), or LeBron James (6ft 8in). At present he does hold one title that none of the famous NBA players do in that he’s the tallest volunteer crewmember to ever work on the hospital ship Africa Mercy.

Josh studied Nutritional Science at University and towards the end of his studies he was encouraged by a friend to apply to volunteer on a Mercy Ship. Josh thought the agriculture program might be a good fit for his skills, especially as the first part of the 5 month hands on training program is all about how important a good balanced diet is for our health.

Josh 2

Josh’s advantages is he is a living example of just how strong, healthy (and tall) you can grow with a balanced healthy diet and when he speaks to the local students about it they take note!
Apart from the importance of a balanced diet the students learn agriculture techniques that are environmentally sound, sustainable and use natural materials without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. They also learn about compost production, animal husbandry and even aquaponics.

In Madagascar, like in many countries where the ship works, around 70% of the population is involved in farming so the agriculture project is very important for the following reasons:


  • The much improved yield from the new techniques (up to 5 times that of traditional methods) allows farmers to sell the excess and use the money to buy other foods to supplement their family’s diet thereby prevent many diseases.
  • The extra money also allows them to buy medicines and pay for basic medical treatment when anyone is sick.
  • They can also afford to pay their children’s school fees which has a knock on effect towards improving infant mortality, (it has been shown that when a mother has 5-6 years of primary education it can reduce infant mortality rates enormously).
  • 4) The environment is protected from the traditional methods of slash and burn that have left large areas of land desolated.


But we will just have to wait and see if one day Shaquille O’Neal decides to take the title away from Josh as the tallest volunteer to ever work on the Africa Mercy!