Young entrepreneurs lend glamour to African agriculture

Many young Africans are abandoning rural areas, choosing not to toil in the fields – a job made tougher by climate change.
Climate pressures are adding to farmers' woes, with extended dry periods, erratic rainfall and floods leading to crop losses and declines in yields. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters

In a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, expertly navigating eastern Rwanda’s bumpy back roads in a white four-wheel drive, Dieudonne Twahirwa looks nothing like the stereotypical African farmer.

The 30-year-old owner of Gashora Farm knows what a difference that makes.

“You need more role models,” he said, standing among knee-high rows of chilli plants. “If you have young farmers, they have land and they drive to the farm, (others) think, ‘Why can’t I do that?'”

Twahirwa, a university graduate, bought a friend’s tomato farm six years ago for $150. He made $1 500 back in two months.

“You have to link (farming) with entrepreneurship and real numbers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many young Africans are abandoning rural areas, choosing not to toil in the fields – a job made tougher by climate change.

But Twahirwa is one of a growing band of successful farmers working to jazz up agriculture‘s image on the continent.

Some 1 000 farmers now produce chillies for him. He is starting a fourth farm of his own, and exports fresh and dried chillies and oil to Britain, the United States, India and Kenya.

Africa has the world’s youngest population and 65% of its uncultivated arable land.

Yet accessing land and loans is difficult, while African productivity is low with crop yields just 56% of the international average, according to the United Nations.

Agriculture is mainly associated with suffering and no young person wants to suffer,” said Tamara Kaunda, who has put her career as a doctor on hold to buck the trend.

She believes African agriculture needs a make-over to shed its old-fashioned image of backbreaking work with a hoe.

“Show young people with tractors, green fields, nice irrigation systems, smartphones,” she said.

A relative of Zambia’s first president, the fast-talking 29-year-old runs Billionaire Farmer Agric Solutions, supplying vegetable seedlings across Zambia and in neighbouring countries.

Getting young people involved in agriculture does not mean they have to work on a farm, said Nigerian Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi, 29, whose agribusiness company JR Farms Africa has projects in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Rwanda.

For example, in coffee production, the beans go from the farm to the washing station, then to be separated from the husk.

“There are people in the coffee value chain who just build washing stations and lease them. You just have to find a place to plug in,” he said.

Modern methods 

Stepping up the use of mechanised equipment and new technology is another key way to attract young people – and will also improve productivity, experts say.

Today, 50 to 85% of farm work in Africa, such as ploughing and sowing, is done manually, according to the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of international agriculture experts.

From servicing farm machinery to operating equipment for processing, packaging and distribution, mechanisation would “open up a lot of business opportunities for young people”, said Ousmane Badiane, the panel’s co-chair and Africa director at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Modernising agriculture could also help turn it from seasonal to year-round work, said Rouffahi Koabo, director general of CIPMEN, Niger’s first business incubator.

“People need jobs not for only three months but… revenue for the whole year,” he said.

Rwandan Felicien Mujyambere, 35, was ready to migrate from his remote northern village after his wife died and his family’s income dropped.

But in 2017, he received a chick hatchery from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) under a project that provides rural youths with business opportunities.

Since then, he has used the profits from selling eggs and chicks to buy another hatching machine, as well as start a banana and maize farm and a bee-keeping business.

He now employs 10 people, and has almost tripled his monthly income.

Eric Hakizimana, meanwhile, dreamed of becoming a government official but after high school, a lack of jobs led him to sign up for the FAO project.

He received about 300 chickens, a coop and a hatchery. At 27, he has three times as many birds and is building a new coop.

Most young men in his village in eastern Rwanda move to the capital, or even Kenya and Uganda to look for work, he said.

“But now there are many who want to do this,” he added.

Leadership lacking

Nonetheless, young farmers struggle to get loans.

Interest rates are high and few banks are willing to take the risk of lending to them, said Ruramiso Mashumba, chair of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union youth wing.

Interest rates of 30% or more are not uncommon, farmers and business owners told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Even if you have been successful… you still cannot get finance to grow,” said Mashumba, 33.

More flexible, innovative funding is needed, she added. Her 650-hectare farm, Mnandi Africa, produces certified maize seed, grows indigenous organic grains, and trains women farmers.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is trying to address this financing gap with a new fund.

Meanwhile climate pressures are adding to farmers’ woes, with extended dry periods, erratic rainfall and floods leading to crop losses and declines in yields – problems scientists predict will worsen as the planet warms.

Yan Kwizera, a Rwandan tech entrepreneur, said more political leadership was needed at the top so that farmers do not feel they are facing challenges alone.

“How many presidents do you know in Africa who own land and are cultivating?” he said. “They send their kids to learn investment banking, medicine, law, international development. Nobody’s doing agriculture.”

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Just another pipe dream being sold to Africa -.“Show young people with tractors, green fields, nice irrigation systems, smartphones,” this cumin from a relative of Zambia’s first president, also known as Africa elite.

Its as if all you need is a Air-Cond,Land Cruiser, John Deere, Apple IPhone, Internet connection , sprinklers and challah a African farming success.

could it be for the average farmer to actually be “successful”, can a 20+year be place on this, and even then the farm will be mostly operating with huge financial investment and agri-bank debt. Easy to sell the “green pastures”, just tell the hole story. Agriculture as describe by New Era Farmer of the Year, Thulo Mahlatsi, his success to hard work, careful planning, financial accountability and sound mentoring. NO Air-Cond,Land Cruiser, John Deere, Apple IPhone, Internet connection , sprinklers and challah a African farming success, tell the stories as they are, this will motivate any potential farmers as what it takes for upcoming farmers. here are two successes –

I never learn anything while I was talking- Larry King
Banks can Depoliticise and capitalize.
Step in- smart and innovative bank that want to own the agri market and Sommer kick start the economy in the process.
Is anyone listening to the actual issues?

Farming is not easy, Farmers have massive debt burdens with Banks and struggle to get working capital to operate (especially during droughts), Banks has the most to lose with the number of outstanding agri loans (land and working capital), new black owners will have the same issue with Working capital and the lack of expertise to compound the issue.

Take the issue away from the talkers, and give it the Doers. Bank can step in and depoliticize the whole issue and give the whole economy kick start in the process- without losing money!

For every R1 in agri land loans, there is probably R2 of working capital loans outstanding. Making debt the biggest unproductive cost to the farmer, and the single biggest reason why productive land cannot be sold for anything below market value. Most Farmers has their entire pension invested in their land (money is in the ground), taking their land or buying it at discount is like taking away their pension, which is essentially a prison sentence for them.

Step in- smart and innovative bank that want to own the agri market!

How it can work:
The bank buys the farms from the indebted farmer, The farmer signs a 10year rental agreement with the bank to rent 100% year 1, 90% year 2, 80% year 3 etc…@ rental rate of +-10% of land selling price/annum. Part of the agreement with the bank is for the farmer to open a trust for his farm workers, with the Farmer being a mandatory trustee (not beneficiary). This trust gets a 20year loan from the bank to buy back the farm at market value with Interest of 7.75% (or lower if the state intervenes with subsidies). The rental income minus loan cost equals working capital for the 10% incremental operations transfer from the farmer. The Black trust pays the residual to the farmer for total input cost to the 10% increments per year (renting his services and diluting his overhead cost on his equipment). As the yield grows for the black trust so does their expertise and working capital. 10 years later, the farm and expertise is transferred, and the black trust runs 100% of the farm, with farmer still helping hand as Trustee. (teach a man to fish and all that..)

Nothing worthwhile is easy, and without sacrifice no change is achieved

End of comments.





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