Young, imaginative, resourceful and risk-loving defines a growing band of young entrepreneurs in the business of farming. Unlike their parents and grandparents, whose work in agriculture was often one of drudgery and poverty, the new generation farmers and agripreneurs love what they do.
“I would not give up farming for anything else,” says Mene Blessing, a social entrepreneur and scientist with a background in chemistry and livestock feed formulation. Blessing is Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Vetsark, a Nigerian veterinary company helping farmers to prevent pests and diseases.
“I realised that one of the biggest problems farmers had was controlling pests and diseases, and decided on providing a solution,” said Blessing. “Agripreneurship is attractive because there are many gaps within the agriculture sector in Africa that need to be filled.”
Litia Kirwin, 30, Founding Director of the Loving Islands Farm Enterprise network (LIFE) works with 152 registered producers, processing and marketing certified coconut oil. She says that strong family ties and a love of culture in Fiji were a strong foundation for her organic business.
“A lot of rural farmers have access to land, and so it made sense to take the resources, use our traditional farming knowledge, and develop new income opportunities from coconut value addition,” said Kirwin. “I love the environment, I love nature, I love organics, and I love viewing ourselves as part of a system. I find that different compared to conventional agriculture, where you view the present in an egotistical view.”
From food imports to self-sufficiency
The family of Lawrence Afere, 35, was initially far from pleased when he opted for farming after leaving university with a degree in business management. His parents had invested in his education with a view to his working in Nigeria’s banking, oil or gas sectors.
However, after reading an article about Nigeria spending billions of dollars importing food, Lawrence formed a young farmers group. His company, Springboard supports more than 3,000 young Nigerian farmers in growing plantain, which it then buys back for processing.
“Agriculture has huge potential for Africa, and in Nigeria we import rice, fish and even toothpicks. If young people could work the land and reduce the food imports, we would be in a trillion dollar industry,” said Afere, who has also started a Farm to School programme for young people.
Mamadou Sall, an economist from Senegal, admits to knowing little about farming, but he realised there were investors keen to put money into the sector. His agricultural stock exchange, BaySeddo, connects farmers and investors.
“For me, agriculture is the future,” said Sall. “My goal is for Africa to be a leading food producer, because we have the land and I love agriculture. We can transform agriculture using technology, and it works. Young people should be in agriculture.”
The future of farming
Varun Baker from Jamaica is the founder of FarmCredibly, a start-up using blockchain technology to enable unbanked farmers to access loans and credit. In Jamaica, the average age of a farmer is over 60. Baker says he worries what the next 30 years will bring. Motivated by concern about future food security, he has sought to empower local farmers.
“Being an entrepreneur means spotting opportunities and creating value in market places,” said Baker. “Essentially, you have to find a product that someone is willing to pay for. Once you do this successfully, I would say you are an entrepreneur.”
Wole Odetayo, Executive Director, of WennovationHub, 34, says using technology is the best way to make the most of agriculture, because it has the potential to solve different challenges across the agricultural value chain.
“The technology component of agriculture is sexier to a lot of young people”, said Odetayo. He grew up on a poultry farm and never liked farming, but was attracted by the application of technology to agriculture.
“Being an entrepreneur is a calling, to be a solutions provider. I have a background in medicine and surgery, but I have chosen this life,” he said.
For Michael Ocansey, 37, it was the idea of helping farmers to obtain fair prices for their produce that motivated him to start Agrocenta, an online platform linking small-scale farmers and large farmer organisations in Ghana.
“The fulfillment of seeing that we are creating positive impact in the lives of smallholder farmers in Ghana is what keeps us in agriculture,” he said. “For example, now we see farmers who are able to pay the school fees for their children to keep them in school, because they are paid fair wages for commodities they produce.”
This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.