Agri Business

Agripreneurs add glamour to African farming

Reuters Rome | Updated on October 19, 2018 Published on October 19, 2018

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 said.

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 per cent of its uncultivated arable land. Yet accessing land and loans is difficult, while African productivity is low with crop yields just 56 per cent 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.

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

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.

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, Africa director at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

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 Organization (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.

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 per cent or more are not uncommon, farmers and business owners said.

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.

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Published on October 19, 2018
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