An Africa Business Community
'More than 14 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of food aid because of drought and rocketing food and fuel prices. Improving the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of smallholder farming is the main pathway out of poverty in using agriculture for development. In response, the Backpack Farm Agriculture Program (BPF) is designed as an all-in-one canvas backpack packaged with all the essential agriculture inputs needed for small landholders to standardize both the quality and quantity of agriculture production during an annual growing season, to mirror semi-commercial rates of production. The backpack is a modular system customized depending on the chosen crop sector and cultivable acreage. Hence, agri-tech and non-GMO seeds from 10 different crop families with more than 32 varieties can be packed in exact portions of ¼, ½ and 1 acre units. Each canvas BPF weighs between 15-42 kg and contains the following materials: Soil testing bag, certified seed pack, John Deere Water Technologies’ drip irrigation system, PE water tank, “Fusion Nutrition” Soil & Crop Protection Program, 8-12 litre chemical sprayer, training manuals and journal.
As a business entrepreneur or owner, what are the reasons you identified as wanting to work for yourself?
'I have worked in the UN, NGO and private sector. Before starting my own firm, I only knew what I didn’t like and wanted to have a real, sustainable and scalable impact on the world. I don’t believe that can be accomplished through aid so I jumped off the deep end and started a business with an African team that I know can and will.'
What are your experiences in setting up the business so far?
'This venture has been the most rewarding and terrifying experience of my life. As a non-African, I have been blessed with a team of African business partners but it took me almost 2 years to find them and only by working with all the wrong people and wasting a lot of time and money. I have learned painfully to balance the expectations of my ego with realities of the market and all in Africa time. I also learned to shop for finance sooner rather than later. Even if you don’t have the capital to build your model, keep working on it and talk to anyone who will give you expert advice for free. Yes, patience is a virtue!'
What are your ambitions?
'My team’s goal is to support no less than 1 million smallholder farmers in the East African Community within the next 10 years.'
How are you funded?
'The Backpack Farm is in a unique position as a privately funded venture. We are now seeking additional finance to help expand both our supply chain and marketing campaigns into more rural farming communities.'
How do you look upon business opportunities for you entrepreneuers in Kenya?
'There are unlimited opportunities in Africa but there are also risks especially within agriculture. East Africa is finally being take as a serious export market for global markets. I would encourage anyone to follow their passion in Africa and but also do their research both conceptual PEST and marketplace to set more realistic expectations. And if you don’t have at least 1 – 2 years of cash in the bank, stay at home until you have lined up finance.'
How well do you feel your company is fairing in the marketplace?
'I and my team represent the only for-profit social enterprise in Kenya and the wider East Africa offering not only green agri-tech but comprehensive training. Not only are we brining new agri-tech to Africa’s rural farmers, we are opening a new marketplace by legitimizing this sector of the BOP and fueling future competitors. Beyond the EAC, I am now being asked to develop projects in South Africa, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. Our potential to help develop sustainable agriculture production is unlimited.'
Visit the profile page of Rachel Zedeck
This interview is the first one in a series on young entrepreneurs setting up business in Africa. This interview series is powered by Africa Business Communities and VC4Africa.
Are you a young African entrepreneur and do you want to showcase your company or your business plan too? Send an e-mail to Isaac Twumasi Quantus - firstname.lastname@example.org.