The African Farmers’ Stories is an initiative of Support4AfricanSMEs that aims to amplify the voices of African farmers and highlight their pivotal role in keeping the continent fed, while exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, their challenges and possible solutions. It is powered by the support of partners like BusinessDay, Clarke Energy, Big Dutchman and more.
The African Farmers’ Stories tweet chat in its latest edition spoke with farmer Elizabeth Okullow, Kenyan agripreneur, co-founder and CEO of agribusiness venture Lafamia Greens, member of a program for social entrepreneurs, Africa YES and recent nominee for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders on “Making Africa Great Through Agribusiness”.
Elizabeth’s mission is to work towards food availability through sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship, and believes in solving problems for societal good, using social entrepreneurship as a tool to provide community solutions, and encouraging young people to venture into agriculture.
Her journey into agriculture began while studying microbiology in 2016, when a tragic loss led to some soul searching. She found solace in plants, and began her research on agriculture. With a passion for entrepreneurship, she studied Agribusiness Management and Hydroponics Technology in 2018 in order to better understand how to run an agribusiness venture.
The journey has not always been easy: Elizabeth cites discouragement from family and friends, being used for a politician’s campaign, having to constantly prove that she is really a farmer, and underestimating the value of a team with a common goal when her venture was starting out, resulting in some of her co-founders leaving the business. Despite these, Elizabeth’s best moments are in her farm, watching plants grow, and her business has given her access to forums that allow her to learn and share her insights. Elizabeth believes that food is a fundamental human right, and her venture aims to provide fresh vegetables for the community, incorporating hydroponics and greenhouse technology for consistency and sustainability. Her venture is currently seeking mentorship, a team to bring in innovative ideas to help them scale, opportunities to learn more about hydroponics farming for localisation in Africa, and financial support to build portable hydroponics systems in demand for Kenyan households.
On making Africa great through agriculture, Elizabeth believes that integrating agriculture and business will make Africa great, because all African countries depend on agriculture for development, and that people must be challenged to think innovatively about agribusiness to create more food and more jobs.
Regarding the coming post-COVID era, with the world possibly looking to Africa to provide food, Elizabeth believes that it is possible, since almost 70% of land on the continent is not fully utilized, but emphasized that this can only be realised by building better food systems, promoting sustainable agriculture, supporting African farmers and encouraging young people to promote food security.
Agribusiness has also been targeted as the sector with the capacity to solve Africa’s unemployment burden, something that can be done, Elizabeth says, if agripreneurs focus on adding value to their products and embracing technology. Many opportunities exist along the value chain, from production to marketing to value addition. Incorporating all these aspects and investing in them will create many jobs for Africa’s population.
Africa has failed in leadership, but Elizabeth believes that good leadership starts with the individual, and that good leaders will challenge us to think strategically and advance as a continent. She believes that as a young continent, Africa can capitalise on utilising workable ideas to transform its outlook and future.
Investing in rural agriculture and promoting the work of farmers can attract tourism, either through learning about agribusiness models or through agro-entertainment. Agriculture to develop tourism can be enhanced by policy implementation to ease trade for African farmers within and outside the continent, promoting export opportunities and promoting made-in-Africa products. These will set Africa up to be the largest global exporter of value-added agricultural produce.
With agriculture consuming over 60% of produced energy, farmers must look to the resources available on the continent that can provide alternative energy sources. Innovative ideas for green energy should be encouraged by African leaders, and opportunities for these ideas to be showcased, funded and implemented should be provided.
Existing hydroponics technology mainly come from developed countries and can be costly, but the principles of hydroponics work across the world. Farmers interested in this field must learn more about the technology and then seek available resources that can be used to make affordable systems here in Africa.
To provide African farmers with much-needed visibility and support, platforms are needed for them to learn about agribusiness, connect with stakeholders and build networks, engage in discussions to better themselves and their businesses, and encourage the use of technology to increase their exposure.