For many people in Africa today, it would be enough to get a good education to succeed in life. As a result, many activities of the primary sectors are considered by the majority of populations, especially in urban areas, as being reserved for poor and peasants. This is the case of agriculture. Like them, I had this same belief, until the day I made the surprising discovery of some of our brothers and sisters who have made their wealth in and through agriculture. Who are they? and how did they do it? This is what will be the basis of this article.
Maria Zileni ZALOUMIS
With a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the Australian Catholic University and a Master’s degree in Cardiology from Wesley Hospital, Maria’s primary passion has always been in agriculture. After working 12 years in Australia, she saved $30,000 USD as start-up capital to be invested in tomato farming. She returned to Zambia and decided to take over the farm of her ailing father. Once in her native country, she struggled to find a job because local hospitals found her too qualified. In 2016, she launched the activity on the farm of ½ hectare that years later she managed to expand it to 13 hectares. An acreage that allowed her to harvest an average of 250 boxes of tomatoes per day that she sells on local markets through large distributors like Freshmark Africa (Z) Ltd. From then on, she launched Tunisi farm or The Zed farmer. Appointed as the chairperson of the National Farmers Union of Zambia for the fruit and vegetable branch and the ambassador for African Pride Insurance, an insurance service in Zambia, the so-called Zed Farmer has become the main producer of her country and does not limit herself to tomato farming and has also launched the production of onions then a pilot project of cabbage seeds and tomato seedlings. Despite her many successes, the Zed Farmer maintains her groundedness and recognizes the importance of being prepared for failure in any entrepreneurial venture. She now aims to go into industrial transformation and create a thousand jobs to fight against youth unemployment in her country.
Just another woman who has made a name for herself in agribusiness. YEMISSI IRANLOYE, the queen of cassava overthrows all the multinationals and holds the throne. Supplier to Nestlé and Unilever in cassava products. How did this Nigerian entrepreneur build her agribusiness? She conceived the idea of Psaltry International Limited, a cassava processing company in 2005. At that time, she was employed in a company where she worked extensively with cassava and was exposed to the commercial potential of that crop. While still employed she intermittently paid for her first plot of land on which she later developed her farm and factory. She confided:
“After ten years with ECA AGRO I moved from the Lagos to the farm in a countryside, I built a small house and I stayed at the farm with about six employees. We cultivated the land and worked with the small farmers in the community. We committed ourselves with them to change their way of thinking about agriculture for industrial purposes. I already knew my metrics for success, raw materials and proximity to raw materials.”.
Cassava is one of the most widely consumed foods in sub-Saharan Africa and its processing is mainly aimed at the mass food market. Psaltry International Limited has specialized itself in the production and processing of cassava in Nigeria. Among its products are starch, flour and sorbitol, a natural sweetener obtained from this tuber. While YEMISSI’s concept has been very successful in recent years, she admitted that she faced many obstacles in her early days, including poor access to water and electricity in rural areas, lack of funding and unpaved roads. Launched in 2005, Psaltry International Limited was the first to produce cassava-based sorbitol in Africa and the second in the world after Indonesia. It had an annual revenue of $12 million. After ten years of operation, the company manages a network of more than 5,000 farmers. YEMISSI is now looking to international investors for expansion.
Dieudonné Diego Twahirwa
Diego Twahirwa is a young farmer who is currently changing the economy of his country, Rwanda. At 30 years old, this young agro-entrepreneur is going to make chili peppers the number one of agricultural export in his country. In 2015, Diego launched Gashora farms his small pepper production farm on six hectares. Very early on, he gave himself a vision of transforming and selling his products on the international market despite the small means at his disposal. This crazy vision led him to undertake short trips to meet the leaders of agribusiness at international fairs and exhibitions. He decided to manufacture his own products based on peppers that he produces himself. Within a few years of starting his farm, the young Diego met his first customers and began exporting his products to Europe. Diego Twahirwa does not know how to draw the line and is always looking to go beyond. Seeing China as a big world market because of the good relations between China and his country, he decided to look for opportunities and try the Chinese market. In September 2020 Diego Twahirwa signed an agreement with a Chinese company for the supply of 50 thousand tons of pepper per year for five years, a contract which worths 500 million dollars. This agreement allowed him to expand from about 6 hectares to 160 hectares, employ more staff and invest in better fertilizers and seeds. The good relations between China and Rwanda have allowed farmers like him to realize his dreams in the Chinese market, which is quite unique compared to others because they accept a wide range of goods without much complication.
He said: “What I noticed is that the Chinese were very interested and eager to buy and distribute products made in Africa, they consider my product as an innovation because they are not accustomed to the iced pepper from the West and they are ready to buy it in large quantities. They have money and trust African products.”
Less than a year ago, Gashora farms was already known internationally for the quality of its chili that they exported to England, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, France, India and the United States.
Today, Gashora farms employs more than 1000 farmers and plans to increase the number of farmers and its CEO is studying the possibility of expanding its product range with pepper paste and pepper powder, which will help Rwanda to take another step forward in its development.
Following our series, let’s move to Burkina Faso to discover Nahondomo PALENFO, a farmer favored by the banks. After graduating from high school in 1994, he decided to devote himself to farming, which is what he has always wanted to do. His business is the land and as he says so well, “you have to believe in your business and the rest will go easily”. He therefore decided to expand his business by diversifying his production. A quarter of a hectare, it is with this acreage that he starts in 2008.
He confides: “The results proved to me that one could make money in it and I extended the hectares, I bought the materials with the incomes that the ¼ of hectare had allowed me to have currently”.
He has 150 hectares along the Poni River, 8 hectares belong to him, and the rest is rented. The land is still available because in the locality, many do not yet give themselves to this activity. “We get the lands by negotiations,” he says. He employs 28 people on a permanent basis, including 15 men and 13 women. During the harvest period, he creates 65 temporary jobs with 26 men and 40 women. From year to year his production has increased, as has his equipment. It should be noted that the producer is the main supplier of a variety of cassava to producers of this tuber throughout the country, with an investment of between 29 and 30 million CFA francs
He is not necessarily a multi-billionaire but it is his didactic approach and his commitment to Africa and its diaspora make him a leader in his sector. Born in Cameroon and raised in a family of entrepreneurs, he learned the soil from his parents who were very active in agriculture. He studied economics and management in Cameroon. He left for the USA to complete his training in business administration at the State University of New York. He returned to Cameroon with a Bachelor Of Science and became an agribusiness man. Loïc is a farmer specialized in cereals such as corn and livestock in a medium size plantation. He started with four hectares with the objective of becoming a leader in cereal and poultry production in Africa. In 2020 he produces cereals on a mechanized farm of a few dozen hectares. He is also the promoter of a practical school for training in agriculture and livestock. In 1 or 2 semester He trained in Cameroon young people from several African countries. He co-founded in 2018 the approved training center Agribusiness Academy in Bafia where he becomes a well-known figure of social networks and entrepreneurship with his regular videos on Youtube of which he produces the content and which addresses various themes.
All these innovators are at the forefront of the sector. Thanks to them, we understand how agriculture as an investment works and is a source of wealth in Africa.