« 100 YEARS – 100 LIVES » | ZAMBIA - “I turned my farm into an agribusiness and now I am an example in my community”

Farming is a major source of livelihoods in rural Zambia, but a lack of skills and knowledge often limits young farmers to subsistence agriculture. However, 27-year-old Felix Mulenga still managed to turn his farm into a real business thanks to an ILO project.

Feature | Zambia | 16 July 2019
LUSAKA - Since 2013, many rural youths have entered into successful agribusiness thanks to Yapasa, a programme jointly implemented by the ILO with other UN agencies. The project focuses on rural enterprise development to promote youth employment in Zambia.

In the 2016/17 agricultural season, Yapasa enabled 863 youths to farm soybean on a commercial scale for the first time.

One of these youths was Felix Mulenga, a 27-year old farmer from the Northern Province of Zambia. Mulenga had always wanted to turn his farm into a real business, but his productivity was low and he found it difficult to find a good market for his crops. He knew little about good agricultural practice.

He took his first commercial
approach to farming during the
2015/16 season. He grew 10 hectares of soybean using traditional
farming methods and locally available recycled seed. Like most smallholder farmers in his province, he found himself in the typical low input–low output trap: Mulanga harvested just 1,050 kg of soybean, representing a productivity of only 100 kg per hectare compared to the national average of 800 kg per hectare.

Then in 2016, Mulanga was approached by Regitech Soya Processing Enterprises Ltd, a Yapasa-partner company. Regitech needed to develop a reliable supply chain for its new soybean processing plant. The company was scanning the community searching for young farmers who could quickly adopt modern production technologies to produce high quality soybean. They invited him to become a soybean out-grower.

Better farming methods

Having made a loss the previous year, the young farmer signed up with Regitech. He hoped the company would provide him with expertise and exposure to better farming methods as well as a secure market for his crop.

He received training on better land preparation and farming practices, learned about new farming inputs, including crop protection, fertilizers and how to use them safely. He bought on credit the inputs needed for two hectares of land. The result was remarkable: Felix harvested 3,150 kg of soybean, a yield of 1.5 tonnes per hectare.

Felix plans to expand his farming business in the coming years. In an environment where limited knowledge and difficulties in accessing start-up capital are a major deterrent to young entrepreneurs, he views outgrowing schemes as a promising entry point into agribusiness.

“I also believe that self-employment in agriculture is far better, both economically and socially, than just surviving in a low-paying job. I stand as an example in the community, not only inspiring other youths but also gaining the respect of senior farmers in his village,” he proudly said.

Daniel Bwalya, director of Regitech Enterprises Ltd, believes that operating an outgrowing scheme is a good way to commercialize commodities in rural areas. With a strong social agenda, he wants to continue to improve this youth-inclusive business model and plans to diversify beyond soybeans.

“I believe that effective coordination and linkages with the out-growers and the use of an effective credit tracking mechanism are essential to providing fair and equitable enterprise opportunities for rural youth and women,” he said.

Tackling decent work deficits

Yapasa teamed up with nine companies in 2016/17, including Regitech Enterprises, to promote such out-grower schemes. These included a social enterprise, commodity traders, a commercial farm, a cooperative, a farmers’ association and an agro-dealership.

Yapasa supported them all to adjust their business model to tackle some of the decent-work deficits common in rural Zambia. This included addressing gender disparities by targeting at least 40 per cent women among their suppliers; enabling social dialogue by encouraging the farmers to form groups and agreeing to fair and transparent contracts; improving access to skills development and occupational safety and health by providing training in crop production and safe use of agrochemicals.

The Yapasa project meanwhile is encouraging young farmers to also diversify their farm enterprises beyond a single crop so that they have other options outside of the out-grower schemes, including horticultural production under irrigation during the dry season to enable more regular and year-round income.
 

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