Re-embracing African Values

In this episode of The African Farmers Stories, we continue our chronicles of African farmers and entrepreneurs from across the continent, highlighting their importance to Africa, their challenges, and possible solutions.

Joel Cherop, Founder One Acre Farm, Uganda and Joseph Ali, CEO of COFARMS, Nigeria share their insights on the importance re-embracing African values.

First, we profile Joel Cherop, a social entrepreneur and farmer in the Mount Elgon ranges of Sudek in eastern Uganda. His motivation to become a farmer came from growing up in a community practising peasant-led agriculture, with families having small landholdings. They cultivated maize that only gave yields of about $200 in a year-long growth cycle. Many households had high numbers and had challenges accessing food and medical care on such low yielding crop. While studying journalism at Makerere University, he researched possibilities in agriculture and at that time discovered the book “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs that inspired him through its message about the economic potential. He decided to take advantage of the cool weather and extremely fertile volcanic soil available in his community and introduced horticulture, growing onions. Their shorter growth cycle and higher profit allowed him to raise earnings per growth cycle up to $5000 and generate wealth for his community. He has also been able to access a robust network through the Tony Elumelu Foundation that allows him share his ideas to position Africa as a major global economic player.

He notes that Africa is a continent of immense possibilities, citing Uganda’s seven million acres of fertile land lying idle as an illustration. His message to young Africans is that just an acre of land can make one a millionaire, but acknowledges that many young people are moving to urban areas and abandoning agriculture because of the erasure of African culture that followed colonialization, and argues for a return to a pre-colonial value system. He explains that some of our lost culture included attitudes to food security and trusted, affordable methods of managing agricultural challenges such as drought and storage that have since been replaced with European methods that favour industrialists and are too expensive or not suitable for the African farmer.

Another challenge is the sale of produce to middlemen that set low prices that the farmer cannot argue with because he cannot store his produce profitably instead. Re-introduction of cooperative societies that thrived in 1980s Uganda could be the solution to the scourge of middlemen, as these societies ensured that farmers had a ready market and also provided extension services and high-quality agrochemicals. The COVID-19 pandemic, he says, provides an opportunity for Africans to take advantage of agriculture and he encourages Africans to speak with a collective voice on their challenges and solutions to move the continent forward.

Joseph Ali, CEO of COFARMS in Kaduna State, Nigeria

Joseph Ali, CEO of COFARMS in Kaduna State, Nigeria, an enterprise that practices collective agriculture by eradicating small farm holders. Joseph explains why the idea of small farm holders are so detrimental: small farm holders spend more than three times the amount a large-scale farmer will on input and cultivation of the same size of land, while realising less than half yield of lower quality than the large-scale farmer.

In their first year, COFARMS gathered about 150 interested farmers with 350 acres of land among them. 10% of the farmers were designated as primary producers while others became agropreneurs, providing fertilizers, tractor services and other needed input at a commission. This greatly increased profits for all the farmers involved. The company trains farmers adopted into the scheme on at least five commodities and is currently also looking to involve their farmers in producing cash crops that can provide alternative streams of income.

On challenges faced in his business, he highlights the fear many farmers have of exploitation by outsiders, the difficulty of selling the vision of collective agriculture, lack of infrastructure and facilities from the government, and the absence of coordinated markets for produce and difficulty in convincing farmers to sell to these markets. He acknowledges the immense contribution of partners such as GIZ and USAID in supporting farmer training, creating a coordinated market and investing in processing.

He spoke at length on the poor use of insurance coverage by Nigerian farmers, and revealed that this is because many policies offered to farmers are for factors such as drought and erosion that farmers mostly have control over, making such coverage seem irrelevant. He also notes that many companies also are very slow to pay claims in the event of adverse outcomes.  He admits that more farmers are beginning to understand the importance of insurance and are more open to purchasing transport insurance, but emphasizes that insurance companies must identify the policies that are needed by farmers such as expected yield coverage, to insure a farmer against low yields by paying claims to compensate for yield deficit.

For further information about Joel Cherop, Founder One Acre Farm, Uganda Here. and Joseph Ali, CEO of COFARMS, in Kaduna State, Nigeria, Here

The African SMEs Stories series is brought to you by Support4AfricanSMEs hosted weekly on Instagram by Uwem Uwemakpan. Interview edited by Oluchi Buchi-Njere.

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