Q&A: Promoting Innovative Agricultural Businesses in Zimbabwe

Brighton Makuvaza's experience as the administrator of TechnoServe’s Agro Innovation Zimbabwe business plan competition has shown him the promise of the agricultural sector to change lives in poor areas of Zimbabwe.

Brighton Makuvaza of TechnoServe Agro Innovation Zimbabwe

Brighton Makuvaza is the administrator of TechnoServe’s Agro Innovation Zimbabwe business plan competition in Harare, Zimbabwe. In that role, Brighton has helped coordinate every aspect of the program. The experience has shown him the promise of the agricultural sector to change lives in poor areas of Zimbabwe.

What is your role with TechnoServe, and what was your background prior to joining the organization?

As the Agro Innovation Zimbabwe (AIZ) administrator, I work with successful candidates to ensure that they are on track and coordinate the administrative side of the grant process – everything from assisting with launch preparations to updating the website (www.aiz.co.zw) and collecting application forms.

The second phase of AIZ requires me to work closely with a Volunteer Consultant and in some cases, the finance manager, on developing grantee workplans, budgets and technical assistance, as well as developing the AIZ handbook.  I also use what I’m learning through my work with clients to propose changes to next year’s grant program, and have been working on the launch of an AIZ business network to keep grantees and applicants connected throughout the year.

Prior to joining TechnoServe, I worked for the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust, a civil society organization that helps fund the culture sector in Zimbabwe. I was an Assistant Projects Officer responsible for monitoring and evaluation of supported projects, coordinating the grant application process and offering technical assistance to grantees.

I also have experience coordinating workshops and arts publications for different organizations and worked with the National Gallery of Zimbabwe as the Media and Information Officer.

Why does Agro Innovation Zimbabwe specifically target businesses that include smallholder farmers in their business models?

The focus on businesses that include smallholder farmers in their business model is born from the recent collapse of Zimbabwe’s previously sophisticated commercial agriculture sector, which has left processing companies keen to engage with small-scale farmers but lacking experience on how to do this. We believe that the future of Zimbabwe’s agriculture and agro-processing sectors will be characterized by medium-scale businesses with substantial smallholder farmer participation, and our aim through AIZ – as well as our other programs in Zimbabwe – is to create models of this new structure which can be scaled up to grow the sector in a competitive and inclusive way.

The new model can be best implemented through strategic partnerships with established businesses as these have the highest chance of successfully implementing the model.

Describe the five businesses that won the competition.

  1. Peak Trading aggregates grain from farmers and rural traders and resells it to agro-processing firms.Peak Trading’s model is the introduction of Mobile Buying Stations which can buy from farmers located long distances from traditional buying points and whose yields do not warrant permanent buying points. The initiative has direct benefits to small-scale farmers growing a range of crops, including grains. It also has the potential to revolutionize grain trading in marginal areas.The company has existing networks and depots in strategic areas which will ensure efficient transportation of the grain, benefiting a range of small-scale farmers engaged in growing soya, maize and beans, kapenta and even Mopani worm collectors, during the grain off-season periods.
  2. African Breeders Services Total Cattle Management Limited (ABS) provides smallholder farmers with feeds and feed services, proven genetics, breeding supplies, mastitis prevention and control products, agricultural equipment and agriculture technology that can substantially increase livestock productivity and grow household incomes.The ABS model involves the establishment of decentralized, low-overhead and small but efficient feed mills producing quality livestock feed, and offering technical assistance. ABS will source maize and soy from local small-scale farmers. The mills will sell high-quality, reasonably priced feed to the small-scale farmers enabling them to increase livestock income too. The initiative has potential to increase competitiveness of feed and livestock industry while benefitting the small-scale farmers, allowing them to add value to commodities they produce and realize higher incomes, thereby improving their standards of living.
  3. Better Agriculture is a company which provides technical and business consultancy along the entire agricultural value chain, as well as linking producers to markets, facilitating exports and sales. One of the key activities of the organisation is providing tabasco chillies through the Chilli Pepper Company to an end market in the U.S.The Better Agriculture model involves the establishment of an outgrower scheme for tabasco chillies for a guaranteed international market. Small-scale farmers will receive inputs and technical assistance as well as a guaranteed off-take agreement for all grades. The idea demonstrates small-scale farmer capacity to produce top-quality horticulture for international markets.
  4. Zimbabwe Coffee Mill Limited (ZCM) is a Zimbabwean company owned by smallholder and commercial coffee farmers. Its main function is grading and marketing coffee grown in Zimbabwe, and its primary income is derived from a processing fee charged to growers who use its facilities. The company, with the assistance of donors, also runs coffee contract farming schemes with smallholder farmers. Under the schemes, smallholder farmers are assisted with coffee inputs, extension services, trainings and strengthening of market linkages.The ZCM model involves converting raw quality coffee from small scale farmers into finished roasted coffee and marketing the product. The coffee farmers will receive pre-financing, technical assistance and a guaranteed market with an estimated 30percent premium above conventional prices. The initiative, as well as directly benefiting over 1,000 coffee growers, demonstrates a new way forward for Zimbabwe’s coffee industry.
  5. Passella is a new company which distills organic rose geranium oil for use in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Small-scale farmers will receive extension services, inputs and a market. The initiative has the potential to expand to include other oils.This is a completely new idea for Zimbabwe, using plants which can easily be grown by small-scale farmers and sold for good revenues given the high value of the final product. As a certified and registered essential oils trader who can legally trade locally and export regionally and internationally, Passella is uniquely placed to lead Zimbabwe in developing this new sector.

How will the TechnoServe Zimbabwe office support the five winning businesses?

The five winning businesses will receive $50,000 per business. The businesses also receive a tailored technical assistance package valued at $10,000 which will be coordinated by TechnoServe, and delivered both by TechnoServe and by local and international service providers and consultants, depending on the needs of the business.

What lessons have you learned from Agro Innovation Zimbabwe that can benefit the country’s development?

The agriculture sector in Zimbabwe is hugely underfunded, as banks are hesitant to give out loans.  The result has been stunted growth in the sector, and unfortunately this affects small-scale farmers most severely as they have no collateral to offer when they approach banks for loans.By working with medium-sized Zimbabwean businesses which engage and create jobs or opportunities for small farmers, especially through contract farming or outgrower models, AIZ helps ensure financial access and guaranteed markets for small-scale farmers.

The partnerships being promoted by AIZ are key to the growth of the economy considering the historical economic significance of the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe and industries which depend on the agriculture sector. It is therefore important to speed up the evolution of models engaging smallholder farmers and assisting them to play a meaningful role in the economy.

Some of the ideas that were identified through Agro Innovation Zimbabwe exposed initiatives that were lying dormant but have the potential to change lives significantly in the rural areas. The identification and promotion of these innovative ideas can stimulate other Zimbabweans to consider new approaches to agribusiness.

As the AIZ Administrator, I learned a lot about the undulating agricultural sector in Zimbabwe, its past, present and the huge potential inherent for the future. I had the privilege of perusing each page of all the applications submitted, a process which made me read through a lot of exciting ideas which can transform the sector if the innovations are implemented.