Current organization: Agasha Group Limited
Fellows assignment: Analyzing productivity of honey in Gorongosa, Mozambique, 2008
Why did you apply to the TechnoServe Fellows Program?
Sharon's Fellows experience in three words: hands-on, entrepreneurial, foundation for my success.
I was looking for an experience to utilize the skills I obtained during my Student Entrepreneurship Project at EARTH University. My desire was to volunteer in sub-Saharan Africa to share my knowledge, learn more about the industry and influence my decision on what to do after my studies. I connected with two EARTH alumni who had volunteered with TechnoServe Mozambique, and they shared their experiences with me. I was motivated by how much they were able to help and learn from the Mozambican farmers in just three months. After speaking with the Country Director to learn more, I decided to apply to the program. Luckily enough, I was accepted to volunteer in Mozambique.
What was your experience like on the ground?
It was a learning, sharing and life-changing experience right from the start. I joined a very interesting team in Gorongosa that easily accepted me into their networks. My supervisor, Alexandre Negrao, was such a great, if tough, teacher. He prepared me to learn and develop relationships with the smallholder farmers so that I could better understand their lifestyles and communicate with them more effectively. It was my first time living in a community where they depended on what they could forage from the wild in order to eat.
How has the program impacted you and your career?
I’m thankful for my supervisor, who insisted that I take field trips. It was during my field work that I met Verinijo Simajani, a honeybee farmer who kept pots of honey around his hut. With few buyers nearby, he lost close to 5,000 liters of honey annually. He shared with me the difficulties of selling and marketing his produce. Verinijo traveled to nearby towns and spent two to three days looking for customers, all while spending money on transport, accommodation and meals. He would leave his honey with customers but they would occasionally take some and top off the cans with water, lowering the quality of his product and hurting his customer base. One solution was to find reliable customer contacts to reduce the cost of finding clients while in town and to save time. This experience was the basis for my establishment of AgaSha Group, which has developed different Agribusiness Directories with the contacts of key stakeholders along the agricultural value chain in order to strengthen networks and boost sales.
Where are you now?
I am the founder and CEO of AgaSha Group, which works in six East African countries - Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Burundi – and will soon expand to South Sudan. I decided to become a social entrepreneur and develop a business with direct, positive impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
What advice would you give someone applying to the program?
Have a positive attitude – logistics such as program activities and location can change and should be considered learning opportunities that may bring greater impact to the community. While I was initially brought on for a banana project, the timing did not work out, so my supervisor recommended I do the honey study. Of course, I was concerned about the change, but it later became the golden opportunity for me to meet Verinijo and, with help, led to the creation of AgaSha.
Additionally, understand and accept the fact that you are in a developing country. Managing project schedules that depend on input from local partners can be challenging, and environmental conditions may not always be favorable. Finally, respect and interact with the locals. They are the best teachers for you to obtain a meaningful experience.