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The volunteer that I became

In the Netherlands, 5 July 2020

Whenever I find myself free, I look for something meaningful that I can do with my time. In the past I have taken up studies for personal development. But this time, I decided to volunteer at a farm. Not just any farm, but one that believes in regenerating the soils, biodiversity and other environmental assets. This way I help advance what I really care about, while also learning from some of the best farmers in the world.

In the Netherlands it can be hard to find the right connections especially if you don’t speak Dutch. But thanks to Yvo who I never met in person but only on a Facebook group for expats. He connected me to Corneel of the Buitenverwachting farm. A farm in Dutch is called boerderij. This was after close to seven months of writing to farms directly and getting no replies.

The day I started was like a test of my resolve. That Saturday was so rainy and windy that as I unlocked my bicycle to set off, a flush of doubt tempted me to go back into the comfort of my apartment. But knowing what this opportunity means for me, I forcefully pushed the bike off the veranda and into the rain. The boerderij was some six something kilometres out of Leiden city where I stay. I was determined to get there on time to give the right impressions. But a delay at a bridge that was is also a crossing point for boats plus stops to check googlemap for directions. I kept pedaling like a mad man, until my thighs were numb.

Corneel, his father and mother were there when I arrived, three minutes off the mark. They were all very warm people. They received me very well. We sat in what looked like a kitchen table. Corneel’s father sat across the table from me, in a dark orange jersey with a big hole, or torn on the side. His long hair looked like dry grass flattened by strong winds of summertime. He told me he was a 5th generation farmer on the boerderij, a venture which started in the 1800s. His sons had already picked-up the boerderij business. In the same way, knowledge has been passed between generations, while each generation has sought to improve from the one before. Continuous improvement is perhaps one of the reasons why the Dutch have the second largest (from the USA) agriculture exports, worth $100 billion per year of late. Now farmers like Corneel and his father are championing what I believe is agriculture of the future – regenerative farming. This is because the future is about rebuilding our natural environment to ensure that it continues to sustain us, and not degrading and depleting it.

Image may contain: sky, tree, grass, outdoor and nature
Boerderij Buitenverwachting

A few years ago, Boerderij Buitenverwachting decided to take up regenerative farming. The farm mainly specializes in dairy, producing organic or biologische milk which they sell through their cooperative of organic farmers. They also produce small livestock like goats, sheep, pigs, chickens (kippen) and turkeys (hans) closer to their house. Also close to the house is a food forest where various fruits and vegetables grow, all mixed-up in a fashion that mimics a natural forest, which thrives on diversity and replenishing the ecosystem. Being regenerative at Buitenverwachting also means no use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or GMOs. For example if a cow falls sick, they can save it by using chemicals but they separate it from the rest and once it is healthy again they sell it to conventional boerderijs.

As Corneel says, their Boerderij is not for supplying more of the same, but a diversity of products – milk, fruits, grass-fed meats, vegetables and others. And to ensure that they diversify income streams and remain viable, they also have a farm shop and a camping site on the farm. They also host events on some Saturdays where people buy lunch, and products from their shop. I liked the milk vending machine which stood there by the roadside as if abandoned. Yet that is where any passerby can just throw one euro cent in and get a litre of organic milk. Wonderful isn’t it?

This was only the start of what I see as a long journey of learning and searching for meaning. My vision is to set up a regenerative farming school at a small 10ha plot that I am leasing-to-buy in Zimbabwe. Some day, that plot of land shall become a center of excellence, where farmers from Zimbabwe and beyond can learn how to bring back the abundance of our mother earth.

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Could intergenerational acrimony be the blockage to sustainable development?

Despite all the benefits of early succession planning in a family farm or other business or even a country’s political area, leaders fail to act on time. As a result for many businesses the time of death of the founder also means the death of the business. If we dream of sustainable businesses and development in developing countries, fixing the generational relations lies at the heart of of the problem.

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Covid19 could be a turning point in Africa’s development pathway

Ubanisation has lost its charm

The corona virus pandemic has exposed how broken our system of development and progress is. The pandemic hit hardest the biggest commercial hubs of the world-with their large population densities and global connections. In Africa, Egypt and South Africa bear the highest cases being the economic giants. Yet we refuse to see anything wrong with a development model that concentrate economic activity and people in small living spaces.

But in Africa, there is an awakening. Lockdowns have shown us how urbanisation is failing, especially with rising food prices and unemployment. Even before corona virus, it was clear that the gap between rural life and jobless urban areas is reducing. Increasingly entrepreneurial youth are turning to the countryside to start farming as a business. The African Development Bank estimates that by 2030, agriculture will be a US$1 trillion business. That is why I do not believe that the past trend of rapid urbanization will continue. Instead it will reverse. Meaning that we must rethink the vision for future prosperity. Progress will no longer be about skyscrapers, but by a prosperous countryside, based on regenerating land ecosystems, infrastructure, economic activity and people’s aspirations.

Urban industrialisation is running out of steam

The colonial regimes in Africa built cities as industrial hubs. These hubs were prioritised for all services such as electricity, good roads, airports to name but a few. So, they became places of opportunity. In a linear fashion, they sucked up human resources from the countryside to work in industries fuelled by Western investors. Agriculture became a symbol of lack of progress. We got comfortable that we can bridge food shortages with imports in a globalized world, by rail, air cargo and sea in a few days. But when trade routes closed due to the corona virus, a health crisis morphed into a scramble for food!

Now there is extraordinarily little western investment coming into Africa. Based on UNCTAD data, the share of FDI into Sub Saharan Africa has been a paltry and going down for decades. The industries are not growing as fast. More youth possess high level education but are stuck in jobless cities. All they face is food shortages, declining economies and faltering service provision especially water, electricity and sanitation. Is the countryside not a better choice then?

What we saw in the run-up to lockdowns suggests that urbanisation is on the decline rather than upward. Most travel routes in Zimbabwe, in South Africa and in Nigeria were full of travellers opting to spend lockdown in the countryside than barren cities.  This was not the case a decade ago. Cities used to be places of refuge from hunger and drudgery of the rural settings.

Models based on rapid urbanisation are faulty 

One may argue that people’s behaviour during the covid19 crisis do not suggest a future trend. But the trend has been happening even before the pandemic. More people are realizing the vulnerability of urban life and are turning to the countryside to invest in food production. It is also becoming a copying mechanism to develop alternative livelihood. But for many it’s a business opportunity. The African diaspora is also awakening to the potential of neglected rural areas, especially for food production. Even manufacturing businesses are choosing the countryside, especially peri-urban areas for lower costs and a cleaner environment.  Investments in the countryside including rural agriculture will draw unemployed youths from cities into the countryside, reversing the trends of urbanisation of the past decades.

Rethink development- a new pathway needed

While cities will remain major areas of demand for food, projections by organisations such as Ellen MacArthur Foundation that 80% of the world’s food will be eaten in cities by 2050 does not hold for Africa. Africa is unlikely to sustain the levels of urbanisation seen in western countries. Partly because of the impacts of crises like the corona virus and related economic recessions but largely because the fuel behind industrial African hubs has already dried. Instead, African countries are likely to follow a bimodal growth in the next 2 decades courtesy of an untapped countryside.

Therefore, instead of preparing for bigger cities, African countries must prepare for the consequences of the opposite trend on rural land and natural resources. Focus must also be on rural areas infrastructure to support the investments. Yes, cities will continue to present large aggregated demand for food, but the vision of prosperity in Africa should not be built upon growing power of urban areas. Because they will not continue to grow exponentially as envisaged. Rather, prosperity will depend on what African countries will do to manage its land and natural resources to produce and trade in food, restore ecosystem services and adapt to climate change.

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Zimbabwe’s Work In IB Features On WBCSD Websitehttp://www.inclusivebusiness.org.zw/zimbabwe’s-work-ib-features-wbcsd-website


In early September 2014, the Inclusive Business Forum of Zimbabwe hosted a workshop for some 50 people in Harare. The workshop provided insights into some interesting ongoing inclusive business projects being implemented in the country by a handful of organizations. Participants heard about progress, achievements, challenges and lessons learnt to date. The companies also discussed the economic and social benefits of inclusive business for both their company and for their partners in the low-income communities.
The Inclusive Business Forum is a collaboration between SNV Zimbabwe, the Business Council for Sustainable Development Zimbabwe (BCSDZ) and RCSR with the generous support of the Ford Foundation. It is administered by the BCSDZ.
The workshop was chaired by Mr. Elton Mudyazvivi, Agriculture Sector Leader for SNV Zimbabwe. The latter has worked with some of the organizations concerned, providing technical and/or financial assistance in terms of their Inclusive Business Scan and/or Capacity Building Grant facilities. Since August 2012, over 45 scan applications have been received; over 25 feasibility studies have been successfully completed (potential outreach is estimated at over 50,000 low-income households); and 11 pilot grants have been awarded in a variety of sectors.
Herewith a brief summary of the five presentations held at the workshop.
– Innovation for problem solving: by Mrs Jenny Wall, Managing Director, My Pads Zimbabwe
My Pads have designed a high quality washable and reusable cloth sanitary pad to meet the needs of low‐income women and rural school girls. The pads are manufactured locally and distributed for sale via sales agents working within low‐income communities. My Pads also provide training on menstrual hygiene. My Pads have been successful with product design, quality standards approval and manufacturing. They are trying to obtain more distributors and sales agents within low‐income communities and micro‐finance opportunities are being investigated.
– Commercializing sweet‐potato production: by Mr. Morestaff Chibanda, Managing Director, SimFresh
Simfresh is an international agribusiness firm focused on the development of smallholder and emerging farmers. The company engages with all major stakeholders at all stages of the fresh produce production chain. Simfresh’s business model emphasizes the importance of capacity building, training and mentorship. Challenges include changing the mindsets of the farmers in terms of types and varieties of sweet potatoes to ensure market suitability, and breaking through into the local market as new players. Achievements are ongoing and include improved trust among partners, support to farmers through capacity building, higher yields, processing of by‐products, better knowledge of the markets, and the strengthening of policies that protect small holder farmers.
– Think outside the bottle: Mr. Tawanda Masuka, Chief Operating Officer, Petrecozim
The PET Recycling Company of Zimbabwe (Petrecozim) focusses on post‐consumer collection and recycling of Polyethylene Terephalate (PET) bottles. Petrecozim have incorporated low income communities into their supply chain as waste vendors or waste harvesters. Taking the inclusive business approach allowed Petrecozim to look at their business model differently. Through access to a wider network of suppliers, they have identified a reliable and steady supply of raw material. The waste vendors are benefitting from training, protective equipment, collection site branding, infrastructure support and awareness campaigns on waste recycling.
– Waste Management Enterprises Establishment: Miss Teresa Mungazi, Business & Biodiversity Officer, Environment Africa
One of Environment Africa’s goals is to promote action and awareness on waste management in Zimbabwe. Miss Mungazi provided some background on the waste situation in Zimbabwe and the motivation to assist low-income communities to establish waste management enterprises. Environment Africa have provided training on waste management and business management to 10 community groups. Start‐up funding is to be allocated to the enterprises that meet the criteria developed by Environment Africa. Assistance is also given in the form of business mentorship and business incubators (including networking platforms, exhibitions, market linkages, assistance in compliance with national legislation).
– The Milkzim inclusive business model (video presentation):
As part of their Dairy Zone Project with small‐scale dairy farmers in Domboshava, Milkzim have adopted the inclusive business approach for the distribution and retail of their milk products. To date over 100 vendors from low‐income communities have been trained as Nutrition Network Officers (NNOs) on how to handle and sell milk efficiently and hygienically according to food regulatory standards. The NNOs purchase Merilac fermented milk from Milkzim’s wholesale outlet in Harare and sell individual packets to consumers living in various high density, low income suburbs in Harare.
Opportunities for questions and discussions were provided at the end of each presentation. These sessions led to lively discussions on topics such as the uptake of the SNV inclusive business program, the socio‐economic impact of these types of ventures, micro‐finance challenges, capacity building and training.
The workshop was closed by the Chairman, Mr. Elton Mudyazvivi, with a vote of thanks to the organizers, presenters and participants. It was agreed that inclusive business is a viable business model for the country – it fits in with the economic recovery strategies for Zimbabwe and provides great win‐win opportunities for companies, small scale operators and low-income communities. Mr. Mudyazvivi also encouraged companies to seek advice and guidance from SNV on implementing new projects or on scaling up existing activities.
For more information on inclusive business activities in Zimbabwe please go to www.inclusivebusiness.org.zw or check out the Twitter feeds @IBZimbabwe and visit this blog http://ibzimbabwe.blogspot.ch/
To view this article go to http://www.wbcsd.org/Pages/eNews/eNewsDetails.aspx?ID=16319&NoSearchCont
The Workshop also features on the IB Forum Newsletter which can be found on this website.

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Making agricultural demonstrations work


The case of raising smallholder banana production in Zimbabwe

A livelihoods study by SNV in 2007 concluded that it was possible to increase the income of banana producers four-fold by increasing productivity and quality per acre grown by the average household. To take up this method, a robust and effective method of transforming the mindset and practices of farmers was needed. This is the story of how SNV used demonstrations, complemented by other innovative approaches not only to deliver agronomic skills but also to motivate the adoption of best practices in the principal banana producing communities of Zimbabwe.

Author: Elton Mudyazvivi
Organization: SNV Netherlands Development Organisation
Year: 2010
Country/ies: Zimbabwe
Geographical coverage: Africa
Content language: English
Type: Case study
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How you can facilitate investments in specific value chains

Today, millions of smallholders remain excluded from global food value chains due to limited capacity of available infrastructure. Availability of relevant infrastructure is a key enabler to put smallholders in line to be considered for the ever more dynamic food markets of today. However, due to remoteness of most smallholder farm locations, accessing more rewarding markets has so far remained a pipe dream. But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The hope could lie in a simple tool called “business case”. Its a simple, yet most powerful tool I have encountered in my years of development work.

The business case is simply the reason for investment. Its the “what-is-in-it-for-me” piece that comes before investors put in their money. If you are clear what the business opportunity is, for who and you are able to say something about the return on investment then you are on track. I know its powerful because on the basis of it, whether written or unwritten, detailed or simple, millions have ended up being invested in some of the remotest villages you can think of. I have in mind the mines in Katanga, DRC.

As a hypothetical case, you may find that the Southern Highlands of Tanzania which is arguably the agricultural basket of Tanzania with over a million farm  households loses a lot of corn grain due to post harvest loses. Despite productivity having risen, incomes have not followed suit because the farmers cant tap into a huge corn grain market in Southern  and East Africa, especially in years of drought as in 2016. However, they have no potential to benefit from such demand as they have no access to proper storage facilities that can preserve their maize’s quality to meet international standards of aflatoxins and insect infestation. While many taunt farmer-owned and operated warehouses, I believe the way to go is to attract more private sector to invest in improved infrastructure such as silos which are much more designed to preserve the quality of the grain without the abuse of grain storage chemicals that is growing rampant. So here are the steps you would need to take to get going:

  • carry out a detailed study of the cross-border or regional value chain you aim tap into. Understand who wants how much of the product, with which quality standards and timing. All this at what price? Don’t forget logistics.
  • From volumes of your study, develop a maximum two page business case.    It should include both the big picture opportunity in the corn sector as well as specific investment opportunity for example installation of a state-of-the-art storage facility to aggregate and serve regional markets. The costs should be clear just as the supply (from the farms) should demonstrably be adequate and feasible. The target markets from the value chain study need to be there as well.  Just by comparing costs against profits over a specific time horizon, estimate a ROI. This is the language that investors can decipher well. Its highly likely that you will need to pitch the business case to a number of potential investors which is good, but don’t make the mistake of carrying the same case to each of these. Its best to customize it to the specific potential investor.
  • Besides going the direct route, that is through private investors, which maybe challenging in some environments where there are no strong private sector with capacity to invest, you can try the indirect avenue. This is through development finance institutions who include bilateral donors (for example EU), commercial private sector (commercial banks, corporate responsibility arms of companies), multi-lateral donors (such as the World Bank, global funds), NGOs (local and international) and private philanthropy (Ford Foundation comes to mind). With this indirect approach you need to have, as part of your business case, potential investee enterprises with demonstrable commitment to co-invest.

This is just the initial steps. To get even a few thousand dollars invested in a project takes more than these steps. But it is these initial steps at which most dreams fail. Get the courage and patience to understand the opportunity and articulate it well and with sufficient detail to give others confidence. By Elton Mudyazvivi. 15 April 2016


Posted in Small Producer Organisations

Practical guide for SPOs begining to supply companies with horticultural products

Guidelines for Small Producer Organisations initiating supplies to formal companies


managing quality is as important as growing the crop

Most companies have a notion that small producers lack the capacity of reliability, volumes and quality. For this reason, it is extremely important to do things right when the opportunity arises. This guide is meant to help SPOs in planning and executing the early stages of a supply relationship with a company. Recommendations may vary from one product to another but the checklist nevertheless remains useful across many horticultural products. This checklist was developed using banana as reference point. It is assumed that an SPO would have made contact with the company and agreed to do business.

 In preparation

  1. Confirm purchase through an order  (written) which gives description of goods, quantity, price, dates among others
  2.   Know where (place) to deliver
  3. Agree with the company on payment modalities e.g. bank deposit, cash, cheque
  4. Be sure of the quality standards in practice (an example of banana quality specifications is attached)
  5. Mobilise farmers and explain the market, quality, prices, payment terms among others
  6. Appoint local area coordinators to collect information on expected supply per collection point and check for quality before farmers harvest
  7. Demonstrate acceptable quality standards to all farmers involved to avoid disappointing them on collection day
  8. Site collection centres as convenient to farmers as possible
  9. Remember: usually smaller quantities cost more per unit to transport than larger tonnages e.g. a if you hire a 10ton truck to carry 6tons, it costs you 20cents more in transport costs than if you carry 10tons
  10. Remember: in planning quantity, underestimate the tonnage given by farmers (by more than 30%) until you are sure they understand the unit of measurement very well.
  11. Those who are outside the association can sell through members of the SPO
  12. Plan the routing of transport in such a way as to minimise distance between collection centres.
  13. Remember leaving out collection centres with too small quantities can save on transportation costs per unit and reduce quality. It can also save costs to concentrate fewer collection points per sale
  14. Notify farmers the times which the transport will be at their collection point and the time at which they should start harvesting (usually afternoon of the day before collection).

 During collection of the produce

  1. At farm level, encourage members (farmers) to work in pairs (usually neighbours) to harvest the right quality and preserve it.
  2. Check for quality, weigh each farmers load and record these per farmer at collection points.
  3. If not already delivered, packaging material should come with the transport
  4. Its better to transport produce by night when temperatures are lower to preserve quality
  5. The cycle of bananas should not be more than 3 days from harvest to delivery at the market without refrigeration
  6. Have enough people to load produce (few people will end up throwing produce carelessly)  
  7. Remember: its better to sell a kg of quality produce than to send tons  of unacceptable quality

 Post delivery period

  1. Maintain transparency with the buyer on any challenges you are facing, or even asking to have a break of supplies to rectify the problems
  2. After receiving payment, agree on a suitable /convenient payment system to famers (if not already agreed before shipment)
  3. If there are any delays in payment or downgrading of product, explain it to farmers
  4. Do not deduct levies too early from the proceeds of farmers to build their confidence
  5. Call a meeting of collection centre representatives and those who were involved in the bulking and delivery process and undertake a review of the whole process
  6. Come out with corrective measures / areas of improvement
  7. Remember to aim for continuous improvements in quality, quantity and reliability over time.

Atachment: General quality specifications for bananaa include:

C       Banana must be whole, fresh and firm in appearance and of superior quality

C       Must be free from blemishes and marks, as well as crown rot and cracks

C       All bananas must be received as full hands, no individual bananas.

C       Must be in box/bin containing uniform coloured bananas, and eventually packed in 18kg crates

C        Banana that have reached maturity stage to ensure the fruit remains firm during the desired distribution period

C       Minimum length size is 120 to 250 mm

C       Minimum width size is 25 to 40 mm