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Growing Prosperity in African Agriculture
January 16, 2015

Hundreds of YALI Network members joined a Facebook chat about how to make farming more productive and profitable in Africa with Madison Ayer. Ayer is the chairman and chief executive officer of Honey Care Africa, a successful honey production and distribution value chain. He is helping beekeepers create sustainable and productive enterprises in Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania.

Small retail shop with items on shelves and customers browsing (Madison Ayer)
The Farm Shop gives growers reliable access to the supplies they need to produce a crop.

Ayer’s strategy for successful farming is that growers must make accurate calculations of production requirements and outputs they’ll deliver at harvest. Achieving precision in tracking those accounts will allow them to evolve from smallholder enterprises to successful commercial businesses.

“Without the right seeds, fertilizers, and other tools, smallholder farmers stand little chance of producing a sufficient harvest,” said Ayer. “However, with access to the right products and methods, smallholder farmers can become very successful. The farmers must view it as a real business, not just an uninspiring activity.”

The perception of farming as an unappealing way to make a living is apparently hurting the advancement of agriculture in Africa. While some network members questioned the meager livings and small rewards reaped by today’s African farmers, Ayer calls agriculture “an exciting and successful livelihood.” He’s working with African youth groups to convey that message.

“We present a modern customer experience, conduct trainings about modern methods, demonstrate new technologies, and teach about other aspects of agribusiness,” Ayer said. “This is successful because it presents farming as an exciting livelihood with potential to make a good income through modern business.”

Ayer discussed the future of agriculture with an engaged and informed audience. A YALI Network member identified with a livestock operation endorsed Ayer’s recommendations for African farmers to rush into the future.

“It is time we embraced innovative, formal and value-adding approaches/practices if we are to think of and realize significant progress in our naturally-endowed agro advantages and prowess as a continent,” wrote a YALI member associated on Facebook with ZamGoats Product Innovation.

But getting started in a productive enterprise takes money. Probably the most frequently asked question in the Facebook chat: “Where do I get the start-up capital?”

Ayer has heard that question a lot. Besides helping beekeepers get started, he also works with Farm Shop, a social enterprise devoted to helping farmers access commodities and supplies they need to increase productivity and expand their enterprises.

“You can first inquire about whether there are local government grant programs that could support your start-up,” Ayer responded to the finance question. “There may also be NGOs operating in your areas that would be interested to support the start-up of your venture. Many private foundations offer grants to small organizations and are becoming increasingly interested in agribusiness as a livelihood opportunity.”

Raising the money to get started is the obvious problem, but Ayer urged small farmers to pay attention to something they might overlook. Are you sure the customer wants what you’re producing?

“Do not assume you know what they want. You have to speak to many of them, and really listen,” Ayer advised. “Ask open-ended questions about what challenges they are facing, or concerns they have, or what they feel is missing in their lives.”

Find out what the customer wants, find a way you can deliver it, and you’ve made a loyal customer, Ayer advises.

Identifying the specific demands in every step of your production process is the best way to successfully ensure that you will be able to deliver the product your customer wants.

“Before launching any project or business, it’s important to research whether the raw materials for production are readily available, how the infrastructure of transportation, storage, and packaging is developed; and to fully understand the possible markets for the product.”

Packaging design may not be a farmer’s strongest skill, but that’s another important detail in the delivery process, Ayer said, if your product is going to stand out from the competition.

By paying attention to each of the these details, by imposing standards of accountability and traceability, Ayer says an agricultural producer will also be able to insure product quality is maintained. Certainty and quality at every step allows the farmer to offer a consumer his product with pride and assurance.