Growth: a simple word that in a few weeks can determine the vitality of a plant, ecosystem or business. Constance Munyenyembe, Malawi’s coordinator of the Africa Agribusiness Academy, knows that without a viable agriculture system, communities will fail to grow. Constance has developed her love of nature through her many adventures. One being the two-day trip she took through Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique that became the catalyst for her current profession. In her position as coordinator, she wants to highlight many of the opportunities agribusiness can have for young people, a field that can shape the lives of millions.
Food security, one of the many objectives Constance strives for, is something she believes many young people need and an issue they should get involved with. In order for countries to be food secure, they need to improve agricultural production, strengthen the resilience of their agricultural sector to help guard against shocks that could lead to famine, and work with farmers and ranchers to increase their capacity. Agripreneurs, as they’re called, are shaped by organizations like the Africa Agribusiness Academy and people like Constance Munyenyembe. “Food is life,” she tends to say as a way to reaffirm her message: Feeding people is important.
Not only do Constance and the team at AAA design effective ways to produce goods, but they also focus on how to use business techniques in order to market and sell those viable products.
Learn what skills are needed to be an agripreneur — and how Constance is changing the narrative about the booming agribusiness industry — by listening to the YALI Voices podcast or reading the transcript below.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: CONSTANCE MUNYENYEMBE
CONSTANCE: Food is life. There are so many opportunities in agribusiness. If you find the right, if you have the passion for it, if you find the right problem and, you know, the right solution, as I said, you cannot, people cannot go without food.
My name is Constance Munyenyembe, I’m from Malawi, and I work in agribusiness.
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com to stay up to date on all things YALI.
As a young girl, Constance was a traveler. Born in Malawi, raised in Botswana, and a university student in Namibia, she credits her travels for developing her love of nature, especially in her native Malawi. It’s what sparked her interest in agriculture and led to her current work as Malawi’s country coordinator at the Africa Agribusiness Academy.
Constance wants young African leaders to know that there are many opportunities in the business of agriculture for skilled professionals.
CONSTANCE: My father always, he had five girls, but he always wanted us to grow up with a good education, good job. He always used to tell us that you are sitting in my house, but don’t think that everything in your house is yours. You have to do better than me. You have to, you know, be independent when you’re grown up, so I mean, looking at myself right now, I’ve got the education, you know, I’m independent, I don’t rely on my parents so much. And, yeah, the way he ran the house has really shaped me into who I am today.
Yes, so, yeah, I’m a daughter of a lawyer and a teacher, but I didn’t really, I wasn’t really interested in being a lawyer. I found myself being a teacher assistant, which I loved. I’m also a Sunday school teacher, which I like. But then in terms of my profession, it’s not something that I had passion for.
I studied a bachelor of business administration. It’s not really agriculture, but I remember when I was going back home, I actually drove from Botswana going to Malawi, so it’s like almost a two days’ drive. So you have to drive through Botswana, from Botswana going into, into Zimbabwe, then Mozambique, then Malawi. And when I got to Malawi, I just loved the nature, looking at, you know, the ground, the type of fertile soil that it has. And I just felt like there were so many opportunities in terms of agriculture, agribusiness, and, um, when I had the opportunity to, to get a job in agribusiness that can kind of allow me to help those entrepreneurs in agribusiness, I took that opportunity and that chance. And I’ve seen, like through my work and what I do, I’m really helping out and trying to make a difference in my profession.
I’m a country coordinator for a non-for-profit. It’s called Africa Agribusiness Academy. So, um, as a coordinator I organize different events, which help the members, entrepreneurs in agribusiness who, where we provide capacity building, trainings for them, trainings in different aspects of business, how to, how to improve their business skills, like in finance and marketing, in branding and packaging and so many other aspects. I also help organize different events where they’re able to find networking opportunities, marketing opportunities for the products within Malawi as well as outside.
So, the organization is based in six African countries — Malawi being one, then we have Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. So we try to connect members in Malawi with those members who are outside. In that way they’re able to coach and mentor one another. They’re able to, you know, to share experiences, to help each other in the businesses. You find that someone in Malawi is able to learn from someone in Ethiopia in terms of technology and what best practices they can utilize for their businesses.
There are a lot of opportunities for young people in agribusiness. I can give an example. One of the events that I conduct, it’s, uh, we attend the National Agriculture Fair in Malawi, so when we have a stall, we’ve got young people who are coming from universities which provide agricultural courses. And most of the question is how can I grow my agribusiness or how can I start? Maybe they have, like, an idea, but they don’t know how to, how to, you know, scale it up. So, looking at our network in terms of the members, our members are small and medium enterprises.
So we try to provide, like, coaching sessions for these, these young people who have that passion, to help them, like, to scale up the businesses. So there are a lot of opportunities in agribusiness. Agribusiness has got so many sectors within it. We are talking about fruit and vegetable, poultry, dairy, there’s the honey industry. So, I mean, the nation, people cannot go without food. So I mean agribusiness has got so many opportunities in terms of markets. You just have to know how to find the right problem within agribusiness, find the right solution, and then, you know, and give back to the people.
VOICEOVER: In order for countries to be food secure, they need to improve agricultural production, strengthen the resilience of their agricultural sector to help guard against shocks that could lead to famine, and work with farmers and ranchers to increase their capacity. We asked Constance why it’s important for young professionals to contribute to the efforts to achieve food security. She also shares an example of how the Africa Agribusiness Academy is helping agripreneurs find their place along the agricultural value chain and how a farming cooperative works.
CONSTANCE: Well, I think it’s important for young people to engage in agribusiness, because as I said before, food is life. You know, people cannot go without food. I know a lot of young people who feel that agriculture is boring because they think they have to go to a farm and start, you know, tilling the land and all that. But then looking at agriculture and agribusiness, there are two different aspects. Agriculture is basically you going to the land and tilling and milking and stuff. Agribusiness is basically taking agriculture skills but making it more commercial, turning it into a business aspect. So you can be an entrepreneur in agribusiness, have the knowledge, but then you can also work with farmers, the people who are actually on the ground who do the actual work. And basically, as a young person, if you have the passion for entrepreneurship, you have the passion for business, you can utilize your skills to help those farmers and then turn your idea into a business, yeah, setting.
So, in our organization we provide training for entrepreneurs in agribusiness — trainings on finance, trainings on marketing, trainings on branding and packaging, and other different trainings which help them to add value to the products that they gain from farmers.
So, I can give an example. We’ve got some of our members who are in the honey production, so they have the farmers basically getting the honey, and the entrepreneur is the one who kind of processes it. So they could make, like, maybe honey sweets or honey cakes or something that is a product from the honey itself.
So we help our members in terms of how to produce those products in an efficient and effective manner. We also help them to brand, like how they can learn to brand the product, what kind of right packaging would be ideal for the consumer.
OK, we are, right now we are working with small and medium enterprises. We don’t have a lot of young entrepreneurs in agribusiness because young people don’t really find agribusiness or agriculture, like, an interesting aspect. But one of our criterias for an entrepreneur to join AAA is that they should be able to link the farmers to the market. So already, that entrepreneur is already working with a specific number of farmers. So what we do is we help them grow their business, so the more they’ll grow, the more they’ll need more farmers. So the farmers that they are already kind of working with have, like, cooperatives.
So if any entrepreneur needs more farmers, they go to the farmers that they have right now and they kind of, like, talk to the other farmers that are within those cooperatives. So in that way, they’re able to work with more farmers, they’re able to help more farmers, you know, to connect them to the market that they’re working with.
So a cooperative is kind of a grouping of farmers who kind of produce the same product. For example, say you have farmers who are producing soya beans or farmers who are producing bananas. So they kind of, like, come together. It’s like they’re helping each other grow the product, they’re helping each other find the right seeds for the product, they’re helping each other, you know, how to finance what they get from the produce.
I would say the same skills that one has in terms of running an accounting firm or maybe a lawyer firm is basically the same skills in agribusiness. It’s all about learning how to finance your business properly, learning how to market your product, learning how to brand and package it. Yeah, and it’s all about developing leadership skills. And that’s what Africa Agribusiness Academy is all about. It’s basically helping an entrepreneur to scale up the business and also helping them work with the farmer, you know, connecting them to the market.
CONSTANCE: There are quite a number of challenges that farmers face in Malawi, looking at the climate, we had a drought in the past years, so it’s been hard for farmers to grow the right product and to produce enough, especially those within the maize field, because we had a shortage of maize at one time, and this also caused a lot of hunger in the country in certain regions of the country. We believe that we can reach the farmer in an indirect way, especially through the entrepreneur. We’ve got many of our members who are working with farmers, so they try to, you know, to help the farmer, you know, to have best practices for the farmer.
People need food. People need food in terms of getting the right nutritions. They need food. You know, it’s a basic necessity. So you cannot go wrong in agribusiness. All you have to do is find the right problem and find the right solution because from that, you’ll be able to, you know, sell your products. You don’t need to be on the ground, you know, tilling the land or milking some cow for you to be in agribusiness. It’s all about having the right business skills, working with the farmer and helping them make the right produce and then, you know, adding value to the product and selling it to the market.
I think it starts from the entrepreneur, having the right leadership skills. And then from there, helping the young people, you know, look for the right kind of farmers and how they can help the farmer make the right product.
CONSTANCE: So my next step in the organization is working with the young people. So we want to work with those young people who are at the startup stage and who have an idea but do not know how. So the next service that we will provide is for those young people, like how they can start their agribusiness, how they can scale up to getting to a small and medium and how to get to a larger company, because there’s so much unemployment in Malawi, there’s so much even in the other countries that we’re based. There’s also food shortages. So we believe if we have the youth getting into agribusiness, we can help, you know, we can help reduce the hunger and reduce the unemployment rates in our countries.
VOICEOVER: Thank you, Constance. To learn more about the Africa Agribusiness Academy, visit aa-academy.org. That’s a-a dash a-c-a-d-e-m-y dot o-r-g.
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