Gcina Dlamini, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Eswatini, discovered his passion for agriculture at a young age. In high school, Gcina recalls creating a small backyard garden where he would grow vegetables and fruits using seedlings he received from his agricultural program at school. Soon his small garden turned into a small business and Gcina began selling his produce to members of his community. According to Gcina, he gets his love of agriculture from his mother, the primary farmer in his family. She inspired Gcina to pursue a degree in agribusiness management and agricultural economics, his ultimate goal being to add value to his mother’s producing. Gcina’s mother was a successful producer of fruits and vegetables, however Gcnia believed she needed help to market the family farm as a business. This desire to help his mother is partly why Gcina became interested in entrepreneurship and, in 2013, started his own business, Smiling Through Investments (STIN), an agribusiness company specializing in the legume, seed and bean value addition industries.
In this podcast, Gcina discusses the challenges he faced as a young person trying to further develop his business, such as the struggles of gaining capital and access to land. He tells the story of how STIN grew from an idea into an internationally recognized company, receiving several prominent grants and awards. Gcina also offers advice for other young entrepreneurs interested in a career in agribusiness and shares his hopes for STIN’s future, and the future of agribusiness in Africa.
“As part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, I’ve been really empowered,” Gcina says. “I have been challenged to do a lot as I go back to my community. So I’m believing for more support as I’m going to advocate for entrepreneurship through agribusiness development, starting from my community, my country and Africa as a whole.”
Listen to this YALI Voices podcast or read the transcript below.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: GCINA DLAMINI
GCINA: I started in my family when I was growing, doing my primary education, going to school, I studied in agricultural justice, a subject like everyone normally.
And then when I went to high school, that is when the passion, the seed of being an entrepreneur, specifically in agriculture, because I believe you use what you have to get what you don’t have.
So basically I was placed to grow up in a family that was doing agriculture, the farming, especially my mother. She was into agriculture because most of the time she was the one who was at home. My father was working. So she will be doing a lot of the farming. So I caught that farming, that agribusiness in her. I really fell in love with agriculture.
♪ 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.
From his small backyard garden to becoming the co-founder of Smiling Through Investments, an agribusiness company, Gcina Dlamini from Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, has always loved farming. The holder of a bachelor of science degree in agricultural economics and agribusiness management, his company specializes in the legume seed and bean value addition industries. Gcina hopes to change the mindset about farming and agriculture in Africa to one where youth see the potential to bring innovative ideas to agribusiness.
Gcina continues the conversation on how important agriculture was to him as a young child and how it shaped his interests and passions today.
GCINA: So I started doing my small backyard garden after I have seen it at school, getting the seeds at school, seedlings and doing the agriculture program. So I started my small garden at home. Yeah, I was … that small plot, I grew that small plot into a garden. It was growing slowly but surely.
So my mother used to support me and my father to buy me the tools to do the farming and the gardening. So that is how the passion grew. So while I was doing it, while I’m young, the business model mentality it was not there; I was just growing it for the home to have fresh vegetables and fruits all the time.
And then begin to give to the close neighbors and relative. And then people were passing by, because my home is close to the road, they will see those beautiful, fresh vegetables, they will want to buy. So that is when the business started, the mentality to know that I need to sell. I was high school by then. And then luckily I got the chance when I was doing my senior high school to do a program that is done by Junior Achievement, which is an international organization this day in my country. So I was taught business, the business skill, how to start and run a business, record keeping, marketing, the finances. So that is when the seed of entrepreneurship was really planted in me.
I was like any other young person, I was confused, I really didn’t know what I want in life. So I had the dream of being an accountant, because I was doing very well in accounting at school. I even wrote a composition about my story, that when I grow up I want to be a chartered certified accountant.
But the story changed because my mother was inspiring me. I was seeing her doing great work as far as agriculture is concerned. So that really resonated to me and made me to be so challenged when I was about to choose my career going to the university.
I decided to choose agribusiness, to pursue a degree in agribiz management and economics. Solely because I wanted to add value to what my mother was doing, the business side. Because she was doing really great producing, but she really didn’t have the agribiz acumen and how to do it quite very well.
Most of the farming my mother was doing was to feed the family, and then she was also giving to the close relatives. Because she was so kind in terms of if any relative come to visit, she will definitely give them fruits, produce from the farm. So there was not really the business. Yes, people will come and ask to buy, she will sell. But to the pricing strategy, the marketing to see there’s a business, it was not there.
Because the attitude and the culture is agriculture. So there’s no, there’s no … the element of agribusiness is not there, because it’s a different story now. Agribusiness is the business of farming. That is the attitude and the mindset we need to change as African, as the world at large, that agribusiness can be a business; farming can be used as a business.
So that is what inspired me to say, “My mother, yes, is doing great thing, but there is something more. The business of farming — that’s agribusiness.”
GCINA: When I was in college during my second year, that is when I started my company as a co-founder and a CEO of Smiling Through Investment. Making agribusiness simple. I was doing my second year, I did a course on entrepreneurship. So in that course we were asked to form groups, make companies. That is when we started the company as an academic course. But we took it in a higher level, seriously, we say, “I want to take this thing further, beyond college, beyond campus, and pursue it as a business.” One of the biggest challenges when we started that company, we didn’t have any capital, no access to finance. I remember very well, I asked my mother to support me with that finance to start that business, around 100 US dollars.
So we started Smiling Through Investment in 2013, specializing in green mealie production. We used the asset, the farm, and they invested it to produce under one hectare. I didn’t know what to say, only a hectare? Really serious, I never knew that it is a 100 per 100 square meter of land. And it was really huge and big to me, because I was just seeing the fields at home, and I have never known specifically the dimension and the specific in terms of a hectare. So we started with one hectare of green mealies, and then after then we multiplied that money, the small funding we had from my mother, as I said, capital, into three hectares. And then we got an opportunity to produce seeds. Because our country had a challenge of having enough quality seed. Because that is where food security starts: quality seeds. Farmers need to have an access to quality seeds. So we got a project that was running, coordinated by FANRPAN: Food, Agriculture and Policies in Africa Network [Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network]. So we joined the program of community seed production. It was specifically for farmers in the community to produce their own seed to capacitate and ensure that they have quality seed; that’s food security.
So that project really gave us a head start and ensured that it guide us to venture into seed multiplication business to ensure that community farmers have an access to quality seed. That is where we made our story, because we really produce seeds, usually invested to farm three hectares, we invited farmers for a farmers’ field day to show them, to model how real farming practices are being done.
So that is where we started Smiling Through, and after graduating we made it, we formalized and registered the company while we’re still students, and when we go out, we started looking for land, farms, and we continued the business. Challenges were there, but we have overcome them and we’ve strived to be where we are today.
VOICEOVER: Gcina notes that it was financing from his family, specifically his mother, that helped him get his agribusiness off the ground. But it was getting access to land that proved to be a greater challenge than his initial startup capital. He didn’t give up and was ready to move when an opportunity presented itself.
GCINA: It is very challenging for a young person, especially in agriculture in Africa, to get access to land, because the land is being owned by our fathers. As a young person it is not easy to get access to land. I faced many challenges as far as getting access to land is concerned. It have been a big challenge, but it is a matter of starting small, modeling the thing, like I have said earlier on. I started at home with that small backyard garden. And then people were seeing, people were looking from afar. So people will connect you to the right people and will believe in what you are doing.
So after using the university farm as student, it was a right, it was an opportunity. But they really had to come to say, “You need to go out and look for real land to use.” It was a big challenge, securing and getting a good farm. We moved around the government to help us, because most of the farm, they are managed by the government in my country.
Looking for the farm and negotiating with the minister, it was a really long process, challenging, and really stressful to us as young people. So we got one man who trusted us and say, “I have a land. It’s a private farm. I can borrow you. I can allow you to rent it out.” And then we say, “Sure, we can, we really want the land.” And this man had a really lot big of land, more than thousand hectares. He say, “Take as much land as you want. Show me and model to me that you’re really into agribusiness.” And he say it in the first year, “I don’t want to charge you any rent. Model and show me the farming.” So, that really inspired us after the long challenges I’ve faced looking for access to land. So as young people into agriculture, it is the passion more than the ambition that needs to drive us. Challenges are going to be there, testing the quality of our dream and goal, but it’s a matter of pursuing it and looking for what we want. So for now, we are doing and pushing and managing around 29 acres of land and producing seeds, more especially legume seeds, so that we ensure that farmers have an access to quality seed. Looking at the demand of the market, what seeds are demanded, what shortages, and supplying farmers with quality seeds.
GCINA: We have land where we are producing the seed, the crops specifically. So money is not into agriculture, the farming, but it is in agribusiness. A gradual value addition. It is where money is. So, even for us, we started in the production assembling the supply. So, but our main goal was to do value addition, to produce a product that the farmer is ready to use. So from the onset, we’re doing our own value addition. We’ll produce the seed from the farm, from the farm we’ll take it to the warehouse for cleaning. Yes, we’re doing it by hand, it was tedious, it was taking a long time. But slowly but surely we’re growing and getting a number of assets to do it digitally to progress and do it technological. So, as currently we are doing value addition of the seed, packaging it, and the farmers are getting it in the right condition. And even being certified, because seed needs a lot of certification. It needs to be the right quality, like your purity analysis, your germination test. So we are adding value and having a quality seed at the end to compete with big international organization with quality seed, close to the farm, and at an affordable price.
VOICEOVER: Knowing how to manage an agribusiness means utilizing the same skills one would need in leadership, financial, personnel and resource management, says Gcina. Building the right team and having a financial plan will help to weather the ups and downs of any business, particularly in agribusiness. Later, he speaks about what it has meant to him to share his knowledge and be recognized around the world.
GCINA: One of the important skills a young person needs when you are going into agribusiness, as an entrepreneur taking it as a career, it is important to master the art of managing your finance, cash flow. Because agribusiness, it is an enterprise where you need to know how to balance your cash flow. You need to know that during the time of the planting season, during the time we have enough money to buy inputs, and buy them on time, because everyone during the time will want to rush and get inputs, and you will find there is a shortage. So it is a matter of planning very well and having enough cash inflow to be able to purchase your input. It is so important. And after selling, know how to keep your money, the financial education to revolve and not being a beggar. Know how to save your money. Saving, because as young people, we tend to say, after we sell, maybe your first produce, you think of buying luxury things, forgetting of the business.
I think the gist and the key to young people, it is know how to manage your resources, money. Grow the business from the liquid resources you have mastered or you have managed to make in business. Like in our story, we haven’t got much money, but the little that we have, we have grown it, we have been good steward into growing it and buying asset. And then managing it very well. Developing a good team. The technical know-how. Field management is very key, because they start in ensuring that you manage your crop very well from the farm. Doing good field management, weeding, ensuring that the crop have the right moisture. Diseases control. And all these things will ensure that you have the right yield, the right quality later on. Which is your money that you need to take it good care and plant back to the business.
So in a nutshell, that is what’s important in developing a good team that will manage and love what you are doing. It is so important.
GCINA: There are a number of traveling I’ve done around Africa. Recognition by a number of NGOs and organizations that are really, really into agribusiness in Africa and empowering youth. One of the meetings was in 2015 through an organization called CCARDESA, which is a coordination of research institution amongst universities in Africa. So I took part as one of the keynote speakers in a youth conference in agribusiness that was hosted in Durban in 2015 in August. So I was part of those panelists and keynote speakers sharing my story and journey as an entrepreneur. What I’m doing in Africa as far as agribusiness, the story of youth seed production and the little things we have been doing in Swaziland. So I was part of that. It was really inspiring to share my story at an African stage. I also took part in one of the congress that was organized by COMENSA in Kenya as an exposure visit for farmers. And I was amongst one of the only young farmers amongst all farmers that were on seed production. And I shared my story, and I learned from them what they are doing and what they have been doing the past year. So those experiences have really opened up for me and a number of exposure visits as well to South Africa through the help of microfinance unit in Swaziland, they took me for an exposure visit in South Africa to look at how other young farmers are doing in South Africa as far as agribusiness and entrepreneurship is concerned.
I also got an opportunity to be awarded through Coca-Cola in Swaziland, a kick-start grant, to buy one of our machinery, it was around 2,000 US dollars. We had to set up our seed processing plant in Swaziland so that we ensure that we do everything digital. I was also awarded as the Queen Young Leaders in 2015. Queen’s Young Leaders runner-up, which is an award that has been done by the queen in England, Queen Elizabeth II, to award young people in the Commonwealth who are doing great work in terms of impacting and ensuring that the Commonwealth is doing great work. So I was in London in April, also for the Pitch@Palace, where I shared my story in front of CEO investors and how we can grow the business. So those opportunities, and now I’m part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2018 as a young leader that is driving innovative in Africa.
As part of the Mandela Washington Fellow, I’ve been really empowered, challenged to do a lot as I go back to my community. So I’m believing for more support as I’m going to advocate for entrepreneurship through agribusiness development, starting from my community, my country and Africa as a whole. Studies have shown that by 2050 the population of Africa will have doubled to around 2 billion. And more than 60 percent will be young people. One of the resources that we have, it is land, access to quality land, water for irrigation. For Africa to be food secure, young people have a role to play as the largest percentage of population in Africa. We need technology, we need innovation in agriculture, like hydroponics. Because weather is changing, we need technology, we need new innovation. So young people have a role to bring the technology, the creativity that they have into agribusiness. How can we feed and ensure that Africa is food secure? And to help young people. Agribusiness is not a career or it is not a sector for old, uneducated or retiring, as it is the case today. But it is for young people to take it as a career from an early age. Build their capacity, grow as far as agribusiness is concerned. It takes time to ensure that the continent, and it starts with your community, it is food secure. The little things that you are doing will pulse down and grow to a food-secure Africa. It will really take us time. But it is a matter of doing it very young at an early age. And building capacity of the other young people in our community who are doing great things. They are struggling, funding them, helping them in the value chain and growing with you. You don’t lose anything in mentoring other young people into agribusiness.
There is a lot of doors opening for me. I’m really going to go smart and ensure that I utilize that finance and grow. And I’m not growing my business only. I’m really into youth development through agribusiness, training a lot of young people through social investment to ensure that they are also having an access into agribusiness, agribusiness finance, and they grow their own agribusinesses along different value chains. Not only seed, but also different sectors like vegetables, different sectors, beef and animal husbandry, to ensure that the whole country, whole continent is food secure.
GCINA: My words to the YALI Network, farming is not a labor-intensive job. Yes, we have seen a lot of thing, but today there’s a lot of technology, there is a lot of machinery you can use now in farming. In Africa, the case is not like that. Most of the farmers, they are using hoes. They are trying by all means. They do not have access to tractors. They do not have access to machinery. It is a big challenge. In the case of U.S., as part of Mandela Washington Fellow, I’ve got an opportunity to visit a number of organizations. They’re using great machinery, from planting until harvesting. Digitally, a farm more than 1,000 acres may be managed by two people using technology. But that is not the case in Africa. We know the challenges that farmers are facing in terms of having access to quality inputs, quality equipments for farming. But there is a lot that is being done as far as equipments and technologies can be used from subsistence farming. For example, cheap planters. I’ve got an opportunity to be at Oklahoma State University. We are given a tool. Call it, we call it a Greenseeder. Modern tractors, they are affordable, around 100 US dollars. A farmer can have access to those tools. Cheap planters. So that they are able to innovate to use those technologies to ensure that they are able to cover a large, big, a large number, acres of land for their food security, allowing, because most farmers in Africa have one hectares where they are growing those acres of land to ensure that they are food secure. So technology, those small tools are important for farmers to use to grow enough food for themself and their families and also to sell.
There is a lot of skills that are not in me, that I need to bring from outside people to my team, because I believe in teamwork. I don’t believe in me being the genius, but I believe in empowering people and people’s skills and expertise. So I believe in a great team for great delivery and results. So my qualification, I’m not an agronomist, but I was trained as an entrepreneur in agro-economics and agribusiness management. So number one, I need a skill in agronomy. Like field management, a person who understands soils, field management in terms of understanding the yields and the crops, how to manage. So, an agronomist, as well as we really need a skill in terms of seed breeding. People who are specialized in seed breeding to know how can we go back into the laboratory and breed our own seed varieties. As well as in terms of technology, engineers. I may forge that skills as an entrepreneur always trying to grow. But the more I grow, I’ve brought in a number of guys in agronomy, a number of guys in engineering, a number of guys in finance. So that we are able to manage our own finances as well as marketing. So those different skills have helped us to grow the company, have helped Smiling Through Investment to grow and impact the society more.
GCINA: There is a lot of things that you can be surprised about me. There is a great story I can tell Africa, but one of the great things about me, I’m an introvert. I’m not very good in terms of sharing my story. I’m not active into social media. People cannot see the great things I’m doing. But slowly but surely, I’m developing, in terms of my weaknesses, to know how to share, to document, to write about my story. The literally great things I’m doing for my community, for my country, and for Africa as a large.
So, there is a lot in me, there’s a lot hidden in me. I’m believing that God will help me to ignite and share my story and be able to open up, not in terms of thinking of pride, but of thinking of empowering other fellow Africans, other young farmers in Africa.
VOICEOVER: Thank you, Gcina.
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