“You can get value from whatever you are doing, you just have to put your heart into it”
With extensive expertise in agribusiness development, Salome Asena currently works as a research officer for the United States International University Africa’s (USIU-Africa) Global Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship Centre, based in Nairobi Kenya. As part of a project funded through the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF), USIU-Africa has developed and tested a unique training programme to engage Kenya’s youth in profitable agri-businesses. Here, we spoke with Salome about the impacts and future aims of the project, as well as the importance of communicating the research findings.
UISU-Africa’s project seeks to build the capacity of youth – particularly young women – in establishing agribusinesses across Kenya. How and why is your approach different to others working with the youth?
USIU-Africa takes more time compared to other organisations because it uses three ways to interact with the youth through its ‘Metro AgriFood Living Lab Model’. The first is through an intensive one-week business training course, which focusses on financial management, business registration, ICTs and marketing. After this initial training, participants take another week to implement what they have learnt and give us their feedback.
Secondly, the university provides business innovation support and mentorship following the two week’s training. Finally, the financing phase, during which we hold an elevator pitch event where participants have five minutes to present their businesses to convince representatives from financial institutions to fund them.
In this second phase of our CultiAF project, which runs from October 2018 to September 2020, we are hoping to influence policymakers to adopt the Metro AgriFood Living Lab Model as an agribusiness funding model that works. We have recruited over 1,200 agribusiness entrepreneurs from nine counties in Kenya. We are currently shortlisting participants and looking to train 300. We want the finance institutions providing country-wide agribusiness funding to utilise our results and replicate our model.
How many young people did you work with in the first phase of your CultiAF project? And can you tell us about one or two young people that stand in terms of what they have managed to achieve?
In phase one, we worked with 39 young people (22 men and 17 women). Following presentation of their business plans, 20 participants (12 women and 8 men) were selected for the mentorship phase, and 18 got through to the final stage called the business ‘launch’. During this last stage, ventures are supported to increase their market products or to become registered.
This time around, we are targeting 300 young people as mentioned above, anticipating that along the line, the numbers will decrease. Some will go through the mentorship training and some will be ejected before this stage, so we will have around 120 coming through to the final stage.
Of the outstanding participants from last year, we had one entrepreneur from Kisumu County who had started catfish farming as a hobby and, by the end of our project, he had managed to turn it into a business, selling his fish for US$1.5 each. During the course, he visited with a model farmer who was running mobile fish ponds so he implemented the aspect of mobility into his business as well; the mobile fish ponds are ideal for urban dwellers because they can be transported and require less space than fixed ponds. Secondly, there was a young lady running a poultry farm from Makueni County who, after completing her USIU training, organised a one-day workshop to train others in poultry production and business management. Those trained worked for her to supply her business with high quality produce in high quantities so, by training these young people, she created other job opportunities. This was one of the ripple effects of our programme.
You attended the presentation training workshop with WRENmedia on refining project key messages prior to a one-day conference before the 2016 African Green Revolution Forum. Was this training helpful to your team? And if so, has it impacted the way in which your project communicates its results?
It was helpful because the project team learned how to package our message – whether externally or internally, and it also helped us identify our key audiences. This was particularly important for the first phase to make it more focused.
The training also changed the way we seek and receive information from our audiences and how we synthesis that information. But most importantly, we learned how to communicate our research. This was the main highlight because the team learnt the importance of disseminating research findings and identifying emerging results throughout the entire duration of the project, and how to share it widely with different audiences, such as the project stakeholders, the media, the youth etc.
If you had one key message about what you do and the value of supporting young people – what would that be?
Entrepreneurial development is a long-term engagement which requires a multi-intervention approach. The emphasise should be on moving away from subsistence farming or commodity production to value addition and farming as a business; for example, the production of chicken samosas as opposed to selling chickens whole, the packaging of honey from bees, and the selling of fresh juice as opposed to raw fruits. You can get value from whatever you are doing, you just have to put your heart into it!