Three innovative young African entrepreneurs working in agriculture

The search for this year’s top young African entrepreneurs is underway as The Anzisha Prize committee works its way through 339 applications from across the continent.

Chi Achebe, programme manager for The Anzisha Prize, says applications for this year are stronger than ever.

Chi Achebe, programme manager for The Anzisha Prize, says applications for this year are stronger than ever.

The Anzisha Prize, a competition that recognises and celebrates African entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22 who are using business to solve problems in their communities, will be announcing this year’s 12 finalists in the upcoming months.

While the reviewers are still evaluating the entries, Chi Achebe, programme manager for The Anzisha Prize, says competition is stiff with numerous outstanding applications. Over the next few weeks, How we made it in Africa will be profiling some of the applicants, starting with three entrepreneurs who have developed innovative agriculture-related businesses in their respective countries.

Africa boasts 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, and the agricultural sector holds the key to broad-based economic growth, poverty reduction and food security.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Finalists for The Anzisha Prize have not been announced. The entrepreneurs profiled below have not necessarily been selected as winners. It also doesn’t mean that those not featured haven’t made the cut. The below profiles are simply a small random selection of the applications received.

Mahmud Johnson, Liberia, 22

After completing his economics scholarship at Dartmouth College in the US, Mahmud Johnson returned home and started J-Palm Liberia in June 2013. The company currently employs 42 people and operates on 400 acres of land, producing crude palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake.

To start the business, Johnson raised US$12,000 of capital from angel investors and family. He also used an additional $10,000 of his personal funds that he earned from working as an economic analyst at a local consulting company.

Currently J-Palm sells its products to detergent manufacturers and animal feed mills. According to Johnson, demand for palm kernel oil is rising alongside the expansion of the local detergent market, yet only 5% of Liberia’s palm kernels are processed into palm kernel oil.

In addition to the kernels gathered from J-Palm’s own operations, the company also purchases kernels from smallholder producers in the region. “Most smallholders cannot afford to make the substantial capital investments required to set up a palm kernel oil processing mill. Thus, they treat the palm kernels as waste after palm oil extraction,” explained Johnson.

His goal for J-Palm is to become a leading producer of cleaning agents, food products (such as refined vegetable oil) and skin and hair products from adding value to palm oil.

Dan Abissi, Kenya, 21

Dan Abissi gained his first entrepreneurial experience at the age of seven when he set up his own shoe-shining stall to assist his family financially. Today he is studying music at university while running his tomato producing business, Kijani Kijiji. The company was started in September of last year and supplies tomatoes to restaurants and hotels in Nairobi.

Kijani Kijiji uses greenhouses and drip irrigation to consistently deliver fresh tomatoes to its clients all year round.

“I also do research on different methods of growing tomatoes that reduce cost and maximise on output,” explained Abissi. “This is through contacting agronomic consultants and visiting other farms and planting new varieties with higher yields and higher resistance to diseases.”

Kijani Kijiji currently produces an average of 400kgs of tomatoes per week. With investment, he hopes to increase this to 10 tons within three years. “We aim to reinvest returns from all of this year’s sales,” he said.

Cleofash Alinaitwe, Uganda, 22

Cleofash Alinaitwe is currently in his second year at Makerere University in Kampala, studying for a degree in agriculture and rural innovations. In April 2013 he started Uganda Micro-Gardens Initiative, a networking organisation that links university students and urban micro-farmers to develop household vegetable gardens for sustainability and income generation. The initiative currently has two farmer groups in Kampala which benefit from information and skills sharing, and are linked to market opportunities.

Alinaitwe managed to get Makerere University’s cooperation for the initiative, as it allows university students to engage with their communities.

“Makerere University has also benefited from my work since its students can now assume civic responsibility by applying university training to the solution of problems affecting society currently,” he said.

His future plans are to raise capital to purchase land where he can test micro-farming technologies and set up demonstration sites.

“My dream is to expand this gardening network so as to cover other urban and peri-urban poor communities within Uganda’s boundaries. I also have a dream of expanding my idea into other universities in Uganda, as well as encourage grouped investments among university students so as to reduce… youth unemployment in Uganda every year,” he added.

Follow the story of this year’s Anzisha Prize and what has become known as the #AnzishaEffect online and on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to the Anzisha Prize’s YouTube channel to get first access to their upcoming webisodes as they premiere.