By Patricia Ngwale:
Kossam Masina, 28, harboured a huge negative attitude towards farming after seeing his father fail to reap reasonable profits from his toil year after year.
Masina had always looked for any profession apart from farming which, in his village, seemed stuck with those simply searching for daily meals.
“There was no one to inspire me despite that in my home village, in Traditional Authority Dambe in Mchinji, farming is most households’ major activity,” he says.
His dislike of farming did not immediately leave him even when he had secured a place at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), where he went to study for a degree in Agribusiness Management.
But, by and by, Masina changed the attitude and began to think farming would be big business for him if properly managed.
“After sitting my Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations in 2014, I failed to secure a place at any public university with my 13 points.
“Fortunately, that year, Luanar conducted a second selection exercise for self-sponsored generic students and I was among the successful ones,” he says.
Today, Masina is a proud owner of 11 acres which he is renting from his sister in the western border district and on which he is growing soya beans.
It all started last year when he, together with classmates in an Agribusiness Management master’s degree programme began to receive support from Luanar’s AgriBiz Hub, an agriculture innovation and incubation centre, which empowers inventive young entrepreneurs.
“As a class, we were allocated three hectares of land and AgriBiz Hub supplied us with the initial capital for land preparation and purchasing necessary inputs,” Masina says.
Using the knowledge and experience he gained from the group scheme, he ventured into farming as an individual.
Failure to put together enough capital for his huge farming business did not stop the budding farmer from going ahead with his plans of putting the 11 acres, which he is renting on loan, to use.
“For many young people willing to have a go at farming, lack of capital is a huge setback. I decided to take the risk of renting the land and promised my sister I would pay for it after harvesting,” he says.
He also negotiated another deal with a community welfare group known as Tikondane, so that its members would work in his field from land preparation to harvesting after which they would be paid.
The soya bean fields are already showing signs of a good harvest and each time he strolls through them, he quietly applauds himself for not being deflated by lack of adequate capital.
“I used the little that I saved from my upkeep allowances to purchase inputs such as fertiliser, seed, inoculant and pesticides,” he says, marvelling at the crop almost ready for harvesting.
Victoria Banda, Vice- Chairperson of Tikondane Club—whose members come from the same area as Masina—reveals they agreed to work for him and get paid after the harvest because they trust him.
They had already seen in him a young man with a vision, who needed support from whoever would provide it.
“He is still a student and might not have enough capital to fully roll out his farming business. He is our son and we felt compelled to support his dream,” Banda says.
As they work in the soya bean fields, the farmers are also being equipped with modern ways of caring for the crop which is one of the most widely planted and used legumes in the world.
They are also steadfast in their work knowing that a flop of the venture may eventually cripple Masina’s ability to pay them for their labour.
“Well, we are his workers. If he does well, we will smile too,” Banda says.
Many more young people with innovative business ideas in the field of agriculture are being assisted through AgriBiz and end up contributing to efforts in reducing unemployment levels in the country.
According to the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Desa), supporting young people is pivotal in the creation of new jobs and providing the unemployed with livelihood opportunities.
“Jobs are seen as the cornerstone of development and are critical in promoting prosperity, fighting poverty and encouraging peace.
“This challenge is particularly acute amongst young people; those in the transition from childhood to full independence,” Desa’s report titled ‘Exploring youth entrepreneurship’ says in part.
This report designates youth entrepreneurship as a mechanism addressing development challenges and support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
It further tackles building the capacity of young people and empowering them to sustainably grow their businesses, elements which AgriBiz Manager Msekiwa Matsimbe says are being emphasised at the centre.
Matsimbe admits access to relevant training for developing the agribusiness sector in Malawi has been limited for some time; hence, the need to widen it through offering more practical programmes to all players along the value chain as AgriBiz does.
“Young people should critically review resources around them and start with whatever is available. There always is somewhere to start from even with minimum resources,” she advises.
Matsimbe is confident that young people who have been supported by the centre that she manages will continue to confidently employ the gained skills in their entrepreneurship endeavours.
She says while those with innovative ideas conduct market research, attain skills in developing their product of interest and how they can manage finances, those with existing businesses pursue strategies of growing their ventures further and improving operations.
“Business incubation is a relatively new approach to training people in business management in Malawi but agribusiness incubators are registering considerable success,” Matsimbe says.
For Masina, as the soya beans gradually dry in the fields which have become part of the power and money that he can possess, there is more room to expand a venture he had detested so much which is now set to turn around his fortunes.