My name is Liswaniso Mukela, 26, and an entrepreneur from Lusaka, Zambia, with a strong passion for national development through agribusiness. I graduated with Political Science and Public Administration from the National University of Lesotho in 2014, after which I began working full time on our family farm in Makeni, Lusaka.
I have always been an entrepreneur at heart but it was through the experience of working on our family farm that I was motivated to focus my entrepreneurial energy towards agro business. This was mainly because two reasons: one, the sector has massive potential through a growing population on the one hand and food insecurity through climate change on the other hand; two, there is a vast participation of Zambians in all spheres of society taking part in the sector.
Both these factors convinced me that there is a large market for agricultural equipment/infrastructure. This prompted me to come up with the agri-solar irrigation kit.
What is it that we offer?
Agri-solar Zambia is an innovative for profit business that aims to increase profits and yields of small and emergent scale farmers in Zambia.
Our core product is a solar powered irrigation kit that uses cost effective solar pumping technology and is connected to highly efficient drip irrigation tape, helping farmers grow more throughout the year, for less.
Our kits will provide an irrigation solution that is reliable, cheaper and ensures greater profits to over 410,000 small scale and emergent farmers in Zambia. We will provide 1 acre, 1/8 acre and ¼ acre kits for our clients.
Why solar irrigation?
Despite there being a number of irrigation solution companies operating in Zambia, none provide an all-in-one solution to address the current widespread problems faced by Zambian farmers around erratic water supply, increasing fixed electricity costs and off-grid reliance on rain-fed or expensive generator powered irrigation. The agri-solar irrigation kit specifically addresses these three problems:
Erratic water supply: Our kits provide water through energy from the sun that is always available and free, we will eliminate the inconsistent supply of water to farmers throughout the year.
Second, our kit will address high operating costs because our irrigation kit uses free energy to grow crops.
Farmers will make increased savings on the cost of producing crops, which will in turn increase their profits.
And lastly, farmers will move away from reliance on rain-fed/generator irrigation, this is because solar powered water pumps provide a free and constant supply of water for farmers throughout the year.
Unlike generator powered irrigation, which is costly to maintain, solar power is free and always available. This will enable previously marginalized farmers to take part in commercial agricultural production.
Through partnering with financial lending institutions, agri-solar will bring the initial upfront cost of the complete kits lower and allow for more people to easily afford the payments; this partnership is key to our value preposition.
Drivers for reliable irrigation solutions include a strong growth of the agricultural sector as well as rising urbanisation and the increased demand for water it brings.
How we will do it?
As a new entrant and offering a new product, awareness and education about our product will be needed. This will be achieved initially through a well documented pilot project and significant marketing efforts in the initial start up months, in order to get the word out. A core approach to penetrating the market would be looking at ways to gain credibility early.
Our initial strategy and primary success factor is to get buy-in from important industry related NGOs and agricultural cooperatives who would buy and recommend our product to their members or clients. This will mean more commercial sales to marginalized communities.
We would actively involve these parties in the pilot phase and would give serious consideration to their input and feedback. We would look to form lasting partnerships with these segments who offer credibility and a sustainable revenue stream.
A secondary success factor will be the lower costs for farmers who switch from non-solar drip irrigation to the agri-solar irrigation kit.
Due the consistent access to solar electricity, farmers will increase their number of annual harvests, thereby increasing the crop yields and revenue for farmers. The cost savings made together with the increased revenue will contribute positively to the livelihoods of the small scale and emergent farmer.
I have so far managed to develop a full business plan, with the help of my advisory team board comprising of Mrs Katy Young (ACA qualified accountant), Ms Lauren Day (MBA Duke University, The Fuqua School of Business), and Mr Harry Masters (Master of Environmental Management (MEM), Duke University, The Nicholas School).
The money will be primarily used to for buying the components that make up the solar irrigation kit.
So far a full agri-solar irrigation kit for a ¼ acre of land costs about USD 1,800. We intend on selling about 2–3 of these kits at a 30% mark up to several agricultural related NGOs and cooperatives. The mark up will help us acquire additional kits that we will again sell.
Because NGOs will document their assistance to marginalized communities via media, our product will be marketed and will hopefully result in an increased uptake by the private sector. The business will in its first year operate from our family farm which eliminates the cost of rent.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Liswaniso Mukela (Zambia): lmukela[at]yahoo.com
The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.
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