GFAR blog, Research in society

Moving mountains, one jar of honey at a time

Hectic yet reflective! The pilot GFAR-YPARD Young Agripreneur Project is coming to an end and in these posts, the six young agri-preneurs are pondering on their professional and personal journeys over the past twelve months. In April 2016, they all gathered in Johannesburg, where they thrilled the audiences at GCARD3 with their enthusiasm, drive and energy in describing their YAP projects. Now they are looking back at what the past year has brought them, what challenges they had to deal with, and what the the mentoring, coaching and training that came along with the seed funding through YAP, has meant for them as businesspeople and as individuals. They are also wondering what the future holds for them. It is inspiring to read how motivated they are, and how a small project has made a major difference in the lives not only of these selected agri-preneurs but in the communities where they live and work.

Here is the final YAP blog post from Jony Girma about his project, Self-help Business Model in Harmony with Nature

‘The man who moved a mountain was the one who began carrying away smallstones.’

Chinese Proverb

honey landscape
The beautiful natural forest landscape of the organic honey project area

A year has passed since the start of YAP – a personal and professional development project aimed to assist young agripreneurs in establishing their own sustainable agricultural businesses. It has been a year of continuous coaching, mentoring and other types of support from GFAR and YPARD, on the road to successful agripreneurship.

When I was selected as a YAP finalist, I had vision and courage but I was not quite sure where and how to start the development of my own business, and how to make it sustainable. I had a lot of ideas floating around but pulling them all together, refining them and designing a feasible business plan, requires skill. YAP helped me adjust my vision and re-design my plan in order to fulfil my dream. I learned that it is possible to start small even if you dream big, just as the Chinese proverb suggests: ‘The man who moved a mountain was the one who began carrying away small stones.’

My dream was to develop a sustainable organic honey production. The target market is the export market, and securing a strong, traceable supply chain is vital to succeed. The YAP intervention made it possible for me to start the development of such a sustainable supply chain.

The model I proposed is based on capacity building, followed by technical and practical assistance, for the most part offered by a learning centre established in a central location. I started the journey working with 50 rural unemployed youth. I prefer to work with youth since they are usually very keen to improve their livelihoods and ready to work hard to implement organic honey production systems to achieve change. There was ample space to intervene, since there are few jobs available and most of the participants had no other viable source of income.

My first major assignment was to change the mindset of these young people to a business-like, problem-solving approach. That was a real challenge since I didn’t have anything to offer them in terms of money or in-kind support. All I had was only my own experience in the sector, motivation, ambition and a nice, inclusive model. I need to extend a big thanks to these young people; when they decided to join the journey, that was also an expression of faith in me and trust in my model.

After motivational, technical and business training, the youth started constructing beehives and establish apiary sites, followed by swarm catching, colony establishment and follow-up. Today, this group of highly motivated youth are waiting for their first harvest and are true self-employed honey producers. The first harvest will be in June and the motivation among the youth not only to create sustainable businesses but also to explore further opportunities, is very promising.

Having a learning centre with a demonstration site is key when it comes to keeping the youth motivated. There is no need for major investments or heavy support projects; it is all about unlocking the system and teaching youth how to exploit existing opportunities.

Moreover, the learning centre links the participating youth to continuous capacity building efforts, as well as to follow-up activities, and it gives them access to markets.

In general, this is a business approach designed to solve rural employment problems and development challenges. I am confident that these little steps will put me and my co-workers on the road to achievements and success.

Embedded in this approach is the need to develop a strong and convincing story to share with buyers of our product. We need to let them know that a jar of our organic honey is different from other similar products. Because of our honey, rural youth are self-employed, natural forests are conserved, and the livelihood of many smallholders have improved. Our attachment with youth and smallholders is a win-win approach!

The contribution of this approach to personal skill development is also significant. I will never forget the challenge of having to present my project in three minutes. I had no experience in short pitching. The training we were given in South Africa was unforgettable and a real turning point; after the training I was able to pitch my project idea in three minutes in front of large audiences. Now I can pitch my idea anywhere and to anyone. Moreover, training in business plan development, in mentoring, and in how to use social media to promote business helped me to advance my business and personal skills.

In short, YAP has enabled me to create a sustainable supply chain which is the main component of any organic honey business.  This a major and very promising achievement but it is also a stepping stone for future business ventures.

I think of the implemented project as a pilot that I can scale up and implement elsewhere. Since there is big demand from nearby villages, a scale up of the model will not be difficult. Nevertheless, as usual in a business project, there is no shortage of challenges. The supply chain development is taking place in remote areas of the country, and logistics is a big challenge. Shortage of funding sources makes it difficult to push the business forward. The building of the processing plant, for example, is proceeding slowly because of lack of finances.

I am sure, though, that if I look well enough, the work will continue. My dream is a to have a company with strong, sustainable business practices. Even though the YAP year is coming to an end, the journey to make this dream reality, continues.



Photo credit: Jony Girma

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