Alex Muli does not consider himself lucky, despite winning one of the most coveted agricultural prizes in Africa two weeks ago.
This is because he has worked hard to reach where he is today.
For him, it has been a decade of hard work, ambition, optimism and bravery, qualities that combined to hand him $25,000 (Sh2.6 million) from the Africa Development Bank’s (AFDB) AgriPitch Competition.
The award gala was held two weeks ago in South Africa, where it was announced that the owner of Goshen Farm had beat over 400 agriprenuers to clinch the top prize.
“I am still surprised that the judges picked on me, but the award is here now,” he says.
His journey as an agriprenuer started when he was still a third-year student at Moi University studying tourism management.
“I scoured the internet to learn how to draft a business plan, which I used to start farming French beans on our family land in Machakos. I spent Sh65,000 to start, half of which came from my mother,” recounts Muli, who graduated in 2010.
After selling the fresh produce in the local market and seeing that the business was lucrative, he registered his farm, Goshen, and has been expanding it since.
“I was not keen on pursuing a career in the tourism industry. That is what the Joint Admissions Board offered me based on my KCSE exam performance,” he says.
A conference he attended in 2011 where the then Sameer Africa CEO, Eric Kimani, spoke inspired him.
“He asked us who wanted to be a CEO and we all raised our hands,” recalls Muli.
Through Goshen Farm, Muli sources produce from 4,235 farmers in Ukambani, some of which he sells in the local market and exports the bulk to the Middle East.
“I stopped farming myself to concentrate on the export business while giving technical support to farmers. A majority of the farmers I work with supply mangoes and passion fruits at Sh180 and Sh120 per kilo. We process them at our plant in Machakos for the markets,” he says.
RIGOROUS SCREENING PROCESS
To start exporting, the businessman says he researched on countries where he’d sell French beans.
“France was my first export destination, where I shipped 364 cartons. I export the produce directly.”
Besides providing market to farmers, his organisation offers technical support.
“This is to ensure that we get high quality produce that gives value to the producers and also our organisation. Quality produce is key because everyone is competing to give their best to the global market,” says Muli, who has employed 17 workers.
According to him, avocados, pineapples and macadamia nuts are other crops whose demand globally is growing steadily.
“The global market for fresh produce is very attractive, but also dynamic. Countries like Peru would be a good market for avocado while India takes more mangoes,” he offers.
So what did it take for him to win the award? “I learnt about the award and applied like any other agriprenuer,” says the 33-year-old.
AgriPitch Competition is an annual contest run by the AFDB, and is open to agripreneurs aged 18-35 residing in Africa.
“Contestants file their proposals, which are then pooled into two categories; early start-ups (0-2 years) and mature agribusinesses that have been operational for more than three years like my farm,” he explains.
Normally, finalists are taken through a rigorous screening process based on specific criteria by the bank during a weeklong boot camp where they are connected to investors, mentors, business partners, development organisations and other agripreneurs from Africa.
“Winners are picked from innovative ideas that demonstrate the use of climate-smart practices in agribusinesses that help to create jobs and address food and nutrition security. The competition entailed pitching the business model and providing proof of operation,” he offers.
Muli plans to spend the money he won to grow the company’s processing section to allow him to export processed fruits and supply more to the Kenyan market.
The young entrepreneur sees great potential for Kenya’s agriculture sector, which he says can be one of the biggest employers of the youth.
However, he calls for more incentives for farmers to facilitate increased production and lower imports.
“There’s need to discuss why we import a lot of fruits yet we are able to grow them locally. For instance, we import lots of lemons yet they do very well in Ukambani.”
He lauds the high standards set by the European Union and stringent measures in place to protect their consumers, an attribute he says African markets should emulate.
“European markets want to know how you grow the produce, how you manage pesticides and every bit of the entire process. They carry out tests from the airports all the way to the shelves in their supermarkets. All they want is good and high quality imports.”
Recently, he started the company’s processed food segment where he processes snacks from pineapples and mangoes, a business he is keen to grow.
As he walks us around his cold room at a warehouse off Airport North Road in Nairobi’s Eastlands, Muli says he hates what many refer to as farming.
“The term farming alone is heartbreaking because it depicts a passionate and hardworking Kenyan, who can barely make money for their survival. I encourage young people to become agripreneurs as opposed to farmers,” he says.
“Farming is where you wake up and go to the farm without even caring about the market. Many people take it as a social activity and that is where we go wrong. We all need to make agriculture commercial,” he adds.
According to him, most young people get it wrong when they want to treat a business plan as a flow chart.
HAVE A CLEAR BUSINESS STRATEGY
“You have to have a clear understanding of what the operational costs will look like. A lot of costs go into it. It takes time and patience as you plan for the business,” says Muli, who has received agricultural training from Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya and USAID.
He advises the youth that there is no instant money in agribusiness.
“Success in agribusiness is a process, not an event as a lot of hard work goes into it before products reach the shelve,” says Muli who holds a masters in Business Administration from the United States International University-Africa.
Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs CS Margaret Kobia while congratulating Muli on the win said when one receives a grant or wins in a competition, they need to have a clear business strategy and get mentors to encourage them to take circulated business risks so as to ensure sustainability.
She encouraged the youth to take advantage of the government’s MbelenaBiz initiative which offers grants to support all kinds of agribusinesses.
About agri-pitch competition
It is sponsored by the African Development Bank. The competition attracts entries on technology innovations supporting stages of the agricultural value chain such as:
• Production innovations on conservation agriculture, agro-inputs, pest and disease control.
• Harvesting, processing, packaging and marketing.
• Agricultural value chain financing.
• Incubation and mentorship.
• Enhancement of the agribusiness environment.