On the third day of November 2006, a young man stepped out of an office with much enthusiasm. His first assignment though likely very challenging was an opportunity for him to self-evaluate his fit in the organization as well as the relevance of his college-earned skills in a practical perspective. In his honest opinion, he did not conceive such a great future in his career, after all the organization was young but he made up his mind to serve faithfully and diligently. Looking back ten years later, it is still a surprise to him how the firm grew to impact lives of millions of smallholder farmers across the African continent.
Harold Mate, as fate would have it, got to hear about the job opportunity through a radio advert ran by Farm Concern International through Hope FM, a Christian Radio Station in Nairobi Kenya. He desperately scribbled the details on a piece of paper he had torn from an airtime top up card. After graduating from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Horticulture in July 2006, tarmacking (job search) as is referred to by fresh graduates was a full time engagement. Ten years later he rose through the ranks all the way up to be a Senior Manager in charge of Markets, Trade and Private Sector Partnerships. Mr. Harold Mate shares his story with Anthony Muhia.
Mr. Harold Mate during his early days at FCI
On the first day I reported to work, I was posted to Wundanyi in Taita Taveta County as a Value Chain Coordinator where we were working on commercializing Traditional African Vegetables (TAVs) among smallholder farmers. I got a chance to hone my motorcycle riding skills as a field staff in Wundanyi. I was redeployed to Kiambu County a year later in the same capacity where I was still working on TAVs in a new Programme that also incorporated sweet potatoes as well. I was later promoted to a Markets and Trade Manager and tasked with the management of a post-harvest (Commercial Village Stores) programmme that was implemented in partnership with USAID-Compete in Mt. Kenya region in Kenya and Jinja region in Eastern Uganda and later transitioned into a horticulture programme under USAID-Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Programme in Western Kenya. Besides these, there were other numerous assignments I worked on apart from the programme directly under my supervision. I was promoted into senior level management in 2013 and tasked with spearheading the establishment of the Value Chain Research department. This was a great challenge that fully defined my career path at FCI. Currently am working as a Senior Technical Specialist in charge of Markets, Trade and Private Sector Partnerships.
Well, I have been with FCI for ten years now and there was little to admire back when I was a rookie, but I still have nostalgic fond memories of the days I was a field staff. There was no luxury however and each employee had to go an extra mile to meet the deliverables; desk top computers, laptops and vehicles, internet connectivity and the ample office space were not as available as they are today. It is very fulfilling to see your contribution and efforts being part of the overall growth of an institution. I have learnt and perfected my multi-tasking skills here because there are always many tasks on your desk demanding for attention. Farm Concern offers a great learning platform and career advancement for everyone who is ambitious and dedicated. For instance, it is through FCI in collaboration with Kenyatta University I earned a scholarship for my MSc in Agribusiness which was a great milestone for me.
I am a born-again Christian and working for an organization that adheres to Christian values and ethos is a huge deal for me. In addition, seeing the livelihoods of low income farmers improve over and above our expectations is my best way of giving back to the society.
It is important to shape your future while you are still young in terms of career and personal development; don’t be short sighted and don’t waste time on what is not critical. At some point in my early career, I didn’t see clearly my growth and development and that can cloud your judgement on many issues.
Settling down in terms of career and family is important and helps someone to focus on important things, you cannot be young forever and proper use of time and years when you are young is critical. Also, learning the art of being patient and resilient is invaluable, good things don’t just happen overnight. To achieve your goals one needs total devotion and hard work, and accepting criticism and correction from juniors, peers and seniors. However, you must believe and stand for something, don’t always flow with the crowd. It is my belief however most young people lose track due to lack of well-defined priorities. Without priorities one cannot plan his/her future.
I am married to one wife and a father of two beautiful children whom I love spending time with. As for my pastime, I volunteer at my local church and ardent follower of current affairs and emerging issues. On the other hand, I am a motorcycle enthusiast and also tinker with electronic here and there just for fun.Add a comment
A 2014 survey by the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that current post- harvest losses in Kenya are at least 15% in strategic maize production zones and much higher in some of the food insecure areas. FAO estimates that about 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally with about 30% of all food produced in Kenya going to waste due to poor storage facilities.
It is on this backdrop that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (KALRO) launched the Hermetic Storage Technology (HST) campaign on Wednesday, 16th November 2016. The HST is an alternative method that eliminates insects and molds by depleting oxygen levels and producing carbon dioxide within the storage unit. The technology was initially developed through support from USAID’s collaborative Research Support Program with Purdue University.
The HST campaign is a collaborative effort by USAID Kenya Agricultural Value chain Enterprises project, Ministry of Agriculture and five hermetic bags manufacturers to create awareness among smallholder farmers on the use and benefits of using hermetic bags. Cereal farmers in Kenya are set to benefit enormously from the campaign seeking to reduce post-harvest loses that farmers have been incurring. The campaign will rally farmers to store their cereals in new containers called hermetic bags.
During the six months campaign period, smallholder farmers will be able to buy 5 hermetic bags at Ksh. 1,000; one bag at KES. 200 which is a good deal compared to the retail price of KES. 250 per bag. “The hermetic bags are able to store grains for three years without infestation by pests and rodents and are reusable after every season”, said Mr. David Kimutai, a Senior Staples Specialist working with the USAID KAVES project.
Speaking during the Launch, the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Mr. Willy Bett said that if the post- harvest losses estimated at 30% are addressed, there will be enough food to feed the whole of Africa. He said that the HST not only works to control all pests but also guarantees food safety and security. Mr. Bett sought to assure manufacturers of hermetic bags that he was working with the relevant Government agencies towards removing tax on the bags to ensure the bags are more affordable to the small holder farmers. Currently, one hermetic bag is retailing at KES. 250.
Reduction in these losses would increase the amount of food available for human consumption and enhance global food security, a growing concern given rising prices due to growing consumer demand, increasing demand for biofuel and increased weather variability.
Hellen Irungu, FCI staff giving a Super Grain Bag (GrainPro Hermetic Bag) to Mr. Willy Bett, the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture. Livestock and Fisheries
“This launch of the Hermetic Storage Technology campaign represents one of the most important goals shared by the United States and Kenya: to transform the lives of millions of Kenyans by ensuring that they live in food secure households, eat nutritious foods and have opportunities for sustainable prosperity within their communities”, said Prof. Michael Nicholson, acting Office Chief, Office of Economic Growth, USAID Kenya and East Africa.
Manufacturers of hermetic bags highlighted the benefits of using hermetic bags as better margins for smallholder farmers since they can store their cereals and sell during the peak season, no loss of weight of stored grains thus increased incomes, financial security for future cover, food security and food safety since farmers don’t use pesticides.
African Farms and Markets (AFMA), a subsidiary of Farm Concern International, is the sole distributor of GrainPro hermetic bags in Kenya and took the opportunity to exhibit to the delegates on their hermetic bags dumped Super Grain Bags. “We want our farmers to know that Super Grain Bags are the real deal since they are made of a 8 micro- layer polythene paper ensuring the bag is air-tight to cause suffocation of any pests or rodents and make it porous,” asserted Peter Nduati, AFMA Business Development ManagerAdd a comment
Farm Concern International, FCI in partnership with Global Agribusiness Management & Entrepreneurship Centre; a programme of United States International University Africa (USIU-Africa), are working together to build a competitive Agribusiness sector specially targeting Small and Medium Agro-entrepreneurs. This collaborative effort builds on the two organization’s long standing expertise in capacity development of Agricultural commercialization and enterprise development as sustainable avenues for unlocking opportunities for robust rural economies. This approach is anchored on the premise that Agri-entrepreneurs make better investment decisions if they are exposed to timely capacity development tools to enhance enterprise innovations and technologies in the marketplace.
FCI’s Africa Director, Mr. David Ruchiu giving opening remarks during the Agro-SMEs training session at USIU-Africa Global Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship centre (Photo: Courtesy ,USIU-Africa 29th Sept 2016)
It is on this backdrop that FCI and USIU- Africa organized a capacity development forum, targeting entrepreneurs from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia who participate in the Agricultural value chains as off-takers of farmers’ produce. The training was held at USIU-Africa’s Global Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship Centre as from 26th-29th September 2016 through which FCI mobilized 28 participants across the 4 countries earlier mentioned. This Capacity development session is part of FCI’s wider strategy to build synergistic partnerships that make African enterprises competitive in the global markets.
FCI and USIU-Africa Global Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship Centre designed the delivery mechanism in the training to match capacity gaps for the participants. The faculty drawn from Academia and field practice employed varied approaches including field exposure visits, business facilitation simulation tools, and break away sessions for group discussion among others for effective delivery. Global supply chain coordination and export dynamics for Agricultural commodity was emphasized as key to gaining competitiveness. Other topics that were covered core to the needs of the Agri-entrepreneurs included; transformative leadership as a tool for sustainable growth, Agricultural Finance and credit access as a core tool to enhance growth among Agro-SMEs. Additionally, the discussions focused on SMEs investing in smallholder farming households and building their capacity as reliable suppliers of raw material for their businesses.
FCI continues to influence Africa’s Agro-SME sector through Africa Business Incubation and graduation (Africa BIG) model; an approach that seeks to systematically graduate nascent start-ups and other Agro-SMEs into viable competitive entities in the marketplace. FCI, through Africa BIG approach has developed solutions and tailored packages for various cohorts including Agro-processors, village agro-Input dealers, formal and informal market buyers as well as youths in Agricultural enterprises. This incubation and innovation approach works to support Agro-SMEs in business start-up processes, access to capital, planning and strategy development, technology coaching/transfer, acquisition of packaging technology and quality assurance programmes. FCI, in collaborative efforts with partners like FAO’s Agribusiness Support Services (ABSS), government line Ministries in Eastern Africa, USIU-Africa’s Global Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship development centre among others has impacted over 103 Agro-SMEs to compete effectively in the marketplace.Add a comment
For the past 12 years, FCI’s dedicated Market Research Department has conducted 325 Market & Value Chain Studies and market monitoring & retail audits that reveal the unknown important role played by the Traditional Informal Markets in the agri-marketing systems in Africa.
Minimal documented information on the value, volumes and role of traditional informal markets has led into limited understanding of their role in the equilibrium of market forces for agri-value chains in Africa resulting into minimal development or government interventions focused on the informal systems. FCI is the pioneer in unmasking the engine of agri-markets trade in Africa based on the Traditional Informal Markets Efficiency (TIME) Model, aimed at building capacity of the players.
FCI has been highlighting Traditional Informal Markets data and findings in several regional and international conferences. During the Regional Market Access Conference (RAMAC) FCI shared these findings with development partners and private sector companies and this is increasing development /private partnership for traditional informal markets integration.
Multi-donor funded market Research and value chain analysis across Africa has enabled FCI to assess wholesale trading hotspots for 12,025 wholesale buyers and assessed the business relationships between traditional informal wholesale and private sector corporate companies with an estimated 90% of these formal supply chains sourcing from traditional wholesalers. FCI has further documented multiple formal and informal trade routes that reflect a complex value network made of multi-level players of brokers and investors.
Traditional Informal Wholesalers refer to agri-value chain investors who play the bridging role between informal and formal supply chains. Brokers and middlemen ‘act on behalf’ of the wholesalers and can easily be confused for wholesalers since they are more active in negotiations along value chains. Despite being the trade engines, lots of trust has to be build before wholesalers really interact with formal systems due to the misunderstandings that have sidelined them from most value chain interventions.
Farm Concern International seized the moment to share market data at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2016 which was held at the UN Complex in Gigiri. The forum brought together over 1,000 delegates from over 30 countries in Africa including heads of state and policy makers in the agricultural sector to advance policies and secure investments that will ensure a better life for millions of Africa’s farmers and families—and realize the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In a region challenged by climate change, rapidly growing urban populations, and an urgent need for jobs, agriculture offers solutions, providing a clear path to food security and employment opportunities for all Africans. The aim of the forum was to ensure commitment to policy for African farmers and agriculture business to provide opportunities for economic growth.
FCI was among the many delegates invited to attend the forum as well as one of the few organizations that got an opportunity to exhibit, promote and market the organization across board. This was done through showcasing of various materials highlighting the impact that FCI has had over the last 12 years.Over 30,000 US Dollars was pledged in investment in agriculture over the next decade to increase income and employment for smallholder farmers as well as agricultural businesses.
As an AGRF partner, FCI was part of the team that committed to “Seizing the Moment”. From the forum, FCI aims to convene local, regional and international private sector partners, Smallholders farmers, Commercial Village representatives, Processors, Research Organizations, Government representative, Donor Organizations and Development Organizations for strategic Scale up of opportunities in Cassava and Sweet potato value chains.
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FCI VISION : To have commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized & sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond