[Interview] Simon Andys CEO, Premier Seed Company
Africa Business Communities interviews the Simon Andys, the CEO and founder of Premier Seed a Kenyan company that works with farmers in finding them ready export market for their produce especially in new and high value crops like herbs and vegetables.
Tell us about Premier Seed and the role it plays in farming in Africa
Premier Seed was born as a seeds company, importing and selling Open Pollinated Varieties and hybrid seeds that bring innovation and higher yields to African farmers. We immediately started giving full post-buy support to our clients in order to build a sustainable and long-term knowledge on modern agriculture practices. Our vision of rationalization and modernization of small-scale farming in Kenya found its higher realization with the implementation of herbs farming for the international market. In fact, this intensive farming is carried on with modern practices, both on open field and greenhouses that maximises the yield potential, strictly controls the use of water and chemicals and gives farmers a reliable and sustainable source of income. We feel honoured to have pointed our farmers to high value crops that are giving them decent incomes and changing their lives in remarkable way, a departure from the past.
What are some of the biggest challenges those you work with face?
My client the farmers face an acute financing problem. Shifting to modern agriculture practices, such as drip irrigation, requires investment that small-scale farmers don’t easily get access to. Premier Seed is able to guide farmers though this process, both providing financial support and assuring the link to a reliable market. The second biggest challenge is the inadequacy of knowledge when it comes to specific and delicate produces such as herbs. For this reason, when we contract farmers, we assure them of full technical support and supervision.
What do smallholder farmers in Kenya, and Africa, need to become successful?
Access to finance, knowledge and market are not necessarily a guarantee of success: a new whole mentality must be adopted. The first shift has to be towards openness to what is new and innovative: new produces, new way to approach farming practices and a new dedication that perseveres even when things don’t reach the expectations from the beginning.
The second important change is an overall rationalization of all aspects of farming: from planning to record keeping, a rationalization of all the processes is essential to pursue long term plans. Big goals cannot be achieved in short periods: A farmer who really wants to build a long term, sustainable and safe wealth for their family require planning, rationalization and capacity to see beyond the short future.
The last but most important thing is cooperation. Kenyan (and African) agriculture risks to be completely dominated by big producers that limit the chances to emerge to small-scale farmers. Most of our economic culture is polluted by individualism, egoism and often greed; only through collaboration farmers are able to reach higher achievements. Premier Seed is an example of that: we coordinate tens of small-scale farmers that only working together are able to access the international market. Moreover, within our projects, the most successful stories are those of cooperatives of farmers that got together and overcame all obstacles.
How do you go about training the farmers in good agriculture practices and technical knowledge?
Premier Seed makes sure that all the people that work with us have the necessary knowledge to manage these kind of productions. We provide materials and support (training in the office, using modern means like facebook and photos on whatsapp) in a continuous process of learning, until when our out growers have built a solid capacity.
Tell us more about the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and how you, with your involvement in this programme, promote agri-entrepreneurship
The Entrepreneurship programme of Tony Elumelu is Pan African, hinged on the belief that start ups and entrepreneurs hold the key to economic liberalization and growth in Africa by creating jobs and conducive environment where home-grown pan-African companies in various sectors can flourish. This it does through business skills training, mentoring, access to seed capital funding, information and membership in its Africa-wide alumni network. As an alumni of the programme I have had the pleasure to interact with likeminded agripreneurs in Africa, and industry players and the trainings I have undertaken have been key in advancing what we do at Premier Seed. I have brought key lessons to our company and the farmers I work with, and we have seen huge benefits including farmers’ mindshift in taking agriculture as a business venture. We believe that is the precursor to economically empowered citizenry and economies considering agriculture contributes on average 25 per cent to the national purses of most African countries.
How do you choose the crops to grow?
The criteria that we use mostly rely on the analysis that we do on the soil and on the climate in the area in which we operate. Then we evaluate the experience of the farmers we work with and the availability of crops for cultivation in order to start projects that don’t go beyond the capacities of the farmers. We also consider organization and logistic to ensure convenience especially when dealing with fresh produce. Such logistics include transport and proximity to transport networks especially roads.
What role do you think smallholders farmers will play in the growth of agribusiness in Africa?
Premier Seed believes that small-scale farming can potentially play the greatest role in lifting African household’s condition and living standards while growing the continental economy. More and more young people are turning towards agriculture as a way of creating financial security and wealth; exploiting this phenomenon will be the only way to satisfy in a sustainable way the growing demand of food of the continent and feed the 2.3 billion Africans of 2050.
These are interesting times. Women are becoming more economically empowered and more youth are finding fortunes in farming, inspiring more into a sector that was regarded as only belonging to the aged. But such success stories are still few. The fate of small-scale farmers is not fully held in their own hands. Too much still relies on government policies (education, taxes, bureaucracy etc), poor infrastructure (roads, research and communication) and access to financing.
It will be essential that governments seriously tackle these overwhelming challenges, otherwise we will witness only the growth of large and industrial commercial production. By embracing small scale farmers into its operations, Premier Seed is rubberstamping the creed and numerous studies that have been cited by among others the World Bank and FAO that smallholder food producers are key in assisting Africa become the agricultural powerhouse of the world, comfortably capable of feeding itself and the globe.