Kuza: A revolution in rural businesses

Pioneers Post British council did an Immersive on Future of work and featured Kuza model extensively.

Hundreds of millions of new jobs are needed to keep the growing population of sub-Saharan Africa in work and out of poverty. As Covid-19 threatens to devastate economies across the continent, could social entrepreneurs provide new opportunities to make a living – in good times and bad? New research explores the potential of businesses that put the good of society ahead of making big profits.

Kuza employs more than 3,000 young people in rural Kenya and Mozambique as agricultural entrepreneurs or ‘agripreneurs’. They get training and mentoring, and then support groups of 200 or so farmers from their local community, giving these individuals – who have limited or no access to internet – information on agricultural processes, micro-credit and markets to help them increase their income.
‘Kuza biashara’ in Swahili means ‘grow your business’: that’s the ethos behind Kuza, which was founded in 2012 and which has so far created an estimated 150,000 jobs in eastern, western and southern Africa.

The social enterprise is focused on helping people to learn, connect and grow as entrepreneurs – and job creation is almost “an unintended consequence” of this, says founder Sriram Bharatam.

One of Kuza’s main focuses is agriculture. Smallholder farmers contribute to up to 80% of agricultural produce in Africa. “These are the people who don’t have a voice of their own. They don’t have access to resources. They are dependent on middlemen. They are the ones creating all the value and taking the risk, but earning the least in the entire chain,” says Bharatam.

This lack of resource, he adds, offers huge potential for increased productivity. “There is a need to professionalise agriculture and bring in best practice,” Bharatam explains. “We believe that the only way you can change the status quo is by nurturing and growing youth as Agripreneurs – agricultural entrepreneurs.”

So Kuza is using technology to bring new ideas to remote areas. Its agripreneurs visit their cohort of farmers in rural communities, taking a backpack which holds a Wi-Fi router, portable cloud and a projector. They use this to stream specially created, bite-sized learning videos on good agriculture practice, life and business skills, which farmers can watch using tablet devices that Kuza lends them. “The farmers need not necessarily be digitally literate. Our intent is to slowly give them one step up. We’re democratising access.”

Digitising agriculture has the potential to create a large number of jobs, but farmers “have not been keen” to see their children follow in their footsteps. “They don’t see hope [in it]. So they tend to encourage them to go do something else.”

That has changed to some extent since the Covid-19 outbreak. “Productivity in agriculture has increased in the last four months, because people have gone back to their villages,” says Bharatam.

In Kenya alone, with a population of close to 50 million, about 7 million jobs have been lost due to the pandemic, which makes the opportunity to earn a living from farming even more relevant Yet Bharatam insists this is less about jobs, and more about supporting individuals’ aspirations and interests. “There is a need for people to reflect, reskill themselves, unlearn what they know, and relearn,” he says Sriram.

Part of that learning process comes from making meaningful connections.

“Using a digital platform that we put together called One Network, we plug both farmers and agripreneurs into a network. For example, hundreds of entrepreneurs from eastern Kenya get connected to another hundred entrepreneurs from western Kenya.” This network allows entrepreneurs to learn from each other as well as to connect directly with others in the supply chain and government representatives, who are currently being added to the network. One Network is also helping these farmers find potential customers.

“It’s like how Amazon and Uber managed to create millions of jobs by creating a marketplace solution. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Read the full study on Pioneers Post