Meet Patrick Kuyokwa, Agri-entrepreneur Promoting Sustainable and Economically Viable Agriculture
Mr. Patrick Kuyokwa is the co-founder and CEO of Agricentre, an agricultural enterprise promoting permaculture and sustainable agricultural practices among smallholder farmers in northern Malawi. Being also a farmer himself, he practices and advises on climate resilient farming methods to improve the livelihoods of his community.
Thank you for joining today, Patrick. Where are you connecting from? Please also tell us what you do in your community?
Thank you. I’m here in Malawi, a country in Southern Africa. Specifically, I am connecting from Nkhata Bay, a northern district of Malawi close to Lake Malawi. I co-founded with my peers Agricentre, which envisions a Malawian agricultural sector that is sustainable, technology driven and economically viable for farmers. We facilitate sustainable agriculture and permaculture among local farmers through the provision of trainings, demonstrations and agricultural fairs. We also equip them with climate resilient techniques. By doing so we help farmers achieve food and nutritional security.
The farmers we train are mainly from Rumphi, Nkhata Bay and Mzimba. Some farmers produce cassava, maize, groundnuts, potatoes, and increasingly legumes like beans because they have high market values. The communities also raise livestock, mainly pigs, goats and chickens. Because those farmers generally have small landholding, they try as much as possible to diversify in terms of production, instead of just focusing on one particular crop or livestock.
I myself am also a farmer, producing ginger, garlic and groundnuts, and I raise pigs. I was born in Mzuzu, a city in the northern part of the country, and my family are not originally farmers. But I prefer the countryside and love being in the mountains. That’s how I got into agriculture and natural resource management.
Could you also tell us more specifically about the methods that you introduce. Where did you find the need for such sustainable practices?
In Malawi, contemporary agriculture is characterized by high chemical usage, land pressure and forest degradation. Farmers often use the modernist approach, which relies on hybridized or genetically modified seeds combined with chemical fertilizers to increase staple crop production per acre. This leads to wastage, contamination of the environment, deforestation and overuse of various resources, as well as makes them vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and rising costs of agricultural inputs.
Our area, Nkhata Bay, is hilly in terms of topography, and this makes it prone to soil erosion. In case of runoff, most of the soil is rushed off. What we are doing to alleviate this impact is to encourage farmers to partake in the soil and water conservation by practicing zero tillage, peat planting and by incorporating manure production. In some areas we are also encouraging farmers to do agroforestry, combining crop production, mainly maize here, and afforestation with some specific trees that fix nutrients, such as Tephrosia. This will also help reduce runoff issues. At the heart of our work is the promotion of organic production through composting.
Recently the issue of climatic changes, the variation of climatic patterns such as rainfalls made more farmers to opt for such methods. Thus we see the demand for technical expertise to help them out. So far, we have trained more than 500 farmers in Malawi and managed to plant more than 20,000 trees that are helping build farmers’ resilience to climate change while mitigating its impact.
We would also like to know more about how you co-founded Agricentre with your background of agricultural economics and years of experience working in the development sector.
We co-founded Agricentre in 2018. Most of our co-founding peers are from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the main agricultural university in the country. I have a BSc Degree in Agricultural Economics while others have various expertise, including crop production, animal production, pest management and agribusiness. It was after we had various experiences that we got together to start the enterprise. I myself had the chance to do community work in a nonprofit, where I was actively involved in sustainable agriculture and natural resource management projects.
This exposed me to a lot of issues that impacted livelihoods in the local community and the actual effects of climate change and carbon balance. After a period of learning about the industries and trying out what I wanted to do in society - as others did in their own ways - I decided with my peers that we could also do a similar thing but through a social enterprise, with our different talents to work together on one thing.
Why did you choose to create an enterprise, rather than a nonprofit?
We did not want to fully exist as a non-governmental organization or a nonprofit. From my previous experience, there was a tendency in nonprofit work to create a high dependency in people on all types of support. That made me opt more to a form of social enterprise, where the people we are working with meet us halfway and we also meet them halfway, and in this way we achieve the sustenance of what we do with them. When we started this new model, we had some challenges because farmers had expectations for handouts. We said no and started out with few people who were ready to commit. With time, people kept joining, people saw the benefits, and we figured that if there was a fee attached to training, most of them actually committed.
Our enterprise belongs to an entrepreneurial hub, which helps us gain business development and marketing expertise. Through this network, we also help farmers get value for their crops by encouraging them to treat farming as a business not just as subsistence production. This involves, for instance, aggregating their produce and increasing market values through value addition and attracting buyers.
Are there many young people who are interested in working in agricultural entrepreneurship in your country or in your community?
Because our economy is agriculture based, like most African economies, many young people are trying to take agriculture not just in the traditional way but also they’re trying to commercialize it as much as possible and then get the value for the various crops. In the north, there are just maybe a few of us, but in country there are a lot of young people trying to impact and improve livelihoods in this way.
What separates us from other young people and entrepreneurs who are trying to do the same is our passion for agriculture. I’m working with farmers as an advisor but at the same time I am a farmer. Farming requires lots of hard work and it takes time. So you actually have to be passionate about it. When rain is not favorable in the year, I also know it from the field. We are able to more easily relatable to farmers in this way.
What do you think are the roles and power of young people in changing society?
If you want to see a particular change in the community or in various aspects of our lives, we need to get involved. Most of the young people have graduated from various colleges or universities with various expertise. Thus, instead of waiting for employers or politicians to come in to work on our issues, we can do it by getting involved and then solving issues ourselves, since the best resource is us. We just need to come together and bring results.
From my experience, the diversity that exists among the team members is key. With people who have different expertise and different philosophies altogether, if we're able to build a team from that, I believe it's more impactful doing it individually.
Working with people takes a lot of time, patience and learning about each other. But having been a leader in my diverse team, I find it’s important to learn from each other. It helps you to know other people and continuously develop yourself.
What are your current plans for your enterprise and your visions for the coming years?
As a team, we envision a sustainable agriculture center where we can impact more farmers, for example, through demonstration centers and making our work accessible to other communities. But for now our focus is in the northern area of the country where there are still many who we have not yet reached. Eventually, we will also involve other areas - central and southern parts of the country and, when it’s time, even go international.
Thank you very much for taking time for us. We hope to continue this exchange and keep learning from each other.
* This article is part of the WFF African Agrifood Changemakers web story series. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the WFF.