Dar es Salaam. While most young people see agriculture as devoid of instant gains – and do not give it a second glance – it is altogether a different kettle of fish for Maurice Awiti (29), as he believes that the sector has many opportunities that are yet to be fully harnessed.
As a result, the young man has taken up farming in earnest as part and parcel of his life’s activities. Today, Mr Awiti is a relatively good exporter of various spices from his own farms.
The young Awiti said the government is now on the right track to revive the agriculture sector, educating farmers on how best to grow crops commercially in terms of increased yield. There are currently 26 administrative regions in Mainland Tanzania – and it is generally considered past high time that each region had branded its crops based upon which crops are most suited to which region.
It was not easy for Mr Awiti to achieve the success he already has. He had failed several times in his early life’s journey – but this did not discourage him from continuing with the journey. As a result, he is now a good role model for other young people.
He owns 273 acres of arable land in Morogoro, Tanga and Iringa regions where he is active in organic growing of spices under the “Organic Standardvbi-os EU,” with his main focus on black pepper – the most traded spice is the world – but also grows cardamoms, cloves, ginger, turmeric, vanilla and cinnamon, which he processes and sells mostly in European market, as well as in Kenya next-door, and in the domestic market.
The holder of a Diploma in Business Management, Awiti is the founder and chief executive officer of Mobo Group Ltd, which engages in different sectors that comprises four subsidiaries, including agriculture, trading, multimedia and restaurants.
“Fear and lack of confidence are among the challenges that hold back number of youth from engaging in entrepreneurship,” Awiti pontificates. “We need to understand that a business takes time to grow – and, at our young age, we have all the advantages, the energy, the enthusiasm, motivation and creativity. We can tolerate risk and be more bold and resilient in serious efforts to reach our goals,” he said.
“Organic farming is the future. The government needs to start raising awareness on the importance of organic farming for the sustainability of a better future. The government should intervene to help spice up growers,” he told SMEs Digest.
Because farming was on his mind after graduating from college in 2013 he wasted no time as a budding entrepreneur. “I started growing beans Kilindi in Tanga Region, where I had all my savings invested in beans farming with high expectation of good returns. But, things didn’t go as expected, as I only manage to harvest 5 bags of beans from a farm that I expected to harvest a minimum of 400 bags,” Awiti told The Citizen via the SMEs Digest recently.
“It was a disappointment that made me take a break, since before then I owned a Logistics business I decided to remain in that business for the next three years – then I decided to wind up the business and started a restaurant,” he said.
“After first failing in agriculture, I started a small food court in Dar es salaam back in 2016. It was a business that started small; but, in a very short time, it started doing well, as I would serve 300-to-500 university students and nearby communities.”
After earning some capital from the cooked food business, he once again ventured into agriculture – but this time was different…
“My next step was to identify what crop I should start farming now, as my past experience growing beans was not good. I had a lot to figure out, and before I made a move, I wanted to identify the type of farming I wanted to do: Which crop? Which market? Why? How?” Young Awiti conducted research, as wanted to grow a crop that could be processed and branded.
“I call them ‘investment crops’ because, once you plant them, it takes up to four years to make your first harvest. Then for many years onwards, your harvests increase by 20 percent for the next 10 years – and, thereafter, you will have a constant harvest for the next 10 years, after which the life of the plant ends.”
The production capacity for ginger and turmeric at his farm is about 30 tonnes a month, black pepper: 40 tonnes a month, and cardamoms: 30 tonnes a month, Mr Awiti says.
“But, my farms have only recently started producing, and we are waiting for the first commercial harvest next year… Mobo will make finished products for the East African market.This year, we have already exported 39 tonnes for trial. But, next year when we start our first commercial yields, we expect to export 280-to-350 tonnes of all our spices… We have already agreed with customers in Europe, where we have a competitive edge because we do have organic certification for our products, making them of in high demand,” he says – but thoughtfully adds that “my partner handles the market side.”
Choosing crop farming was not a bad thing for Awiti, after all, as it has enabled him to open companies and create employment opportunities for young people. One of his companies, ‘Kibatari Tours & Safaris Ltd’ – whose motto is ‘Lighting Africa’– not only promotes Tanzanian tourism, but also promotes agriculture through tourism.
Other companies are Adventure Digital Ltd; Mobo Food Products Ltd and AFMCG, a Startup Company for fast-moving consumer goods. Here is where all his spice products will be sold in the local market, mainly through supermarkets in small packaging from January 2022.
“We have more than 55 people in direct employment at all our entities, twelve of them under specified work contracts,” he said – adding that more employment opportunities will be created in the near future.
He said most of the agricultural funding came from the food court business, whereby he used to invest 60 percent of the monthly earnings in buying farming land.
“In 2017, I started spice-farming. A year later, I had a foreign investor who injected in capital – and, up to now, we have been operating on intercrops where we harvest ginger and turmeric which helps us to cover our operational costs,” Awiti revealed.
“We are exporting mainly to our European customers. From the beginning of this project, we identified Morogoro as our base region, and we aimed to make it the hub of organic spices in Tanzania Mainland in terms of production volumes, employment creation, spice development growth, incomes and public revenues.
The group of companies is all about expanding their target to be the biggest organic spice growers and producers in East Africa by the year 2025, owning all the value-chain from farming, to processing, packaging and logistics. All crop seedlings come from their farms. They generate raw materials as per organic standards, avoiding getting any raw material that does not come from organic farming.
“We have been offering neighbouring farmers training and knowledge about organic farming. We have registered 145 small farmers for the retroactive process for organic standards so that their farms will be certified in the next two years, as the retroactive process takes three years,” young MrAwiti says.
“From the time I started this journey in agriculture, I saw a big linkage between farmers, agents, sellers and buyers. But, this has been a big barrier in the agricultural business – especially if you want to expand,” he lamented.
Also, there are a bazillion challenges that begin with raising enough starting capital and all along the journey to harvesting and handling/packaging to logistics and marketing along the entire value-chain, he said.