Building an agribusiness: One farmer’s journey from mortar to mixer
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“I’ve always dreamed of being my own boss,” states Rusty Guembo, who is pursuing his ambition in a society in which a career in the civil service is deemed prestigious. At 45 years old, this Congolese engineer, a graduate of the Institut de développement rural in Brazzaville, runs a cooperative of market gardeners and poultry farmers, Agro 4, with his business partner.
Guembo and three friends launched the venture in 2000 with a makeshift chicken coop in one room of his house. The early days were tough.
“To be able to feed our chickens every day, we used a mortar to grind the grains then filter them through a sieve, before using a shovel to mix them with other ingredients. For four years we worked without making the slightest profit,” he explains. Two of his business partners gave up.
Guembo and remaining friend, Gervais Kondo, persevered and, between 2004 and 2006, they formalized their cooperative and received small amounts of funding to increase their stock and build capacity in small-scale poultry feed production.
A decisive boost
The turning point came in 2010 in the form of a grant from the World Bank-financed Agricultural Development and Rural Roads Rehabilitation Project (ADRRP). It allowed the entrepreneurs to purchase a tilting mixer worth CFAF 5 million (about $9,000), with a capacity of 1,250 kilograms per hour.
“This machine revolutionized our work!” Guembo explains. “In four months, we had tripled our poultry feed production to 60 metric tons per month.”
Livestock feed production became Agro 4’s core activity and, in 2012, they purchased a second machine to meet growing demand. Today, the cooperative has 10 livestock producers, employs dozens of day laborers, and owns a fleet of vehicles for pick-ups and deliveries. Headquartered in Brazzaville, it has branches in Pointe-Noire and the departments of Bouenza and Plateaux and plans to expand operations.
In 2017, Agro 4’s livestock feed production posted revenue of approximately CFAF 700 million (around $1.2 million). But Guembo and Kondo say their greatest pride is in “developing a vision and staying true to values that we hold dear, particularly by promoting high-quality, affordable local production.”
Increasing productivity responsibly
Along with Guembo and Kondo, over 360,000 people (51 percent of them women) benefited from ADRRP, which helped double the yield of several food crops. It ran from 2008 to 2017 with $22.5 million in IDA financing and $28 million from the Government of the Republic of Congo (ROC).
The new Commercial Agriculture Development Support Project will build on these successful outcomes. Entirely financed by IDA18 for a total of $100 million over five years, the project aims to improve the productivity of agricultural sectors and market access for producer groups and agro-industrial micro, small, and medium enterprises. It targets 500,000 farmers and livestock producers nationwide.
Guembo recognizes the project’s potential in changing the way Congolese citizens view agriculture “so that they no longer only see it as a subsistence activity, but as a promising entrepreneurial undertaking.”