How I Became An Entrepreneur To Serve My City's Most Vulnerable Communities

Food / Delicacies Jan 28, 2017
How I Became An Entrepreneur To Serve My City's Most Vulnerable Communities
As Told By Sirjeff Dennis

I was born in a slum in the Ukonga administrative ward of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on February 7, 1994. My community lived in severe poverty, which meant that I often went to bed hungry and witnessed a young neighbor perish from malnutrition. While in primary school, I would sometimes leave class because I needed to go off to fish in nearby swamps or engage in petty trading to supplement the little food my family had. Most days we did not know where our next meal was coming from.

However, with support from my local church, I was fortunate enough to secure a scholarship to Kajiado Hill Academy Primary School in Kenya, which I attended from 2002 to 2007. During my stay in Kenya, I learned that unlike many Tanzanians I grew up with, the young Kenyans I met possessed a positive mindset and to take a bold stand on issues affecting their communities. Experiencing this youth culture equipped me with greater inspiration to challenge the existence of the conditions I had grown up with. I began to believe that I would someday be able to create solutions to uproot the threats of hunger, food insecurity, and poor nutrition in my marginalized community.

Upon my return to Tanzania in 2007, I attended St. Anthony’s Secondary School and Ihungo Boys’ High School before graduating in 2013. While in high school, I also completed a three-month internship at Dar-Chick poultry farm in Kibaha District. The work at Dar-Chick rekindled the existing interest I had in food production and a desire to do something about food insecurity.


After completing my mandatory military service in July 2013, I secured a student loan from Tanzania’s Ministry of Education and entered a Bachelor’s Degree program in Petroleum Chemistry at the University of Dar es Salaam. Wanting to launch an agricultural venture but having no other access to capital, I ate only bread with water twice a day for four months as a means to save 90 percent of my meal allowance. The four months were difficult but enabled me to save $200 which I used to purchase 100 chickens, rehabilitate old chicken housing, hire one person, and, in September 2013, launch Jefren Agrifriend Solutions (JAS), which provides inexpensive food and fertilizer to the food insecure.

Since its founding, the company has experienced impressive growth. Today JAS not only rears day-old chicks under veterinary supervision until they are old enough to be sold as chicken meat or used to lay eggs, but also farms vegetables and packages organic fertilizers for sale. I have made the most of my Petroleum Chemistry major (the only one I could declare and be guaranteed a student loan for 100 percent of the expenses), by using my increased knowledge of analytical chemistry to ensure quality control for our products and to formulate standard poultry feed.

The current annual production for JAS stands at 45,000 broiler chickens, 31 tons of green vegetables, 77 tons of corn and rice, 90 tons of onions and 34 tons of organic fertilizer. These numbers translate into the provision of inexpensive nutritious meals to more than 270,000 people in Dar es Salaam and neighboring regions each year. As such, JAS has improved not only the nutrition of families in my home community, but also their overall food security. We plan to keep marginalized people and communities at the heart of our business as it continues to grow.

My success with JAS and commitment to reshaping communities through agricultural entrepreneurship recently earned me recognition from the elite South Africa-based African Leadership Academy (ALA) that collaborates with the MasterCard Foundation Africa to offer the prestigious Anzisha Prize to the most promising African entrepreneurs aged 15 to 22.

In 2015, there were 494 applicants from 33 countries competing for the Anzisha Prize. I was 1 of the 12 Anzisha Prize finalists that were selected from the highly talented applicant pool.

As a finalist, I was inducted into a network of Anzisha Fellows that receive ongoing business development skills, professional guidance and mentoring from ALA and its partners. This accomplishment was featured on ALA’s website and YouTube site, as well as on How We Made It In Africa and CNN. I’m deeply honored to receive this accolade and to be recognized and supported by other organizations, such as the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania and the National Institute for Medical Research.

At the same time, I am well aware that there are others in my generation who have the potential to do this great work. There are many young people who would like to create social enterprises but lack the skills and the resources to do so. As a result, I now devote some of my time to supporting other Tanzanian youth interested in creating their own companies by providing on-farm training, mentoring, and guidance in sustainable agriculture, business development, and marketing analysis through my pilot project called KiKi (Kijana na Kilimo/Youth in Agriculture) Initiative, which is projected to impact 240 Tanzanian young people per year.

Through this work, I am doing my part to address both the food insecurity and the youth unemployment crises we experience in Tanzania. My dreams are big, but I cannot solve these connected problems alone. Funders and lending institutions who care about economic development in my region should continue to rethink their impact strategies and focus their efforts on empowering us young people to create local solutions to the issues we face.

Source:
http://www.forbes.com/


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