This Youth-led Social Enterprise is Making Management and Finance Accessible to Zambia’s Smallholder Farmers

YouthADAPT Challenge winner Sustainable Builders improves the lives of smallholder farmers by reducing the volatility of the agricultural sector and providing financial stability

I n Southern Africa, three-quarters of the population rely on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods. However, severe climatic events in the form of droughts, flash flooding and extreme temperatures have become increasingly commonplace.

In Zambia, where smallholder farmers make up the majority of agricultural producers, these climate hazards threaten rural livelihoods and food and water security.

From Capacity Building to Social Enterprise

Driven by a strong desire to provide creative, long-term solutions for smallholder farmers struggling to adapt to the drastic changes in Zambia’s rainfall patterns, Joseph Weluzani founded the social enterprise Sustainable Builders.

Weluzani found three gaps in the agricultural sector that in particular need to be bridged to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in the long term: managing supply chains, testing digital solutions, and enabling structured market access. Sustainable Builders works to fill these gaps by building business management capacity, upgrading management systems, integrating digital solutions, and improving access to financial products and services for actors in the agricultural market.

Sustainable Builders initially began as a capacity building and local program implementor for other development organizations. Weluzani and his team sought to expand and progress into a fully functioning independent social enterprise. However, they lacked the financial means, technical expertise, and business development experience to take the Sustainable Builders to the level they envisioned.

Scaling Up Impact through the YouthADAPT Challenge

To scale up their business and increase their reach, Weluzani applied to the African Youth Adaptation Solutions Challenge (YouthADAPT Challenge), an annual competition that targets Africa’s next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. The YouthADAPT Challenge is jointly organized by the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), the African Development Bank, and Climate Investment Funds (CIF).

Sustainable Builders was chosen as a winning enterprise, and received a development grant of US$100,000, and the opportunity to participate in a 12-month business acceleration program aimed at scaling up the enterprise’s operations. This enabled them to help more farmers to build capacity, educate, and train other farmers on issues such as crop divestment and seed variation, thus enabling the smallholders to grow their businesses, establish partnerships, and ultimately increase their returns.

The road to success has not been straightforward. Prior to joining the YouthADAPT Challenge, Sustainable Builders faced issues such as access to finance, markets, and information, which hindered their progress and limited their initial reach and impact. With the support received from winning the YouthADAPT Challenge, some of the initial challenges that Sustainable Builders faced were alleviated. The grant provided additional resources to increase their operational services and personnel, for example allowing them to expand their operations from one district to two, with further growth already planned.

For Weluzani, one of the most significant benefits of winning the YouthADAPT Challenge was having a mentor with technical knowledge who provided tailor-made assistance and offered valuable insights and guidance to overcome challenges. Customized sessions for Weluzani and his team on topics such as leadership, management, and system productivity were pivotal. “It was amazing to be a part of the mentoring program. It was a massive learning experience and a tailormade approach that not many people get when starting their entrepreneurial business,” said Weluzani.

Inspiring Change and Empowerment

Driven by their passion for creating positive change and seeking innovative ways to make a difference, Sustainable Builders has laid out an ambitious plan for the future. After improving production systems and finding sustainable markets for farmers to sell their products, they are actively seeking new opportunities beyond their initial areas of focus.

So far, Sustainable Builders has achieved their goal of reducing the volatility of the agriculture market for smallholder farmers through their capacity building and structured market assistance. Their positive impact can be seen in the increase in farmers’ disposable income, which enables them to address critical needs like sending their children to school.

Innovating for Africa’s Development

For Africa to thrive, Weluzani emphasizes the importance of entrepreneurs thinking outside the box and seeking innovative solutions. It is not about revolutionizing entire industries, but rather identifying the inefficiencies and addressing them effectively. “Creativity and innovation should be the foundation for Africa’s development. We need entrepreneurs that think outside the box,” said Weluzani.

The journey of Sustainable Builders serves as an inspiring example of how innovative thinking, coupled with a commitment to making a positive impact, can drive real change and empowerment within communities.

Helping youth-led enterprises like Sustainable Builders to scale up their adaptation solutions is central to the YouthADAPT Challenge. The annual competition is part of the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP), an Africa-owned and Africa-led initiative launched jointly by GCA and the African Development Bank with the support of the African Union and African leaders.

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