Meet the people behind Action Africa, the initiative that enables 250.000 farmers, together with Yara, to feed one million people for one year in East Africa.
Growing up with his 4 siblings, he was often helping his parents on their smallholder farm. Always outside in nature, having his hands in the dirt and taking part in making sure that there was food on the table, Vitalis Wafula dreamed of having his own farm one day. “I've grown up in an environment in Africa where food is not necessarily always guaranteed to all families. That is the reason why I got motivated to get into this industry,” he says.
Today, Vitalis grows maize, sugarcane and vegetables on his own farm, plus he works a full-time job as a Senior Commercial Manager for Yara East Africa covering Uganda and Kenya. “I have a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and a master’s degree in management. It is something that has not only helped me in my current work, but also personally, where I apply those skills in my farming practice.”
Vitalis live in Nairobi with his wife and their three children, who are 13, 11 and 6 years old. His wife, a paediatrician, is also passionate about farming and has her own farm as well. On the weekends they visit their farms together with the kids, who love to play and help do the work of farming. “Whenever we can, we try to travel to the national parks or visit the countryside just to be with my folks in the village and just to have time away from the city life.”
“My role in Action Africa is, from inception, to plan, discuss with the various stakeholders, bring all the stakeholders to the table, and plan in terms of targeting, which areas we should go to for purposes of rolling out this program, and also coordinating everything around the logistics and the actual delivery of the product and follow up to the farmers to ensure that indeed we get the desired objective of this program,” he says.
Vitalis is an open-minded team player, who interacts with a lot of people from different backgrounds, easily making people comfortable in his company, whether the conversation is about business or his life. This is an important qualification for his job, and one of the many reasons Action Africa has been a success.
“One of the best aspects of Action Africa is the fact that we are doing it in a digital platform, and in a process that gives a fair chance to all the farmers that have a chance to qualify,” Vitalis says. “Another important objective is to expose smallholder farmers to technology or products that will help to improve their productivity in general. Many of the smallholder farmers are challenged economically. It is a key thing helping them to have access to inputs, which they don't necessarily have all the time.”
“There are many families who go to bed hungry in this part of the world”
Going into a project of this scale has not been without challenges. “As we went into Action Africa, one of our biggest concerns was the fact that we're rolling out a very big program in a very short period of time. The fertilizer was shipped in July and this short rainy season in Kenya begins in August. So, my initial concern was probably that we were not going to get the fertilizer in time for the farmers to produce. And also, the fact that traditionally, we don't deliver fertilizer to the small agro dealers in our business setup; we only deliver to the main distributors. That logistically required a lot of planning and a lot of communication and people on the ground to be able to coordinate this. But I'm happy to say that it's gone extremely well, because one of the things that we did in the beginning as a preparation was that we digitally mapped all these agro dealers around the country. We registered them on a platform we call Yara Connect. This has really helped, and we have managed to deliver the product to all those agro dealers in the villages. For me, that is a major success.”
Although the challenges of COVID-19 have only exacerbated existing issues with food security and people’s livelihoods in the region, Vitalis sees reasons to be hopeful. “The supply chain has disrupted incomes for many, many households,” he says. “There are many families who go to bed hungry in this part of the world. If we are able to do something at Yara to contribute to eliminating that issue, I think it is such a powerful thing.”
To Vitalis, it is very important that farming will be more efficient in the future, especially as we find ways to produce more crops without bringing more land to production by cutting down trees, which he believes is one of the biggest challenges across Africa. “We are a fast-growing population. The total land area available for farming continuous to diminish, yet the population increases, and the food demand increases.” But with the new connectivity provided by Action Africa’s digital platform, he explains, “I can impact other people around in my community, [showing] how professional farming and modern methods and technologies improve the productivity and the environment. It is such a noble cause that I feel really proud to be associated with.”