Meet the people behind Action Africa, the initiative that enables 250.000 farmers, together with Yara, feed one million people for one year in East Africa.
“I can assure you that when we were creating this Action Africa framework development, we never thought it would be this big,” he says. “This is going to change the way of thinking of the food system in Africa.” Talking with William Ngeno for even a few minutes, his dedication stands out. He is present in this moment, listening carefully, reflecting on his responses, and he is passionate about the things he puts his energy and time into.
William is Yara’s Country Manager at Yara East Africa (Kenya and Uganda operations). He grew up in the countryside with parents who are also farmers, which is why he chose an education in horticulture. “Of course, being raised in the countryside, agriculture was just in me all through my younger life. I wanted to grow a career where I can utilise my knowledge and the experience to not only do my job but also contribute to agricultural development.”
Farming is still a passion for William, who has his own farm where he grows sugarcane and tea. He lives in Nairobi with his wife and two boys, nine and four years old, who enjoy their occasional trips to the countryside to spend time with their families and friends who live there and visit the farm. He thrives having a balance between city life and the countryside. “For the kids to be in a good school, they have to be here in the city of Nairobi. But of course, in terms of the environment, the countryside is the best. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” When he is not spending time on his work or farm, he reads a lot and plays tennis on the weekends.
In his role at Yara, William is responsible for internal teams and local relationships with governments and partners who are involved in Action Africa in kenya and Uganda. “For me, working for Yara, Action Africa has really touched me on a personal level. When you see farmers receiving the donation of fertilizer bags, you can see the exact emotional approach and contentment they are getting. I'm quite excited, putting in all the energy with my determined team to ensure that all these farmers are getting the free donation, because it's going to change lives. And that is quite touching.”
“If we don’t take action now, we are going to pay for it big time.”
William believes that this 40.000 tons of fertilizer will not only touch this generation, but will have a positive effect for the next decade. As a foundation for the region’s short-term need to feed one million people for one year, it will support many families and vulnerable communities. “The situation is dire,” he says. “If we don't take action now, we are going to pay for it big time.”
Beyond the initial phase of the initiative, Action Africa can build the foundation for revolutionizing agriculture in East Africa for future generations. The digital platform is a critical new channel for providing agronomy advice and many other resources that can lead to a thriving future for the smallholder farmers in East Africa. “Many countries in East Africa still import food,” William says. “It creates significant foreign debt to get food here. What can be done? We can change the narrative of food insecurity by enabling smallholder farmers with knowledge and technology. That is the key recipe for transforming and changing productivity at the farm level.”
While William’s career has taken him to many places across East Africa, the last 7 years he has been a part of Yara, have been particularly fulfilling. “It was unbelievable when we started to see things happening on the ground; farmers receiving fertilizer and planting. It is so satisfying because they are happy, and you can see things are moving,” he says. “More importantly, the retailers who are distributing this, they see it also for themselves the key role they are contributing to the society; It is not just a business. It is more of a service to humanity. It is quite exciting. It is one of those projects that has never been done, it has been challenging and tough, but when you see the results on the ground with all the benefits, personally, it is satisfying.”