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Learning and leading

STAFF PROFILE: Searching for the entrepreneurial spirit in FBA recruits


It’s mid-afternoon and Llionel Simbarashe Zisengwe arrives at a farm a couple hours from his office in Chimoio in the central part of Mozambique. Leo (as he likes to be called) heard from other farmers in the area that this farmer has helped them get seeds in the past. Leo is a project manager in iDE’s Mozambique office, and he’s recruiting Farm Business Advisors (FBAs) to join the the agriculture program. 

Farm Business Advisors

Farm Business Advisors are entrepreneurs who work with small-scale farmers. They sell farmers seeds, fertilizers and irrigation technology, provide training on farming best practices, and connect farmers to markets where they can sell their produce. 

I De Pc Moz Staff Profile Fba

(Photo by David Graham/iDE)

In the field, talking with farmers, is where Leo thrives. Growing up in a small farming town in Zimbabwe, Leo developed a passion for agriculture. In 2002, he began studying irrigation at Africa University in Zimbabwe. In his own hometown, he had seen the transformative power of irrigation technology. 

In 2008, while getting his masters degree in irrigation and water management in the Netherlands, Leo heard about an internship opportunity with iDE. For 3 months, Leo worked with farmers in Ethiopia, testing drip irrigation technology and learning about iDE’s Farm Business Advisor model.

“That was my baptism with iDE,” says Leo. “Before working at iDE, I thought small-scale farming wasn’t something that could grow. I learned working at iDE that we’re providing a stepping stone for small-scale farmers to grow.”

He went on to work at iDE’s Zimbabwe and Zambia offices and then, in 2011, joined the team in Mozambique.

“I’m proud of iDE Mozambique,” says Leo. “When I started it was only five people. It’s grown from one small office to offices all over Mozambique.”  

Tracking and training

The capabilities of the program have also expanded. The team recently introduced mobile tablets and cloud-based business applications to the program. Training FBAs to use the tablets to track their client interactions and sales, Leo and his team have real-time data on the progress of the program and can identify areas of improvement. Last year, Leo and his team trained 70 FBAs, and over the next month, he’s hoping to recruit 80 more FBAs to the program.

I De Pc Moz Training Fbas

(Photo by Rachel Rose/iDE)

Back on the farm in northern Mozambique, Leo and the farmer walk amongst the crops, discussing farming techniques and sources for seeds and fertilizers. Recruiting FBAs isn’t just asking them to join, it’s understanding if they have the entrepreneurial spirit to expand their business. It may take a few visits before a farmer decides to join, but Leo is happy to get out of the office and into the field.

“It’s a continuation of the kind of life I grew up in,” says Leo. “I like to get my hands dirty.”