Lusayo is a senior from Malawi, majoring in Agriculture Business Management. Since 2019, he has been the President of Project Malawi, a student group that fundraises for organizations in Malawi. Lusayo developed his relationship with ACADES through Project Malawi’s network. However, he first connected with the organization and its founder, Hastings Nhlane, while he was on a gap year after high school.
Lusayo and Hastings met at a career development meeting, where Hastings talked about the importance of involving youth in agriculture. His presentation inspired Lusayo’s interests in farming business practices. The two then met later in 2018 when Lusayo was a freshman and instantly hit it off, turning a briefly scheduled meeting into hours of conversation. Lusayo continues to support ACADES and works closely with Hastings. In 2019, Hastings came to Madison. The two arranged extensive meetings with Wisconsin farmers, African Studies Program, and arranged for Hastings to briefly speak at Africa at Noon and an agriculture class. This networking opportunity inspired Lusayo’s vision on how they could expand ACADES even more.
ACADES began in 2013. It is a locally run organization that seeks to support and empower Malawian farmers and the nation’s agriculture sector. The organization was born out of the struggles Hastings experienced out of college. ACADES focuses on youth, who make up 80% of Malawi’s population, and 60% of whom are unemployed. Like Hastings, many of those who went to college struggle to find work or start a business because of prejudices in financial institutions. Young entrepreneurs have a hard time getting loans from banks, who judge their lack of collateral and credit history as a non-starter.
ACADES takes on the risk of lending to young people. They believe that it is vital for the youth to get into the agriculture sector, given the majority of the national economy depends on it. Most of Malawi’s farmers are older, and ACADES sees this as unsustainable. Lusayo explains, “we need young people involved in agriculture. They bring a fresh perspective and can move the country forward.”
ACADES does more than issue loans to young farmers. They identify issues in agriculture business practices and collectively develop solutions, centering learning and debate as a pillar of their organizational model. ACADES brings farmers together to raise issues and brainstorm their answers while bringing in knowledge producers to teach farmers best practices. One area of improvement ACADES noticed was in farmers’ relationship to the market. Young agriculture entrepreneurs have lost out to exploitative contracts. They also have guided farmers to sell collectively to big retailers. For example, where a local farmer might not land a contract with a “hotel that needs 2,000 onions,” Lusayo breaks down, “5-7 farmers can come together and combine their resources to access larger contracts.”
Lusayo’s mission is to expand ACADES finances, and, in turn, its reach. In 2019-2020 Lusayo was back in Malawi and met with the ACADES team, and when a chance opened up for Lusayo to join the team later in 2020, they agreed to bring him on board. Lusayo notes his gratitude “because [he] can work with an organization [he’s] passionate about.” He brings his education, networks, creative thinking skills, and experience growing up in a rural area to ACADES. One of Lusayo’s innovative ideas is to bring a revolving loan fund to ACADES, turning it into a microfinance organization. With this model, they will charge appropriate interests and open up savings and checking accounts to sustain the organization’s financial end. This will allow for more room for training and education opportunities. Lusayo will initiate these ideas when he starts ACADES in May 2021.
ACADES is continually thinking about evolving its practices and how they address the issues Malawian farmers face. They currently have applications open for two virtual internships:
- Program Assistant Intern. Development Research Intern
The Virtual Program Assistant Intern will assist with the following:
- Assisting the Program Coordinator with designing the Technical and Vocational Training Program for youth in agribusiness
- Conducting research on existing models of Technical and Vocational Education Training Programs
- Helping with additional ad hoc tasks as needed
The Virtual Development Research Intern will assist with the following:
- Researching and interpreting international microfinance operations, ethics, and challenges
- Researching and drafting a financial model for youth in agribusiness in Africa
- Examining the benefits of various international microfinance products
- Helping with additional ad hoc tasks as needed
Lusayo explains that these positions have a lot of room for creativity and innovation, especially in terms of researching possible solutions to the issues farmers currently face, such as gender inequality. Interns are invited to brainstorm some ways ACADES can better support its community. You can learn more about the positions and how to apply here.
By Carly Lucas