Harare, June 8, 2012: Zimbabwean youth entrepreneur, Simbarashe Mhungu (31), is travelling to the United States for the U.S. President’s Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership for Young African Leaders and is focused on leveraging U.S. technological advances in the agro-processing sector. He says the U.S. should up its support for small scale farmers in Zimbabwe.
“The current focus of the United States government of promoting sustainable agriculture with a focus on the small scale farmers is the right one for Africa. I think Zimbabwe probably has the best platform for that growth on the continent because we have small scale farmers with scalable skill-sets and relatively decent agro-processing supply chain infrastructure,” said Mhungu, founder and managing director of Harvest Fresh.
Harvest Fresh specializes in agribusiness and food processing. The company was founded in 1993 as BonneZim Private Limited and employed 1,500 Zimbabweans directly and 2,000 indirectly before it filed for bankruptcy in October 2011. Until 2010, BonneZim was the single largest exporter of processed green beans to the European Union from Zimbabwe, with revenues in excess of $7 million annually.
“Through my subsidiary, Harvest Fresh, I bought the firm out of bankruptcy in October 2011 with the aim of restructuring its business model to fit the new global agro-processing paradigm,” said the young entrepreneur. “Its core business will continue to be that of supplying exotic vegetables and fruits to local and export markets but with an added focus on world class value addition and the integration of the small scale farmer.”
The former Victoria Falls Safari Lodge management trainee studied business at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He worked at Walt Disney Company and later joined Goldman Sachs where he was responsible for managing 12 hedge fund relationships with assets of two billion dollars. Mhungu also helped structure several private equity transactions in Southern Africa.
“Working in the financial services industry gave me a deep window into what is happening in the global economy in terms of money flows and opportunities,” says Mhungu. “(While at Goldman Sachs) I saw the amount of investment that was going into agriculture and agro-processing in South America, some parts of Africa and in Asia…when I looked at that equation vis a vis the population growth, the growth in our needs for food security, and the availability of land in which to grow this, I saw there was a mismatch.”
Sixty percent of the world’s arable land is in Africa, yet Africa is a net importer of food!” he notes.
“The growth is going to come from this continent…so I thought that in my lifetime that (food importation) can change. Even if I can play a small part in that, I think it will be helpful in allowing that equation to balance. Hopefully this will also encouraging others to come and invest in a sector which I feel truly has amazing potential,” he says.
Mhungu, along with fellow youth entrepreneur Limbikani Makani, will embark on the unique American program where they will attend a two-day Innovation Summit and undergo a two week mentoring program with a company of their choice.
About 60 youth leaders from throughout Africa are expected in the U.S. for the Summit and Mentorship Partnership program. The program is part of President Obama’s multi-year initiative to engage with young African leaders. Beginning with President Obama’s Forum for Young African Leaders in 2010, the outreach has included more than 2,000 U.S government-sponsored programs for young leaders across Sub-Saharan Africa including the First Lady’s Young African Women Leaders Forum, held in South Africa in June 2011.
“It is a new experience in a way for me even though I attended college there. I am now going with a refined focus on agro-progressing and agriculture, a focus that I didn’t have when I was in the States,” says Simbarashe who will intern in Alabama with an agro-processing company.
He has already done his homework. “Alabama is very different from the New Yorks and the DCs of the world,” says Simbarashe. “It is one of the real agro-processing hubs of the United States, which has the best technology in terms of agriculture and agro processing. It makes this an amazing opportunity for me to learn and see what I can adapt to our local environment here in Zimbabwe.”- ZimPAS© June 8, 2012.
About 60 youth leaders from throughout Africa are expected in the U.S. for the Summit and Mentorship Partnership. The program is part of the Obama administration’s multi-year initiative targeted at young African leaders who are actively promoting positive change in their communities. It began with President Obama’s Forum for Young African Leaders in 2010, has included more than 2,000 U.S government-sponsored programs for young leaders across Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama sponsored a Young African Women Leaders Forum in South Africa in which two Zimbabwean young women leaders participated. – ZimPAS© June 8, 2012