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Meet the Tanzanian farmer revolutionising the horticultural landscape

Dickson Alex founded and built AGL Farms by himself all from scratch in Kibiti, Tanzania
Dickson Alex founded and built AGL Farms by himself all from scratch in Kibiti, Tanzania
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By Mohamed ElashiStephen Aanu Olobo
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As a young farmer, you have to sacrifice a lot. To forgo a town life as a young person, to come and live in a village like this, is a big challenge

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SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world who are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

"There is no culture like agriculture." That is the slogan that managing and founding director Dickson Alex uses at AGL Farms, a company he built by himself from scratch, and has now seen him reap significant rewards.

"I started with just a 30 by 30 square metres of land," says 27-year-old Dickson. "I was alone working on my farm from morning to evening while still thinking big. It took time, but I now have 49 acres of land. It's quite big," he explains.

From the city to the country

Dickson was 20 when he decided to embark on a career in agriculture. It had never occurred to him to visit or work on a farm prior to that point. His parents are businesspeople and have no association with farm life. In Dickson's case, moving from the city to the country took a great deal of courage.

Emmanuel Peter Mponji
Dickson moved from the city to the country side to pursue a career in agricultureEmmanuel Peter Mponji

"As a young farmer, you have to sacrifice a lot. To forgo a town life as a young person, to come and live in a village like this, is a big challenge," Dickson tells SCENES.

The sacrifice paid off for Dickson. He won a massive contract with Julius Nyerere Hydroelectric Power Station to supply fresh vegetables to over 3,000 workers. This initiative is one of Tanzania's largest government-run strategic projects, and it's right on the doorstep of AGL Farms.

Hamis Nyembenyembe, AGL Farm's Agronomist, says the business has come a long way since its inception. "At first, it was difficult. When I decided to come here, there was a bush, there was no farm here. Nowadays, people pass here, and they see there is change."

Impacting the youth

As the population of young people in Africa increases, it becomes more difficult for them to find employment. The FAO and UNIDO have worked together to create jobs in agriculture in Africa, including Tanzania, to give young people a chance, which also helps the continent's economy grow.

Omari Juma Bakari is in charge of AGL's operations. He says they started farming in the Tanzanian city of Kibiti because they saw problems in the agriculture business model.

Emmanuel Peter Mponji
AGL Farms focuses on employing young people and womenEmmanuel Peter Mponji

"We wanted to do something for ourselves and also impact the youth. We saw something which we could do, which was positive," Omari says.

The FAO and UNIDO initiative helps young people by increasing the number of young people working in value chains, such as production, packaging and retailing of products, both on and off the farm.

"We employ a lot of people, especially women and young people. I think as time goes on, people start believing in farming. The government is promoting farming and investing in youth projects to venture into the farming society," explains Dickson.

Drip irrigation technology

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), technological enhancements can help change how food is produced worldwide and make it less harmful to the climate and environment.

Emmanuel Peter Mponji
AGL Farms uses drip irrigation technology to produce products all year roundEmmanuel Peter Mponji

"It is very important to use technology because, with drip irrigation technology, you can produce throughout the year, whether the rain comes or doesn't. Most of the farmers depend on rain, but for us, we don't," Dickson enthused.

The WEF study also states that farmers and consumers will benefit from farm technology inputs and resources, boosting the agriculture industry's profitability.

Emmanuel Peter Mponji
Agronomist Hamis Nyembenyembe standing outside of one of the many greenhouses used by AGL FarmsEmmanuel Peter Mponji

"We produce high-quality produce in the greenhouses compared to the open field. That's why it is very important to adopt more advanced technologies to overcome the climate change effect," he adds.

Farming is not a punishment

Dickson wants to continue encouraging young people to work in agriculture so they see it as a valuable career opportunity and not just a stepping stone to finding something else.

Emmanuel Peter Mponji
Dickson wants to improve upon the way young people view a career in a agricultureEmmanuel Peter Mponji

All of his employees share this competitive spirit. "People say, 'Ah, you are doing agriculture, you've failed in life, you're zero.' But no, this is my office. I am doing work," says AGL Farms Operations Manager Omari Juma. "I see myself going to the farm in smart clothes, not wearing torn clothes. I go there like an executive. Okay, fine. I'll do some work, maybe catch some dirt, but I enjoy it," he adds.

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The career path of horticultural farming is becoming increasingly popular thanks to people like Dickson. It's hard to imagine a more rewarding scenario than saving the planet and making a living at the same time.

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