Living in the slums of Dar es Salaam, Sirjeff Dennis experienced really tough times, but none of the things he suffered had a hold on him. He had big dreams, and so he worked tirelessly, making no room for excuses.
After completing high school, Dennis joined Tanzania’s compulsory national service for three months of training and while other people would spend their monthly allowance buying food and other things, Dennis saved every penny. At the end of his service, he returned with $60, ready to take his first steps in business. He bought 50 broiler chickens, having gained experience working for a local poultry farm. He would eat bread with water through breakfast, lunch and supper in a bid to save enough money to grow his company.
I was trying to use minimal amounts, maybe only $15 a month. HowwemadeitinAfrica records.
Soon, he raised enough money to expand his business; He bought some layers for egg production and started selling chicken manure as fertiliser to local farmers. Next, he began farming vegetables, producing around 400kgs per week, before branching out into maize and rice production. Business boomed faster than he imagined. Just last year, Dennis acquired six acres of land which he plans to use to expand his poultry business.
The young entrepreneur supplies fresh poultry products to his community through informal traders at a rate almost 50% cheaper than those of his competitors.
One of the ways he has been able to achieve this is by reducing the price of chicken feed, which he says makes up around 90% of total production costs, an experienced he gained from an agricultural laboratory in Kenya, which provided him with a formula for chicken feed that he could produce locally.
It was almost half the price of buying feed from manufacturers. So I found my cost of production was very low and I could sell my products at lower prices and still make profit.
Like every successful entrepreneur, Dennis has had his fair share of down times, he never forgets one of the toughest times he has faced in business. At 18, while in school, he had to leave his chicken business in the care of a young employee. The employee was provided with money to buy medication for 500 chicks, but instead spent it on himself and left the chickens to die.
It was a very, very painful moment and I lost all the money that I had invested. I was left with just a small amount and I had to start all over again with 100 chickens.
Dennis didn’t allow that experience to kill his dream; instead it thought him life lessons, one of which is to build a trustworthy team.
But, at the same time, you should make your team feel like your project is theirs too. I was actually not giving [my employees] a lot of money… When I employed the next team, I gave them a place to sleep in the house and was responsible for their meals. I also paid them a fair salary.
He also learnt to take responsibility for his life and not to depend on anyone or circumstance. His advice to other young Africans is to consider farming as a career, not just because it’s important for the continent’s food security and solving unemployment, but because it can also be a profitable business.
He has a dream,
…to change the mindset that agriculture is only for those that do not have an education – because it is not. Agriculture is for anyone.
© 2016, Lovelyn Okafor. All rights reserved.