Investing in Africa's future
SIBLEY, Iowa -- When Daryl Bosma was broached in mid-2010 about being an investor in an egg-laying operation in rural Mozambique, in southeast Africa, he eagerly joined the business venture for two reasons: It could be a source of profit and, more importantly, it could aid people in that developing Third World country to become self-sufficient.
Bosma, co-owner of Bosma Poultry Inc., is one of eight partners -- all connected to poultry or egg production from northwest Iowa -- in Center Fresh Eggs and its Center Fresh Africa division.
Four of them traveled to Nampula, Mozambique, just before Christmas to see progress on their investment -- two barns completed in the last six months that are now filled with egg-laying chickens.
Plans are to eventually have six steel-constructed barns, said Bosma, although the investors have decided since visiting the country to focus on pullet, rather than egg, production.
Connections forged, obstacles faced
In partnership with Dooyema Brothers in an egg-laying operation near Sioux Center, Iowa, Bosma said he first learned of the African venture through Kim Dooyema, who had met some individuals from Mozambique during a mission trip.
"They told (Dooyema) about what they had going down there and the opportunities, and he told the rest of us about it," Bosma said.
Andrew Cunningham was one of Dooyema's first contacts. The England native settled in Mozambique six years ago.
"He already has a farm there," said Bosma. "Six years ago he was living in a tent with his wife. Now they have a baby chick hatchery, a feed mill, broiler business and broiler processing plant."
Cunningham and his brother sold the Iowa investors on partnering in Center Fresh Africa after seeing first-hand how the economy has taken off.
Mozambique, colonized by the Portugese in 1505, was in the midst of a Civil War from 1977 to 1992. Now that the country has stabilized, a business-friendly environment has developed. Entrepreneurs from Brazil to China are making significant contributions in the country.
"The farm we have is 10 miles from town," said Bosma, adding that the Chinese are going to pave a road to the farm and extend it farther to access mines.
"Africa has 30 percent of the world's resources, and (China) knows that," Bosma said.
Without willingness from the Chinese to pave roads, little progress can be made on infrastructure. Roads are certainly an important development, but so are accesses to water and grain.
"There are a lot of hardships," he said, likening the African experience to pioneer times in the Midwest.
A good source for water was recently identified, but grain access is still a concern.
"You can raise (corn) a couple hundred miles farther inland, but you've got to develop that, too. It's pretty tough," Bosma said.
There is the option of buying feed on the world grain exchange and shipping it in, but that would be costly.
Education under way
Just as Bosma and his partners continue to move forward with building and expanding their poultry business near Nampula, Cunningham and his brother are working with the African people to develop their own flocks, as well as educate them about including eggs in their diet.
Bosma said eating eggs hasn't been in their culture and there are some cultural myths about eggs that they need to overcome. Already, he said demand for eggs is growing and gaining momentum.
"One barn had 9,000 birds and they sold all their eggs through a little retail shop," he said.
The buyers would then take the eggs into the city and resell them at a profit.
"The margins are big there, but you need big margins because it's pretty risky," he added.
The Cunninghams are working toward developing a finance company that would finance African entrepreneurs interested in owning their own flocks. They also plan to establish a school to teach the locals not only about money, but growing their own vegetables, raising their own chickens and running their own business when they graduate. They will also be educated about morals and Christianity.
"What it's really about is empowering Africans," Bosma explained. "Somewhere along the line, they seemed to have missed that part about running their own businesses. They're really good workers."
The Cunninghams are "big picture" entrepreneurs, and Bosma said they believe that with God's help, they can transform Mozambique.
"The potential is there -- with the concepts they have, with the right motives in mind," he added.
The transformation, though, has already begun. In the 1960s, 70 percent of the capital flowing into Mozambique was government aid. Today, the country gets just 13 percent in government aid -- the rest comes from private companies investing in Africans.
"We need to continue to shift the approach from aid to investment," said Bosma, adding that the government has been instrumental in generating private business growth.
"When different companies come in there -- or countries -- if they're doing a project like (mining), the government has a policy of working with them, but they have to give back to the people, too," Bosma said. "That's good. It's so important to have a good, moral government."
On a mission
Bosma journeyed to Mozambique with brothers Kim and Erik Dooyema and Randy Geyerman of Le Mars, Iowa. While the main reason for their trip was strategic business planning, they also wanted to tour small out-layer farms (individual producer farms with small flocks of laying hens) and get to know the people raising the birds.
Seeing the out-layer farms, Bosma said his group decided to shift from egg production into pullet production. The goal is to eventually produce pullets to feed into the out-layer farms, where small, independent producers would focus on egg production.
"It's one thing to give them a job, but it's another for them to actually have their own farms and then they can succeed," Bosma said.
He anticipates making a yearly visit to Nampula to monitor their investment.