Dereje Belay is owner of the Dereje Farming Development Enterprise. Above and beyond, he is a model agricultural investor engaged in farming activities at Benshagul-Gumuz State, Assossa District. Dereje works to transform himself and his family, starting with small-scale farming and with the support of technologies in agriculture. Dereje is married and has a child. The Ethiopian Herald has held an interview with him. Excerpts:
Would you please introduce yourself to our readers ?
I was born in Gojam province of Amhara State. At the age of 14 in 1993, I came to Addis Ababa City and started to live with my older sister. I attended most of my primary education in Addis Ababa. I have taken some entrepreneurial courses and trainings before I engaged in various businesses.
How did you start your business life?
I was first working in my sister's hotel service during night time as a cashier, and side by side working in a garage called Belay Garage around Bulgaria Square. Then, I made an agreement with my parents to open a spare parts shop around the garage. In addition, my family also opened a restaurant for me as a start up. In line with this, my friend and I used to bake Injera and sell for hotels. From this business, we were also making much money, however, we quit shortly because we were luring for other business matters.
Recognizing the benefit of hard work, I was devoted to engage myself in larger businesses. So that I bought a minibus for a short period of time. Then, due to the inefficiency of transport business, I sold the minibus and bought Isuzu track to make better business. But, it could not also satisfy me any more to stay in this business.
In 2006, watching over my cousins previously working in agriculture, I wanted to join and support them to boost incomes better than before. Then, I immediately sold my properties and joined them buying an old tractor in a place called Sogie, 70 KM away from Nekempte. And I started on 70 hectares of land rented for 300 birr. In this small plots of land, I could grow ginger, soya bean, maize, millet and other crops. Recognizing the benefits of high value crops for generating income, I am currently producing vegetables and fruits.
Were you satisfied with the market price of your agricultural products?
Of course, the price of ginger was rising high at that time. So that, we could get profit from selling ginger and other crops, too.
How did you transform your small-scale agriculture into a larger one?
In 2008, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi called on investors to engage in agricultural investment. As soon as the announcement was made, I just went to Assosa Zone Investment Bureau to ask them to give me land for investment. After carefully examining my profile, the authorities accepted the application and provided me a farmland estimated at about 1,000 hectares.
After two years, when the land was measured by the modern GPS system, the measurement indicated the land I received is only 400 hectares, which shows a decrement by 600 hectares. Although I requested the Office of Investment to give me the remaining hectares, the authorities told me to first develop the approved farmland; and I am still working on there for several years.
What were the obstacles to engage in such agricultural investment?
When I first began the investment, I faced with infrastructural challenges such as road and water accessibility. As the road was so hideously dangerous for travel due to the existence of wild animals and insects in the forest, I used to debauched the road part of the forest to make the working environment safe and secure. The other challenge was changing the attitude of people towards the benefits of agricultural investment.
For instance, most of my friends were not happy when I was engaged in this sector. Because they do not consider that agricultural production is profitable. On the other hand, the bureaucratic red tapes among service providers were the other challenge to smoothly undertake the investment activities starting from renting lands, and getting loans from banks.
Apart from the bureaucratic red tapes, the major challenge is protecting plant diseases. Stealthy diseases sometimes trick plants by reducing their defence system. Hence, prevention is the best remedy when it comes to dealing with most plant diseases in the locality.
Many diseases cannot be effectively controlled once symptoms develop or become severe. Upon recognizing the occurrence of urgent diseases, we use mechanisms such as sanitation and seasonal spray applications purchasing from Mercato, around Gojjam Berenda.
How much was your initial capital?
My initial capital was about 400,000 birr to begin with agricultural investment. But, the main thing that helped me to be successful is my onward commitment to face such challenges, and able to contribute for nation's effort towards poverty reduction.
What was the reason behind for to be a model agricultural investor and receive an award?
Well, taking many steps in the development of farmlands for years, I focused on transforming technology to boost productivity. Effectively implementing with the help of agricultural extension experts, I was successful as I anticipated in the production of crops as well as vegetables and fruits.
Therefore, I could became the first in registering significant agricultural production from Benshangul-Gumuz State utilizing modern agricultural technologies. Currently, I secured a capital of over 25 million birr, and created 50 permanent and 150 temporary jobs for women and youths. For this achievement, I receive a trophy award from the hands of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn on the 8th Farmers' and Semi-Pastoralists' Day held at Adama last week.
Is there any contribution you made for the local people?
Of course, I have been providing support for local youths engaged in sport. The team is known as Basha Buda Kebele Sport Club. My support is providing sport facilities such as balls, T-shirts, and some financial assistance. In addition, I built a store house in the locality that could collect over 30,000 quintals. This can be considered as the first in the state as well as may be the second in west Ethiopia. Such efforts are also the reason for receiving the award.
What is your next plan?
In the future, I would be engaged in constructing agro-processing plant which can be used as processing raw materials into finished products. In this effort, we could pack products and provide them for export market. Thus, it will be realized if the support of the government added to our efforts.
What is your agricultural practice you want to share for other farmers?
Well, I currently transformed from rain-fed agriculture into irrigation one using modern technologies. Technology has a big role in developing the agricultural activity. Today, it is possible to grow crops in a desert by utilizing agricultural technology. With this technology, plants can be engineered to survive in drought conditions.
Now, a farmer can cultivate on small plots of land with less labour, and can cut costs even more when they are looking for a used tractor and other harvesting technology, versus new equipment. In agriculture, time and production are so important; you plant in time, harvest in time and deliver to stores in time. Modern agricultural technology allows a small number of people to grow vast quantities of production in a shortest period of time.
What do you suggest to make the agriculture sector move one step forward?
Yes, agricultural experts must spend their time to conduct research on the prevention of crop and vegetable diseases. The other is the availability of transportation facility to the most remote areas. If the government prioritizes for the construction of roads in rural areas, anyone can go and engage in producing agricultural food crops easily.
Of course, transportation helps in making products available on markets in time from the farm. With transportation facility, consumers in cities will consume fresh fruits from farms within the same day that the fruit lives the garden in rural area. Thus, modern transportation technology facilities help farmers easily transport fertilizers or other farm products to their farms. It also speeds the supply of agricultural products from farms to the markets where consumers get them on a daily basis.
Whom do you praise for contributing in your effort?
Okay, I would like to convey my heartfelt thanks to government authorities, particularly those who still provide me support in the investment offices. Above all, I really thank my wife and friends for their continuous support and for providing me courage and moral assistance.