In the 1990s, Zuneid Yousuf returned to his native Zambia. It was time to use the skills and knowledge built up through years of hard work in the textile industry and importing and distributing products from around the world.
Zuneid Yousuf is working to transform the agribusiness industry in Africa from within – here’s how
Almost 30 years since Zuneid Yousuf returned to Zambia, he has become chairman of African Green Resources (AGR), a world-class agribusiness company transforming Southern Africa’s agriculture sector. From textiles to African agricultural pioneer, Zuneid Yousuf has had quite the journey.
Yousuf’s business interests are varied, and have encompassed everything from fast moving consumer goods to the provision of soft drinks to the Zambian market and beyond. His entrepreneurial spirit is evident in each venture, placing the highest value on upholding integrity and a core belief that African businesses can outperform international rivals.
African Green Resources
Today, Yousuf is leading AGR, connecting farmers to suppliers and producers with access to markets, value addition and finance. This year the organisation launched an US$81 million financing programme and has extensive plans to invest US$150 million in Zambia for projects including a 50-megawatt solar farm and irrigation dam.
The scale of AGR’s projects seem a long way from Yousuf’s humble beginnings, yet his passion for African business development and the role that African businesses can play in delivering sustained economic growth has long been central to Yousuf’s outlook. These issues have become even more central to Yousuf’s vision as Zambia and the wider region is impacted by serious droughts, compounded by COVID-19, which has fuelled worrying forecasts for Zambia’s economy.
Zambian farmers are therefore not only finding it increasingly harder to produce their crops, but they are also facing difficulties in selling and marketing their products. This is especially the case for the production of maize, of which 90% is carried out by small scale subsistence farmers. AGR’s new partnership with U.S-based African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership in June 2020 is therefore all the more important. Not only is this a realisation of Yousuf’s central ambition, to help promote business growth and entrepreneurship, but it is actively creating jobs across Southern African during unprecedented and challenging times.
Upon his return to Zambia, Yousuf didn’t choose the easiest sector to start a new business. Tangy Drinks started as a backyard project for the family, yet rapidly grew following shrewd investments in bottling machinery and expanded into the third most-popular soft drinks company in Zambia. The lessons from Yousuf’s time in the textile industry were highly influential: to deliver affordable prices at speed without compromising quality, efficiency and reliability.
Within a few remarkable years, Yousuf and his family went from selling and producing soft drinks, to creating and consolidating a vast network of import and export goods across the region.
By 2015, Yousuf had spotted an opportunity in the fertiliser market. At the time, Zambia and the entire Southern African region were dealing with serious food shortages due to the El Niño climate phenomenon. The sector was in desperate need of fertiliser to bolster agricultural production. Thanks to Yousuf’s business in partnership with other regional enterprisers, Zambia eventually produced a surplus of food and became a key export partner to neighbouring countries.
The Next Chapter
Yousuf’s determination to develop new approaches to tackle the challenges the world faces in producing food for an ever-growing population has led to extensive collaboration with academics and independent specialists around the world.
Zambia’s current unemployment rate is estimated at 13.20%. Alongside his commitment to agribusiness, Yousuf is actively seeking to face this issue head on, supporting the Citizens’ Entrepreneur Development Programme to promote entrepreneurship at every level of Zambian society. The programme hopes to create 1.2 million jobs over the next two years, creating jobs in the mining, agriculture and urban business sectors.
At the heart of Yousuf’s extensive business career and achievements lies a simple yet important belief, that local knowledge and resources are keys to maximise business growth and successes. Yousuf is seeking to transform the agriculture and agribusiness sector from within, looking inwards rather than outwards for opportunity.