It started 45 years ago when Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham, living near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, gave 50 newly hatched chicks to their seven-year-old son, Peter. “See what you can do with them,” they said. By the time he was 17 years, he was raising 10,000 chicks a week and was on his way to a successful and colorful missional business career.
Today Peter is a visionary, entrepreneurial, God-fearing, faith driven guy and the CEO of Hamara and Heartland Foods in Zimbabwe. The heart of the business is the poultry industry – including hatching, broilers and layers. He explains it in its simplest iteration: 30 birds will lay 22 eggs daily; the farmer can save five for his family and sell seventeen. This provides more income than half of the poor families in the country.
Hamara’s influence extends to one-stop distributors in 13 cities, making them one of the largest chicken distributors in the country. One of the genius components is their outgrower program with over 300 small scale farmers since 2002. The growth rate is an average of 20,000 chickens a week each. They are propelled by an incentive “model farmers” program by which farmers can move from the Bronze stage to Silver, Gold and then to Platinum, and be part of something bigger than themselves.
In a country where one third are extremely poor, there is opportunity (market pull) to break the yoke of poverty. Peter cites David Livingstone as an example, who was the first European to reach the area in the 19th century. Ultimately, Mr. Livingstone was motivated to break the yoke of slavery. While working hard to reduce poverty, Peter never misses an opportunity to link his work and company to the grand eternal purposes of God – that more and more people come to worship and follow Him. He does so by daily reminding himself and his staff of the amazing life and grace of Jesus. As Peter states, “Jesus chooses ordinary people like us and loves us to live in relationship with Him, as He gives the favor to share His amazing life with others.”
Fourteen poultry training programs are already up and running across the country in an effective partnering integration of government, church, business and community leaders. They all believe that agriculture, (which has regressed in recent decades), is the key to job creation and feeding the country.
Ebenezer Agricultural College, led by Peter’s sister, Renee, exists to equip young people (aged 18-23) in rural Zimbabwe with the practical skills needed to run their own small-scale agricultural business. In addition, students obtain the spiritual maturity to live Christ-centered lives in their communities. Training includes life skills, agriculture and business proficiency, both in the classroom and in practical fieldwork. They actually farm the land or the chicken ranches and receive rewards for productivity. Productivity provides the start-up capital needed to establish their own business upon graduation.
Not only is Ebenezer (and its smaller training programs) environmentally and economically sustainable, but the approach is holistic. Students not only have the opportunity to become successful farmers and businesspeople, but also mature followers of Jesus, as they study the Bible and learn practical discipleship. All members of the leadership team teach and model honesty, servanthood and hard work every day.
The Hamara website tells it succinctly, “Our desire is to create agro-business people whose focus has shifted from aid to trade and as we do that, the church is used as a platform for God to unlock the potential of communities.” Truly an integration of POULTRY – PROFITS – PROCLAMATION (of Jesus)!
Larry W. Sharp joined IBEC Ventures board member and agriculture investor in Africa, David Kier, on the trip to Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures