Farmers are businessmen and businesswomen

These thoughts are a distillation of experiences in both Africa (Kit and Celia Jensen) and Indonesia, PNG etc (Dave and Virginia Askin). We hope they may form the basis for discussions with farmers. Farmers may be good at growing a range of crops, but may fail to take the crop growing to the next level- that of a sustainable and profitable business. The points below seek to provide training /discussion points to work with in a small group of keen men and women.
There is a real need to encourage farmers to think and act like business owners. Kit says- before you can be a successful farmer you must be a business man/woman- otherwise you are just a home gardener.
Well, here they are – some key things we have learned over the years.
Hunter gatherer or business person?
Understanding business is particularly difficult if your background is hunting and gathering. Hunters and gatherers harvest and often share with others what nature provides. There are rules in a village to safeguard the natural resources (Many of these rules have been broken over the last 50 years and natural resources have been damaged – that is another story of great interest!).
A key difference between hunting and gathering and business is that a business person creates wealth. The hunter gatherer consumes the wealth of the land, the sea, the jungle/bush. Hunting and gathering has served hundreds of generations in Africa and Asia very well. This was the case when population was low and people could move a whole village easily. Now schools, churches, government facilities are fixed (they don’t move) and population has increased dramatically. We must now create wealth, often with limited land.
You may be thinking of the saying- Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  We think there is a problem here! We think that concept is still just about encouraging  hunting and gathering. We need to teach a woman or man – or better still, both – to farm fish. This is a foundation underpinning the re-creation and sustainability of a successful land based business. If we think about farming fish- we will start to think like business people.
Here are some other points we believe farmers should discuss together. They will come up with others.
Participation-
Start with the family. This is a family partnership so husbands- keep your wives involved and wives, likewise- keep your husband in the loop- knowing what is happening. Discuss plans openly together.
Businesses need a plan
A good decision is made on the back of a good plan. The plan guides the decision making. A plan shows us where we want to be at the end of this year and at the end of 2-3 years.
We take time to ensure it is growing in the right (profitable) directions. We think about the business, do simple analysis to figure out where we are wasting resources of time and money.
Businesses have money (capital) that is owned by the business
Business is different to the job we might wish to get in a mine or a store. Running our own farm business requires planning and understanding how to create wealth.
Many businesses fail because people don’t realise that some money belongs to the business and has to stay there.  If you give away your working money – to the Uncle with a need or the cousin who has school fees to pay- that may well be a good family decision in the short run. However, just as a chicken dies when its throat is cut, so a business dies when its working capital is spent outside the business. We may call this- bleeding the business dry. In the long run the business may die for lack of money to buy further seed, fertiliser or chickens. Try to think like a business person. A business has profit that can be used by you or others- as gifts or to pay for ordinary things the family needs. But if you take money from the working capital you will kill your business- through starvation.  Only the profit can be used for yourself, your friends and family or to grow the business.
There is no profit until the crop is replaced and fertilised or the new young chickens are growing happily with feed bought for their growth.


Farmers need to keep good records – so they can analyse profitability
Good record keeping skills are needed. We have some great resources for village people learning about record keeping.
Be faithful to your business – Ben Ikowa in Zambia.
You have to be faithful to your business and you have to be faithful to your wife and faithful to God. Ben Ikowa – Zambian farmer.
What does he mean by being faithful to your business? Just as you have to be faithful to your wife we have to be faithful to our business. We protect our partners from abuse.  We care for them. You don’t steal from the business.
Business owners must be ready to be different
If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got! If you are happy with what you always get, then that is fine. But if you have a plan and a vision for something better- for you, your children and your grandchildren- then keep learning- develop the plan and be ready to be different. Talk about this together in your family and community. Someone has to be willing to change. In many parts of Africa and Asia being different is bad. So, there is a need to talk with the community and reduce the chance of anger and mistrust.
Summary
These notes are not the end point, rather a beginning. There is an opportunity to learn together by asking questions of farmers and then listening carefully, drawing out their own wisdom. Look for successful business people and get them to share. Have they become just greedy and selfish? That is not the end point we are looking for. Jesus warns us to hold wealth with an open hand, sharing and caring.
Interesting thought- was Jesus in the carpentry shop a businessman?

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