Clever Isaya (pictured), the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) chief executive officer, represents the new breed of young executives that have been ushered into state owned entities to remodel these entities from perennial loss makers.
BY NDAMU SANDU
More than two years into the job, Isaya said it was “humbling” to be given such an honour to lead an organisation with such a huge responsibility.
“The appointment of the so-called ‘Young Turks’ is testimony of the New Dispensation’s faith in young people. I believe that young people are the future and can contribute meaningfully to the development of our country. His Excellency, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is living true to his word that his Government will not leave anyone or any place behind in pursuit of Vision 2030,” he told Business Times.
He considers his tenure as exciting and fulfilling considering that he is actively involved in deliberate efforts to transform agriculture into a globally competitive, inclusive and business-oriented sector that “creates wealth, generates gainful employment and improves the quality of life for the people of Zimbabwe”.
AMA has made significant inroads in driving agricultural development and rural industrialisation in pursuit of Vision 2030, Isaya said.
He said the remodelling of AMA to become a robust and effective regulator for sustainable agriculture development is probably the biggest change in AMA’s transformation journey which has seen the entity undergoing restructuring and rebranding in line with its new enhanced role in the agriculture sector.
“The AMA of old had become detached and irrelevant to the demands of a sector undergoing accelerated transformation,” Isaya said.
To him, successful transformations are business-led, and involve the creation of three simultaneous conditions — a large-scale dissemination of productivity-increasing technology and inputs, plus input and capital intensity; the development of input and output market structures, regulations and incentives that allow the full realisation of the value of increased production; and a well-functioning and vibrant private sector that can manage and allocate skill and capital to scale emergent success and drive long-term sustainable agribusiness growth.
“To facilitate growth, the Authority is creating an enabling agribusiness environment with appropriate policies and regulations. A number of regulations and policies have already been reviewed to promote growth of the sector in line with targets set out in the National Development Strategy 1. To this end, AMA’s role is now fully appreciated and there has been encouraging feedback from key stakeholders,” the executive said.
However, the positive changes are not down to him but the entire team — from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, board, management, right down to everyone working in the organisation, so it is a team accomplishment, Isaya said.
He said the biggest change in AMA’s transformation journey is the remodelling of the entity to become a robust and effective regulator for sustainable agriculture development.
AMA has also been pushing for import substitution.
It has cobbled a partnership with Zimgold and Agriculture Advisory and Rural Development Services for the growing of local sunflower to cut off raw materials imports for cooking oil.
“One of the key outputs of the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy is import substitution. There is no reason for Zimbabwe to be a net food importing country, spending millions of foreign currency annually on food imports,” Isaya said.
He said the partnership wants to ensure that Zimbabwe is “oil secure” through supporting local farmers to go into sunflower production which can be processed into oil.
“The programme is set to support 10 000 farmers countrywide and will result in a significant reduction in our oil import bill. In addition, private sector participation in agriculture production as demonstrated by Zimgold is a clear testament of Government policy in motion to localise production,” the executive said.
It has not been plain sailing as the sector is rocked by rampant side marketing of cotton and wheat.
Isaya said side marketing in the seed cotton industry has been at the top of the agenda for AMA.
Initiatives deployed to curb the scourge include revising regulations to strengthen capacity, and cleaning and verifying farmers’ databases through the Civil Registry Department, he said, adding that the database is being used at all common buying points.
AMA has deployed staff at all buying points who verify details before sales proceed. Joint enforcement measures with law enforcement agents have been started at all seed cotton marketing points outside approved points.
“In addition, all movement of cotton can only be done after AMA issues a movement permit. All cotton merchants have signed an MoU pledging good business practices. We have already seen a marked decline in incidents of side marketing of seed cotton this season,” Isaya said.
For wheat, a database of producers is used to identify who produced wheat and under which programme and so are expected to sell through their financier.
So before a farmer sells their produce, they get a clearance letter from AMA and a movement permit from GMB so that they are able to take their wheat from the farm to the offtaker, Isaya said.
Farmers believe they are getting the short end of the stick as the prices they get for their have been outpaced by the cost of production.
On strategic crops, AMA consults farmers’ unions and all other relevant stakeholders in coming up with cost of production budgets from which a cost-plus pricing model is then derived and recommended for announcement by the government, Isaya said.
This, he said, would ensure that farmers are viable and would therefore go back to the land to produce more.
“For other commodities such as horticulture, the price discovery mechanism is based on demand and supply. It is an acknowledged and a well-known fact that during periods of glut, prices come down while during lean periods, prices firm,” the executive said.
He said AMA was coming up with training programmes to up production as famers’ production levels “are usually below their potential for one reason or another”.
“Often, many farmers want to compensate for low production with a higher price. But with higher productivity levels, the issue of presumed ‘low’ prices then becomes subtle,” Isaya said, adding that AMA registers all buyers of agricultural products in the country.
From that database, AMA then administers the market linkages function with farmers so that they are not saddled with products with no-one to take them, he said, adding that the Authority also raises resources for value chain financing in order to support the uptake of agricultural products, especially strategic ones.
“So in short, AMA’s role spans from market linkages, trade facilitation, advisory services, research and market development, value chain financing to regulatory services function which are all designed to address the farmers concerns in so far as production and marketing challenges are concerned,” the executive said.
Isaya wears many hats: he is a family man, a serial entrepreneur, a farmer, a business leader and a decent golfer. In all this, the executive believes in maintaining a balance between life and work. Balancing the two can be challenging but necessary, he said.
“Often, work takes precedence over everything else in our lives. Our desire to succeed professionally can push us to set aside our own well-being. Creating a harmonious work-life balance or work-life integration is critical, though, to improve not only our physical, emotional and mental well-being, but it is also important for our career,” he said.
“So, if I am not in the office, you can find me at the farm. If I am not there you are sure to find me at one of the golf courses.”
The executive believes the success of every organisation is predicated on making every individual in that set-up feel that they have a voice and a role to play in its success.
“And if I were to put it down to one thing, it would be that, but even that, we are just on the very early part of the journey and creating that culture where every member of staff, really feel that they can make a difference and contribute value,” Isaya said.
The secret to the successes, he said, is tapping into everyone, from the board to the senior management and every layer of the organisation, to drive the success and make them feel that they own the success along with everyone in this organisation.
“And beyond that, we continue to elevate the bar. So, no matter how well we have done, there is a sense of ‘it is not good enough;’ we need to lift ourselves higher, we need to be better, stronger, faster, and at the forefront of technology and everything we do. So, it all comes together and gives you small little steps of results. I don’t have a specific term to describe this leadership style, but that is my approach which I find to be very effective,” he said.
The executive reads books on leadership to get ideas of the kind of strategies and experiences people have had. He is also reading books about doing business in Africa. He is currently reading Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins and GG Alcock’s KasiNomic Revolution: The Rise of African Informal Economies