Venture profile: Backpack Farm

Every month the VC4Africa team places a new venture in the spotlights. Now we will meet Rachel Zedeck, the founder of Backpack Farm.

Can you describe your venture?

“More than 20 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of international food aid. In response, the Backpack Farm Agriculture Program (BPF) launched an in 2007 designed all-in-one canvas backpack. This backpack is packaged with all the biological inputs needed for smallholder farmers to standardize both the quality and quantity of agriculture production during an annual growing season, to mirror semi-commercial rates of production.

Most important, farmers receive training on how best to use the backpack tools as well as build their core capacity. Together, it is possible to achieve sustainable linkages in food production, value chains and credible finance and income generation in social and ecological domains. We are proud to have been financially independent, yet to take any donor finance or commercial equity. We are now thrilled to be exploring new financial partnerships that will help us expand our program and marketplace.”

Who is your target audience and why?

“There are between 80 and 100 million smallholder farmers in East and Sub Sahara Africa, the largest untapped asset to offset global food deficits and rising food prices.  We work with individual farmers and the investors who want to optimize their investment potential in the agricultural sector supporting local, regional ad export markets. During the 2010 World Food Conference, Kofi Annan said: “improving the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of smallholder farming is the main pathway out of poverty in using agriculture for development.”

What are the key milestones achieved to date?

“We have designed an amazing program of biological farming inputs and drip irrigation packaged specifically for the needs of smallholder farmers on as small as 1/4 acre (1,000 m2) supported by globally recognized, “green” brands. We continue to expand our network of rural franchise farms serving as distribution network and full time training schools.

I am most proud of our training program culminating in the release of our 2011 “KUZA” (GROWING) Training Manual available for free for any organization to download (PDF, 23MB) working with smallholder farmers. To date, we are supporting development of value chains with more than 13,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya producing cotton, green beans, passion fruit, coffee, tea, honey, beans and so many other yummy crops!  So much done and so much more left to do!”

Why did you choose to set up Backpack Farm as a for-profit organization?

“I first chose the for-profit model because I just couldn’t stomach being part of the non-profit sector. That may sound harsh because there is amazing work being done by an unbelievable community of aid workers but I wanted to prove there was a better model. Aid simply isn’t sustainable and economic development especially within the agriculture sector no longer negotiable. We need to feed not only Africa but the world!”

What are you expecting from placing your venture on the VC4Africa website?

“I have been part of the VC4Africa community for more than 2 years and seen its functionality and tools expand. I am a huge believer in social networking. You never know what synergies can be created by meeting online… It’s matchmaking (on Redbull) for social entrepreneurs!”

I read on Twitter that you will be attending the SOCAP Europe event in Amsterdam next week. Why are you going to this event and what do you expect from it?

“I am so honored that I was chosen as one of this year’s SOCAP Fellows which subsidizes the costs. I’m primarily going to network but we are making a major program announcement that we hope will both excite and inspire the world of social capital innovators and investors interested in working with smallholder farmers in Africa.”

How can members contact you?

“We’re still a pretty small team and try to be as reactive as possible. The best way to reach us in Kenya is by email: grow [at]”

Visit the VC4Africa profile of Backpack Farm.
Visit the website of Backpack Farm.