Pointing the way

[Krista O’Brien photo] Hadija Jabiri uses her business to help others.

Tanzanian entrepreneur shows how agriculture can be a viable career for young people

Hadija Jabiri never wanted a career in agriculture. “I actually grew up seeing farmers around me struggling with markets for their produce, using hand hoes, not having access to finance, and I really never want to be one of them,” she told MEDA’s annual convention.

Encouragement from a friend and a visit from a leading politician has taken the Tanzanian entrepreneur on a seven-year business journey. That journey is improving the lives of many of her fellow citizens. Jabiri is the founder and managing director of GBRI Business Solutions. The company exports fruits and vegetables to several European nations and India.

Many young people in sub-Saharan Africa are not interested in agriculture. They have seen small-scale farmers struggling to scratch out a bare living, she said. After she graduated from university, “I met a person, and he actually convinced me that I could make money out of farming.”

She had little savings and no opportunity to get financing. But she decided to move to southern Tanzania and start with what she had. She rented a two-acre farm and started growing vegetables, supplying the local market. Her interest in helping others attracted attention. A turning point came when Tanzania’s vice president, Samia Suluhu Hassan (now the country’s president) heard about the young woman. “She decided to visit me. When she came, she could see how the little business that I was running was supporting the community around me. I had people working for me, but I really had a big vision.”

One of MEDA’s employees saw a video of the visit on TV. “They gave me a call, they said — we have seen the vice-president visiting you, and we really want to support you because you are also supporting people around you.” Jabiri thought the call was a scam. Then MEDA’s Tanzanian country director visited and asked how MEDA could be of assistance. She replied that if she could get funding, she knew she could support small-scale farmers around her. After a due diligence process, MEDA began working with Jabiri’s firm.

“I’m really indebted to all the people who have been funding this great organization, which made my dream come true.” Donor contributions to MEDA have had a greater effect than just growing her business, she said. Jabiri is pointed to by the Tanzanian government to demonstrate that agriculture is a viable career path for young people. “MEDA trust to me has brought the trust of many other organizations to what I am doing.”

Her business has grown to a medium-sized firm, with 42 employees. GBRI also works with 5,000 small-scale farmers. It helps the farmers grow vegetables and fruits which it then purchases. Jabiri has had to navigate significant setbacks along the way. During the pandemic, she woke up one morning to the news that international borders had been closed. She could no longer export vegetables. She went to her packing house, looked at 100 women who were packing vegetables there, and said: “It was not because of me I started this business — God had a great plan for me, and maybe God was using me for all those people.”

“When I had all the reasons to stop, I decided to persist.” Instead of closing the business, she changed the business model and looked at other markets. She decided to focus on the domestic market, distributing bananas to 800 women vendors.

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