David Tyrrell found himself in Africa as a direct result of his tenacity and work ethic displayed in his prior positions working in the UK for Rhône-Poulenc, now part of Bayer. His expertise lies in Agriculture management, technical development & sales and marketing. He currently works as a consultant for projects focused on business development and processing outputs to add value and benefit smallholder farmers. David’s work resides across East Africa, where he is now a permanent resident of Kenya. The other countries he has worked in include Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Sudan, Madagascar. Throughout David’s career, he has engaged with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation grantees, Gatsby Rockefeller and USAID. In working with these organisations, David’s work across East Africa has been impactful in addressing the gaps in the agricultural supply chain across the region. Acting as a valued consultant and advisor for SABA, David encourages Scottish agriculture and agro-processing entities to invest in the region as not only will returns be made, but these investments will continue to limit the gaps in the regional supply chain and in turn work towards alleviating poverty and creating wealth through business.
Could you briefly just run through the highlights of your career and describe the differences/challenges you faced when you first engaged with East Africa?
Firstly, it is important to note David’s educational background. David acquired a degree in Agriculture and Environmental Science in 1976 when this type, of course, was new to the University landscape. He later received his certifications in Crop Protection in 1986 and completed his MBA by 1992.
David’s senior-level career began in 1992 where he was the marketing manager for Rhône-Poulenc Agriculture ltd. In this role, he was responsible for a million-pound budget to improve the company’s relationship with distributors and target small farmers across the UK. Upon doing this with incredible success, David was promoted to the Managing Director/Regional Manager of Rhône-Poulenc East Africa Division. His team increased to over 150 individuals and his turnover increased to the tens of millions of pounds. In Africa, David quickly understood that the market was entirely different. The majority of farmers were smallholder farmers, with a minority of estate farmers. Driven by impact and commercialisation, David’s role focused on empowering and improving the supply chain for small-holder farmers. Further, in his commercial capacity, David had to alter the company’s distribution and sales strategy for the African Market. As the majority of farmers were smallholders, the pack sizes of pesticides & animal vaccines had to be reduced to facilitate its appropriate use.
David has taken on several consultancy roles involving aiding in applications for funds from USAID, DfID, Gatsby & the African Enterprise Challenge fund (the Challenge fund). More specifically, in his capacity as a consultant, he also aided an investment fund to improve the distribution and reach of high-quality seeds to small-holder farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Malawi. Another role included working with the challenge fund was drafting a business plan for a media business called the Shamba Shape-up in Kenya. This ingenious project consisted of a makeover show for smallholder farmers, . The show empowers farmers by improving their information needs regarding agri-tech, livestock vaccinations and strategy to improve yields. The show is sponsored by numerous organisations like Rockefeller and Wild Aid. It has 5 million viewers and operates in 3 countries. David’s role in setting up this program and acquiring the initial donor funds for its success was monumental. The show also created a separate spin-off business called iShamba. iShamba is a call centre of agricultural experts where farmers can SMS in their questions or call in to speak to an expert for instant help; all they need to do is register and they have access to a wealth of free information, alternatively, farmers can pay for a premium service.
What are some of the projects you personally value, that you have helped raise funds for?
One of David’s favourite projects is the Moringa Seed Project now present in Kenya. With the help of the Challenge Fund, David assisted the preparation of the business plan for a large scale moringa seed farm and processing facility. Moringa plants are extremely durable plants, whose seed is used for consumption and seed oil is often used in beauty products.Kilifi Moringa in Kenya is a project that empowers women to harvest and process moringa seeds to produce oil that is later sold and used for the production of other goods. This business strategy of not only farming the seeds but including an additional processing component creates a value-added product that is more valuable to commercialise than the raw commodity of the seed itself. The main economic benefactors of this project and others like it are women. Women are the drivers of the Agricultural sector across Africa and their empowerment improves communities as a result. Statistically women invest up to 90% of their earnings back into the communities they live in opposed to men who only invest 35%. To improve rural communities across the continent, the answer lies in the empowerment of women and in the promotion of agro-processing which creates value-added products.
Other projects include supply chain development for mangos, chilli and herb production, improvement of farmer information systems and chicken farm input supply. David also engaged in climate-smart agriculture projects incorporating livestock health, dairy, irrigation and bioethanol projects. His experience covers all aspects of the agricultural sector and his expertise in improving these areas and creating profits is unmatched.
One of your projects included assessing Tilapia farms in Kenya for a potential investor, the environmental impact of sustainable fishing is crucial to Africa. How can this project contribute to the sustainable industry?
David worked as a consultant for a Tilapia farm project in Kenya. The goal of the project was to evaluate 3 farms based on Lake Victoria to producing up to 300 tons of tilapia a year. This project was necessary as the tilapia industry was taking a huge environmental hit due to overfishing. Catching fish became much more difficult, hence farming fish became the alternative. The project consists of creating cages offshore on the lake, filling the cages with tilapia fingerlings which take about 9 months to reach maturity. The farms on Lake Victoria have been successful, however, it faces difficulties with regard to theft. Accordingly, large investments in floodlights and patrol boats are necessary to protect the farm and future profits. The running costs of the facility, particularly feed costs, also pose challenges to the profitability particularly when faced with cheap imported tilapia from China.
Similar farms are being set up in Kenya and Uganda to address the dwindling wild fish populations and create a more sustainable strategy towards fishing. However, the challenges faced with fish farming are vast. The lack of cold chain facilities not only results in a waste product, but it is unsafe and unhygienic. In addition, the logistics of poor roads that slow down the movement of fresh fish produce also create additional costs to investors. These costs can be mitigated with increased investment in facilities and cold trucks; however, it limits access to this market to large financiers as opposed to local small-holders.
How would you describe your network within East Africa?
David is well known in East Africa. Most of his consultancy jobs come to fore by virtue of word of mouth. Accordingly, David possesses a large network across the region within the private sector. As he extensively travelled between Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and Tanzania with the Challenge Fund, David has interacted with individuals of all statures, sectors and nationalities. Where his strongest networks lie in the aforementioned countries, this does not limit his access to other states within the region or the continent. David prides himself in the connections, business partners and friends he has met along with his incredible career and is certain he can not only uncover viable investments within the region but aid in the procurement of capital.
How would you describe the work culture in the region?
David’s country of choice (also happens to be his home), is Kenya for a number of reasons. Kenya is one of the easiest East African countries to work in. The business culture and government engagement are facilitative rather than obstructive as faced in other regions.
The business culture and environment in Uganda is similar to Kenya in a number of ways. The private sector for agriculture is vibrant. Whilst the country is small, it is very busy and active. David possesses a wealth of experience working in these aforementioned countries as well as Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Sudan.
How did you get involved with SABA?
David joined SABA by word of mouth. His golfing friends happened to be friends with SABA’s Chairman John Paterson, who know John from his career at British American Tobacco. Their mutual friends introduced them, and the rest is history. David serves as an agricultural consultant and expert for SABA. As SABA continues to grow and take on more projects, it hopes to fully utilise David’s expertise and network.