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Youth Agripreneurs Project: Sowing the seed for a brighter future

Hectic yet reflective! The pilot GFAR-YPARD Young Agripreneur Project is coming to an end and in these posts, the six young agri-preneurs are pondering on their professional and personal journeys over the past twelve months. In April 2016, they all gathered in Johannesburg, where they thrilled the audiences at GCARD3 with their enthusiasm, drive and energy in describing their YAP projects. Now they are looking back at what the past year has brought them, what challenges they had to deal with, and what the the mentoring, coaching and training that came along with the seed funding through YAP, has meant for them as businesspeople and as individuals. They are also wondering what the future holds for them. It is inspiring to read how motivated they are, and how a small project has made a major difference in the lives not only of these selected agri-preneurs but in the communities where they live and work. Here is the final YAP blog post from Nikki Pilania Chaudhary about her project, “Climate Resilient Indian Cattle”. The world’s agricultural sector is facing multiple challenges, including everything from climate change to poor motivation among youth to take up agriculture as a career. As a result, food insecurity persists around the globe and is likely to lead to severe food crises unless we stand up to these challenges. But what can be done to tackle them?YAP: A “disruptive” initiativeA disruptive technology or innovation is one that displaces an established technology or innovation and shakes up the industry.  The Youth Agripreneurs Project, organized by GFAR and YPARD, could be called a disruptive initiative in agriculture: it offers young people a full set of tools to launch their innovative small businesses and bring change to their communities. Young people today, even if highly educated and passionate, are discouraged by the high risks and sometimes low returns of investments in the agricultural sector. Many young agriculturists have great ideas for innovative projects that can address some of the difficulties in modern agricultural production, but they will have little chance to implement these because of the associated risks. YAP was designed precisely to provide the support required to enact projects identified as potential gamechangers. The  seed funding along with one year of training, coaching and mentoring by GFAR and YPARD, enabled me and five other young agripreneurs to turn our dreams into reality.Support in different fields and on different levelsDairy production in India is in a dire situation because of climate change and disease. My project was designed to address these challenges. Basically, the idea was to develop a cross of exotic Holstein Friesian (HF) and indigenous Gir cows in order to get cattle that not only have good milk yield , but are also climate- and disease-resilient. Being selected as a YAP finalist made it possible to implement my idea and, in doing so, it has given birth to a project that now looks to expand further.Let me explain how it worked:First, the seed funding removed the initial financial obstacles I was facing and gave me the security I needed to move the project forward. Second, along with all of the young agripreneurs in the YAP project, I was matched with a mentor with relevant expertise so that if my project came to a halt or I felt like I was stuck, I had access to immediate guidance. My mentor Dr Chanda Nimbkar, Director at the Nimbkar Animal Research Institute, was a great support throughout the year, and helped me with everything from finding the right animals to cross breed to applying for the No Objection Certificate for Import of Semen of Gir Bulls from the state government. Thank you! Third, all of us in the YAP project were also given rigorous social media, financial, communication and business coaching by GFAR and YPARD, which was useful in different ways. The two-day social media training given by Peter Casier in Johannesburg as part of the GCARD3 event, helped us promote our respective projects on various social media channels. The regular financial and motivational coaching by Michelle Kovacevic and Bill Downing enabled us to assess the pros and cons when making business decisions. That changed our mindset, it helped us think like entrepreneurs! Finally, the mentoring ensured we always had support in our entrepreneurial journey on a personal level. For me, the YAP mentoring really groomed me as an entrepreneur. I am not as impulsive as I used to be, I’ve learnt to see and assess the financial implications of my actions, to sit back and analyse all possible outcomes before I take any final business decision. Moreover, because of the tremendous exposure I got over the past year, in particular through negotiations with various counterparts, I have become a much more confident person. My communication skills, oral and written, as well as my patience, have also improved a great deal, since I’ve had to collaborate with so many people in order to be able to carry my project forward. I feel much more empowered as a result of the experience, and as a woman, I think it’s important to recognise the contribution of YAP to the empowerment of female entrepreneurs like myself. In short, the GFAR and YPARD team that worked with us throughout the year kept us motivated to continue on our respective paths without ceding ground to disbelief and discouragement. In doing so, they taught us valuable life lessons. Altogether, YAP made a major contribution towards the goal of making my business not a one-off attempt but a sustainable business.Sowing seeds for the futureNow that the groundwork is done and the foundation is laid, the future is waiting for me. During this past year, I have interacted with multiple organisations and individuals. In the process, I have learned a lot more about breeding and dairying, and I feel a lot more confident about where to take the project next. At my farm, I have already started breeding Gir cattle and a few pure exotic HFs, with the best available semen of Gir Bulls in India. Within two to three years, I should get progeny and have a clearer idea of the overall performance of these crosses in terms of milk yield, quality of milk, cost of maintaining these cattle, as well as their climate and disease resilience. Further support from a GFAR-related donor has made it possible for me to get semen from Brazilian elite Gir Bulls, something I expect will significantly improve my breeding programme and help me develop appropriate high genetic Gir-HF crosses. I have to say that in the last eight months, I have been really surprised to see how strong disease and climate resilient the Gir heifers and Jaffrabadi heifers I purchased are. I have not spent a penny on any kind of health treatment. Rather, they have been growing rapidly and they have been gaining weight while living on a very limited diet. In the very warm month of May, when temperature reaches around 44 degrees Celsius, the animals stand strong and show no kind of stress, unlike the pure exotic HFs. A year ago, developing a climate resilient breed of cattle which at the same time could give good milk yield was a dream. Today, I am in the midst of it and I am very thankful to the GFAR – YPARD team for offering me the opportunity to be a part of the YAP project. I am convinced that if other young agriculturalists are given similar assistance, they could make tremendously positive contributions to food security in rural communities. I hope GFAR, YPARD and other organizations will sow more seeds like this, enabling young agripreneurs to implement brilliant ideas and create a better future. As an individual fully dedicated to agriculture, I will always be available to make a contribution to this work in any way possible. This is an original blog post from GFAR Photo courtesy: Nikki Pilania Chauhary