Ebenezer Trust is a church initiative that equips young people with the skills they need to run agribusinesses and live Christ centered lives. It is found in the heart of Matobo and teaches social entrepreneurship. It has brought transformation to many lives. We had the pleasure of interviewing Renee Cunningham who helps run Ebenezer to get an insight into their business. On the 17th of June, Ebenezer saw 58 young adults graduate, an event that was celebrated with much jubilation. 28 apprentices will be starting their second Ebenezer year in July, and they will be joined by up to 70 new apprentices.
- What is Ebenezer? What do you do? What is the core business that you carry out here?
Ebenezer is essentially a place of everyday discipleship. We aim to equip our apprentices with the skills, knowledge and attitude they need to be productive and upstanding community members. We invite young people to join us for up to two years during which time they learn to run an agribusiness, in lessons and by actually farming. As they learn more about running their agribusinesses, we also talk to them a lot about Jesus and teach them about the Bible. It is very practical and we highlight how Jesus affects everything we do in our daily lives.
- Who are the stakeholders of Ebenezer?
Obviously, the most important people are the apprentices and the staff team that works with them. The churches of Matebeleland play a big role in the running and growth of Ebenezer. We also work a lot with an organization called Turning Matebeleland Green. We also involve the surrounding community.
- What are typical Ebenezer Training school activities?
The Ebenezer Foundation Course lasts for three months. During this time apprentices work in teams as they learn the basics. They gain experience with broilers, layers and in the field. They get exposure to many aspects of running an agribusiness. During the course, we also teach them Foundations for Farming and we do Bible studies with them.
After the Foundation Course, apprentices can graduate into the Intermediate Course that runs from October to June. Once they are in the Intermediate Course, the apprentices are allocated their own pieces of land to run their agribusiness on. Apprentices earn profits, called graduation rewards, which are based on the amount of crop they produce.
The Advanced Course runs for a further year after the Intermediate Course. On an average day during the Advanced Course an apprentice will spend 5 to 6 hours doing agricultural production either in their field or a chicken run, and three hours in classes. Apprentices attend classes in Bible studies, Agriculture, Business, English and Maths.
Another vital part of apprentice life at Ebenezer is that all apprentices are put into family groups. Each family group is overseen by two or three staff members and the groups exist to ensure that the apprentices are cared for. These staff members are responsible for checking how their family is doing in the different aspects of Ebenezer life.Wednesday night is family night when families meet for planned activities.
- Who qualifies for the training school? In addition, what are the requirements?
You would have to be between 18 and 23 years to start. We are currently taking in single people only. We are looking for people who have a willingness to want to do something with their life. We hold a three-day selection camp during which applicants find out about Ebenezer, undergo an interview and participate in practical field work. We assess who is going to get the most out of Ebenezer, who has the most drive and wants to engage fully with what we have to offer. We take people from across Zimbabwe, though we like to prioritise places for local applicants.
- Who are some of your business partners?
Ebenezer works very closely with Sondelani, an agribusiness that shares the vision for unlocking productivity in rural communities. Sondelani is our greatest supporter and without them, we would not exist.
- What business model do you use to run Ebenezer?
We look at development from a point of view which says, “People want to make a living and they have land and water – what an amazing opportunity to be able to unlock the community in self-sustaining ways.” We think of opportunity rather than need.
Our business model is market focused. This means that if there is a market we will produce for it, if there is no market we will not. We think if people can see the market then they will produce for it. The major difficulty is that in a rural setting such as this, a farmer can grow 10 tonnes of tomatoes that they cannot sell because of lack of market linkage.
We help people with access to inputs, access to a market and equip them with necessary entrepreneurial skills. Brazil has been a good example for us, with its agricultural industry based on small-scale farming. This means that large-scale corporations should aim to provide a structure, a market and a place of input to support small-scale farmers. The large-scale would not be able to work without the thousands of small-scale producers feeding into it.
- As a business, where do you see yourselves in 2 and 5 years time?
Right now, we would like to see Ebenezer Matobo grow and increase in capacity to 150 apprentices. This means we need to grow from having 15 hectares of irrigated land to a 100 hectares, from 15 000 broiler chicken to a 100 000, and having about 30 000 layer birds. We also want to look into alternative things that would supplement crops like pecan nut trees. We are looking at how a small-scale farmer can have multiple things going on without being dependent on one. In the bigger picture there is already an Ebenezer running in Nampula, Mozambique, and our vision is to start more Ebenezer Centres.