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SMEs Seek Increased Cooperation To Boost Agric Sector In Africa

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Key players and stakeholders in Africa’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have called for more selective investment, accelerated business acquisitions and increased cooperation to help the continent feed itself and the world.

A panel of some of Africa’s most promising and emerging SME agripreneurs made the call on Wednesday at a virtual session organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

 The webinar with the theme, “Integrating African Food Systems through the Lens of SME Champions”, was held as a side-event ahead of Africa’s largest agriculture conference, the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which is being held online for the first time, from 8-11 September.

The panel members, according to the moderator of  the webinar and AfDB’s Director for Agricultural Finance and Rural Development, Atsuko Toda, were selected because they are using innovative solutions, tailored their business models, have a proven track record, and shown to have an impact on food systems.

“We see the importance of the roles that you play, the risks you take and the bank wants to give you more visibility so that policy makers can understand the challenges of what you are facing and help SME Champions to grow”, he  said.

The group of African “SME Champions”,  heads of SMEs across the continent’s food system production, processing, logistics, agricultural digitization and cold storage chain solutions sub-sectors, set the scene for webinar attendees, by describing the challenges and opportunities they face in trying to meet Africa’s food systems demands.

Some members of the panel noted that policy, programmes and financing in Africa are geared toward larger organizations and businesses, adding that there is still too heavy focus on agricultural imports to Africa.

In his contribution, Global Head of Commercial at LORI, a Kenya-based tech-driven logistics company, Nicholas Alexandre said it is really challenging for SMEs to penetrate the market and do something significant.

While sharing his experience on how to overcome the challenges, Head of Nigeria-based ColdHubs, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, explained that his solar power, cold storage facility company helps farmers’ produce stay fresher, longer, reducing the need to rush product to market at less competitive prices.

He added that ColdHubs invested in the storage infrastructure, so that farmers could benefit from the service at a reasonable price.

“We are taking the risk out of ownership of huge cold rooms from smallholder farmers because we design, operate and maintain these cold rooms. We offer a pay-as-you-use service model”, he further explained.

Similarly, Kenya’s SunCulture company, which provides farmers with solar-powered irrigation services, also uses a similar “pay-as-you-grow” service fee programme.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SunCulture and SME Champion, Samir Ibrahim told webinar attendees that there has been sufficient development and investment support to African entrepreneurs to know what works, adding that it is time to step up scaling up efforts.

“We know that there are proven solutions, the focus now should be to target finance and partnerships to scale those…We need donors and multilaterals to start cutting much bigger checks for much fewer interventions…so we can see the needle moving”, he added.

Other champions observed that building up Africa’s agriculture sector lies in building up its agriculture value chains.

SME Champion Patricia Zoundi, who started up Canaan Land, a Cote d’Ivoire-based company that trains women in rural areas in order to develop sustainable and inclusive agriculture harped on the need for more cooperation in the sector.

 “We have north-north cooperation. We have south-south cooperation. Now it is time to have SME-to-SME cooperation…On this panel, I see three SMEs with which I can collaborate in marketing…[they offer] something I need in my value chain”, she stressed.

In his closing remarks, the moderator reassured the SME Champions that their insights shared would be transformed into key messages intended to reimagine policy, resulting in the accelerated transformation of Africa’s food systems.

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 “There is so much for us to share, proven solutions for us to amplify, to bring forward to scale and consolidate through partnerships and finance”, he further stated.

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