There is a common phrase that says – ‘the earth is so kind that by just tickling her with a hoe, she will laugh with a harvest.’
While it is easy to assume that this is always the case, the reality is sometimes all too different. Beset by frequent drought, unpredictable rainfall, degraded soils, pests, disease and conflict, African smallholder farmers struggle to produce a steady supply of produce to sufficiently nourish the continent’s burgeoning population. On the other hand, small and medium agricultural enterprises (agri-SMEs) are beleaguered by lack of access to credit, have a fragile connection to stable and structured markets and have insufficient access to information and appropriate technology to aid them realize their growth and impact potential.
With this chequered legacy, it is no wonder Africa’s hunger and malnutrition is increasing at an alarming rate reversing years of progress (237 million Sub-Saharan Africans are chronically undernourished). Even worse, the continent shoulders an annual food import bill of $64.5 billion, an unsustainable and unaffordable trend that is tantamount to exporting jobs.
Whereas this paints a gloomy picture, all is not lost. Member-based agriculture platforms are emerging as the golden thread connecting the structures of support around agripreneurs therefore enabling them to attain their impact and growth aspirations. Just like suitable soils to a growing seed, agriculture networks are providing favourable conditions for agri-food enterprises to raise above ground and to transform into profitable and sustainable enterprises.
To exemplify this, let’s look at the lack of accessible capital – considered to be the thorn in the flesh for most agribusinesses. Aceli Africa’s 2020 report notes that the risk in agri-SME lending is twice as high as other sectors while the returns are 4-5% lower. The high risk, low reward profile for AgriSMEs can be credited for financial institutions shying away from lending to agri-food enterprises. In Sub Saharan Africa alone, the Initiative for Smallholder Finance estimates that the agri-finance gap for agribusinesses has swelled to around USD 100 billion annually.
While this is the case, member-based platforms are rising up to this herculean challenge by providing agribusinesses with technical assistance and business support – important tenets to improve the business’ readiness and chances of securing financing. The Entrepreneurship Support Program and other capacity building initiatives from Nourishing Africa as well as the business support and mentorship provided by Generation Africa through its GoGettaz platform are examples of initiatives that are removing the financial veil from youth-owned agri-SMEs and building a pipeline of viable agribusinesses for financing by local financial institutions, regional lenders, and global investors.
Beyond improved access to credit, the magic of agriculture platforms is unlocked when the networks become the fertile ground to foster a sense of community among agri-food entrepreneurs. While many entrepreneurs will tell you that entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey, these platforms are turning out to the breeding ground for close relationships among agripreneurs where they can gain new knowledge, acquire sound advice, and even forge strategic partnerships. By bringing agripreneurs together, agribusinesses are getting connected to the latest innovations and crowd-sourced information thereby enabling the growth of a new culture of agricultural entrepreneurship that is based on informed decisions.
All in all, although often overlooked, the kind of interaction and ecosystem support provided by agriculture networks and platforms is helping to unleash a dynamic cadre of agri-food enterprises that are in-turn invigorating Africa’s food systems. Therefore, for those travelling the perilous journey of agripreneurship, joining an agriculture network platform is an opportunity that they cannot afford to miss.
Victor Mugo & Amanda Namayi