AGRIBUSINESS ENTREPRENEURS ARE CRITICAL TO AFRICA’S SUCCESS.

Ever heard the saying ‘Ukulima sio ushamba?’ This article proves it…

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Africa’s next crop of entrepreneurs is turning to the soil for business. At least, that is what was revealed at an auditorium filled with aspiring business folk gathering for the second cohort of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) entrepreneurs’ boot camp in Lagos, Nigeria on 29th October.

Statistics from the TEF website show that agriculture was the leading sector with 304 of the 1000 entrepreneurs representing 54 African countries engaging in this business.

“We must glamorize agriculture,” Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo said at the event. He further urged the government to include policies that would favour the sector as a business.

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The passion for agribusiness was seen in one attendee’s plea to have the Nigerian government give more consideration to support start up farmers particularly in locations prone to flooding, which destroys harvests.

Against an economy negatively affected by low oil prices, the government has been forced to rethink its dependency on the commodity and is now seeking to diversify its source of finance.

Nigeria’s Minister for Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed stated that the government is now targeting agriculture, solid minerals and creative industries as new streams of revenue for the government.

He also reiterated the Administration’s commitment to improve the ease of doing business thereby attracting investors into the country. Nigeria is ranked 169 out of 190 countries according to the World Bank’s ease of doing business index for 2017.

Of the 75 Kenyans chosen to take part in this year’s program, 18 are in the field of Agribusiness. Another 10 are in the ICT business, which remains a favourite choice for entrepreneurs across the continent.

A study released in February by the TEF titled Unleashing Africa’s Agricultural Entrepreneurs focused on the challenges facing them and the need for solutions to help improve their competitiveness. The recommendations included offering training; access to finance, strengthening value chains and having governments invest in the sector.

In many ways, the boot camp spoke to the recommendations tabled by the report. It featured a mix of plenary sessions, workshops and master classes facilitated by some of Nigeria’s foremost business leaders.

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The highlight came when businessman and TEF visionary Tony Elumelu hosted a couple of African leaders to charge the entrepreneurs.

In attendance was the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Prime Minister of Benin Lionel Zinsou and Ms. Clare Amakazi of the Rwanda Development Board.

Africa’s richest woman Folorunsho Alakija shared her journey to wealth including some of the challenges she faced urging the participants never to give up.

This is the second year TEF is hosting entrepreneurs as part of its commitment to drive economic growth within the continent.

In 2015, 167 Kenyans were chosen for the inaugural program, which includes 12 weeks of online training and pairing with mentors to support their growth. The ultimate reward is the $5000 seed money that goes towards their business development.

Many of those describe the experience with TEF as critical for the development of their businesses in so many ways.

Notable start-ups like Amanda Gicharu of Amanda’s Kitchen, David Otieno’s City Rydes and James Kariuki who works in the energy sector are all alumni of the inaugural entrepreneurship class.

Chris Mutandi states that he was able to develop his Montreal Medical Clinics operating in rural Kenya with the seed money he received. The clinics aim to increase access to affordable health care in marginalized communities.

Tapuwa Ndogwe notes that the experience offered huge social capital for him, a testimony echoed by many others from all over the continent. It further allowed him to develop his ideas in renewable energy with the seed capital he received.

“Our company Greennovations was able to create the kind of prototype we needed and move our idea from paper to the place where we are now comfortable to present it for testing,” he noted. Greennovations turns waste from tyres and plastics into renewable energy and is looking to be an alternative supplier to the national grid in future.

One participant however feels he is owed an explanation by the Foundation on why he is yet to receive his seed money. Njalalle Baraza an agricultural entrepreneur was listed as one of the successful 2015 entrepreneurial candidates. He cites the experience at TEF as great, particularly because it afforded the chance to network with others from Mozambique, Benin, Angola and Guinea in one room.

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He is however pained that despite numerous communication follow-ups, even reaching out on social media, he is yet to understand why he did not receive the $5000 seed money. He adds, “I am especially crestfallen because it took me an expensive business trip to Kenya to meet their requirements of a business account only for me to be met with silence.”

TEF’s Communication Manager Bolanle Omisore confirmed that 978 people got seed funding from the foundation in 2015. TEF lists in detail the requirements that entrepreneurs must go through to finally access the seed money promised.

In Baraza’s case, she noted that an incomplete submission based on the online training module and a written business plan may be the reason his disbursement was delayed. The foundation’s alumni manager has however reached out to him to settle this.

One thing that is clear Is that Africa’s next entrepreneurs will be a connected lot across the globe with great stories of opportunity that opened up because of their participation in TEF. The energy and excitement around the room was testament enough to that.

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About Anne Mucheke

I'm curious about life. A wife, mother to two lovely girls and currently living in Lagos. I'm not that great with words but I love to share a laugh. People fascinate me wherever I go and Lagos takes the cake; they're a boisterous lot. Still green horned, this is my attempt to make my days count….and give an all inclusive response to friends and family who ask, 'So, how's Lagos really like?'
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