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African Youth Agripreneur Forum affirms Africa’s agri-youth potential

African Youth Agripreneur Forum affirms Africa’s agri-youth potential

The African Development Bank convened its third African Youth Agripreneur Forum (AYAF) in Cape Town this June, preceded by an AgriPitch competition with over 400 entries, indicating that the Bank’s efforts to involve more young people in agriculture are beginning to pay off.

Under the theme ‘Climate Smart Agriculture: Business and Employment Opportunities for Africa’s Youth’, the African Development Bank convened its third African Youth Agripreneur Forum (AYAF) in Cape Town this June.

The event is the flagship programme of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth initiative, tasked to boost youth participation in agriculture across the continent through investment and advocacy projects and programmes.

Bringing together agripreneurs, investors, policy makers and the private sector, the two-day conference was preceded by a three-day agribusiness boot camp and an AgriPitch competition.

The boot camp gave chosen agripreneurs the chance to learn key business skills such as marketing, business models, innovation and nance.

The AgriPitch competition aims to “instil a culture of innovation” and “nurture technology-led agribusiness innovations to create jobs and im- prove livelihoods among the youth” by awarding six cash prizes for a total of $74,000 to both early stage and mature stage start-ups that are making a name for themselves in agribusiness in Africa.

The competition received business proposals from over 400 applicants, indicating that the Bank’s efforts to involve more young people in agribusiness are beginning to pay off.

Agriculture leaders

Speaking to African Business about the conference, Alex Muli, CEO of Goshen Farm, a Kenyan food company which won the mature-stage prize, said: “ e 400 applicants is only a fraction of the overall youth interest in agriculture in Africa. ere are many other businesses which didn’t even apply, and I believe that this shows that there is an interesting shi of perceptions around the way young people now view the sector.

“Slowly but surely people are be- ginning to understand that agriculture has a commercial aspect. People are coming into the space and trying to understand how to create value in the industry,” he added.

Muli was rewarded with a $25,000 prize for his success in turning Goshen Farm from a small venture in 2011 to a producer and exporter of both fresh produce and value-added processed foods.

Setting up the business with his mother and the help of a $40,000 loan a er completing his undergraduate studies, Muli’s farm is the perfect ex- ample of what can be achieved in the agriculture space.

Goshen Farm exports products such as French beans, mangoes and avocados to markets including France, the Netherlands, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The focus now is moving from fresh produce to value added goods like dried pineapple and mangoes, Muli says.

Around 70% of all Goshen Farm products are exported, the rest are sold to the Kenyan market.

At the moment, processed goods are only available for the local market but Muli is hoping to grow the business by exporting dried fruit too.

“As a mature start-up, what we have done is move into food processing,” he said.

“We are now fundraising to be- gin to be able to export our processed foods.”

Along with the prize money award- ed at the conference, Muli is looking for $1.5m-worth of investment to finish a food processing factory to push his value-added goods into the international markets.

Foreign markets are a hard nut to crack for many local producers as the goods must be certified to meet inter- national standards and the process exposes the exporting business to foreign exchange risks.

Logistical barriers are also common, along with the difficulty of upsetting well-established supply chains and import-export partnerships.

“You have to have your own value proposition,” he said.

“It’s not easy for new farms to come into the market.”

Growth potential

Along with mid-sized companies, the Forum also highlighted up-and-com- ing agribusinesses from among the 400 pitches.

South Africa’s Future Farms was rewarded with $10,000 as winners of the early stage start-up category.

Future Farms aims to boost agri- cultural sustainability by using indoor hydroponic systems, which use less water and land, to grow vegetables in containers, rooftops and warehouses in an urban setting.

Based in Cape Town, the company sells equipment such as LED lights and seedlings to other urban farmers as well as growing fresh produce such as strawberries, basil and rocket lettuce.

Involved in a number of projects, Future Farms has been contracted by the Johannesburg incubator WIBC, in partnership with the city council, to design and install a number of hydroponic farms on rooftops throughout the central business district and surrounding neighbourhoods.

Elsewhere, the start-up’s Ndabe- ni indoor farm in Cape Town acts as a test site for the latest LED technology as well as producing a variety of leafy greens.

Speaking at the AgriPitch competition, Future Farms co-founder Paul Sheppard said: “It was a great event. I met many pioneers in the various agri- tech spaces with many potential and exciting projects, with the renewed hope of access to nance models coming to the fore. The prize money will help our company to upscale to the size we want to grow to, as well as meeting potential investors and learning more about the industry.”

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