Modernising the way food-producing and food-processing companies in African do business, will benefit food security and economic growth in rural Africa. That is the belief of the Wageningen Ambassadors, a group of influential alumni of Wageningen University. To promote entrepreneurship in the African food industry, they initiated the Africa Agribusiness Academy.
Entrepreneurial African food producers
“The Africa Agribusiness Academy (AAA) brings together small and medium-sized African agrifood entrepreneurs who realise the importance of sharing knowledge, mutual coaching and joint innovation", says Bram Huijsman, the originator of the initiative and Chairman of the Board of the Academy. Most of these entrepreneurs supply products to and buy agricultural raw materials from small farmers and subsequently process and trade them. Helping these entrepreneurs to expand their market will also benefit other operators in the food-producing and food-processing sector.
The food industry in Africa is developing quickly. In most African countries, large numbers of people still grow their own food, but the rapid pace of urbanisation is causing a surge in the demand for processed food. The development of the African food industry requires visionary entrepreneurs.
Better income for up to a million farmers
"We have no illusions that this initiative will improve the food supply throughout the African continent and provide all small farmers with a good income", explains Wageningen Ambassador Piet Heemskerk, retired Heineken director and currently working as a volunteer for the AAA. "Our goal is to have approximately 3000 entrepreneurs spread over fifteen African countries become members of the Africa Agribusiness Academy within five years. These people will be role models for good entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector", Heemskerk continues. "We also expect a multitude of non-members to use the products and services of the AAA and as many as a million farmers to benefit from the improvements in the food sector."
Developing their own company as well as the sector
The trial version of the Academy was set up in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda in 2011. In these countries, the AAA now has seventy carefully selected members. Huijsman says about the member selection process: "We look for genuine entrepreneurs who, in addition to the ability to make their own company grow, can help the further development of the sector and who invest in fair and long-term relationships with small farmers. Members have to adhere to the Academy's Code of Conduct. If someone in the network spots a business opportunity for someone else, they share the respective information. Surprising joint ventures are emerging, too. The cooperation between a coffee grower and a honey producer is just one example. The coffee grower needed optimal pollination and the bee-keeper now sells coffee honey. Without the AAA, the two would not have met."
Wageningen UR coordinates from Arusha
Wageningen UR is closely involved in the initiative. The Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) of Wageningen UR supplies material support and carries out the project management. Since 1 August 2013, Hans Nijhoff of the CDI has been stationed in Arusha, Tanzania as the project director. The link to Wageningen provides numerous advantages. Coaching and training are essential elements in the AAA. The CDI has a great deal to offer in this respect and is also active in helping to set up an on-line Resource Centre. In addition, Wageningen UR possesses a vast amount of knowledge, not only about everything related to food production, distribution, processing and storage, but also about entrepreneurship and business development. In setting up the AAA, Wageningen UR is working closely with Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.
€4.2 million generated from fund-raising
By activating their networks and with the support of the Wageningen University Fund, which is specialised in fund-raising, the Wageningen Ambassadors collected donations of €2.2 million for setting up the Africa Agribusiness Academy. The money was raised within the Food for Thought, Thought for Food campaign. Subsequently, the Dutch government made €2 million available. The African entrepreneurs who are affiliates of the AAA also make a substantial contribution to the financing of the initiative. They pay for taking part in the various activities and an annual subscription. "Over the next five years, the money will be used to continue to build up the network of entrepreneurs and after that the AAA will have to be self-supporting", says Heemskerk. "Our members realise the value of becoming organised, sharing knowledge with each other and investing jointly in specific projects. They have already indicated that they want to run the AAA on their own in five years. That is the advantage of working with entrepreneurs."
Private, corporate and public funding
Seven private sponsors, six from the Netherlands and one from South Africa, have promised to donate €2.2 to the AAA over the next five years. These sponsors are mainly humanitarian charities, including the Rabobank Foundation and a number of organisations that do not wish their contribution to be public knowledge. Nutreco, an international livestock feed company, is also contributing to the project as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility programme. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation has promised to match private donations with €2 million.