Ken Lohento: Facilitating ICT agripreneurship

Ken Lohento, ICT for Agriculture Programme Coordinator at CTA, explains how the organisation is supporting young e-agribusiness start-ups through the Pitch AgriHack! programme and the publication of An ICT Agripreneurship Guide: A Path to Success for Young ACP Entrepreneurs.

‘An ICT Agripreneurship Guide’ is just one product of CTA’s work to foster young agripreneurs. Why is it so important to attract youth to work in agribusiness and how do ICTs play a part in this?

CTA wishes indeed to strengthen the engagement of youth (aged up to 35) in agribusiness and there are several reasons for this. On the one hand, business creation usually grants a positive social profile to a founder; it also can yield important revenues when it is successfully implemented. In addition, strategies involved in running a competitive business can give birth to innovations that accelerate socio-economic progress and favour the creation of new jobs. On the other hand, the increased integration of ICTs in agriculture has two implications. It contributes to the modernisation and performance of agribusiness processes and it has created a new business that we call ‘ICT agripreneurship’. Young people are increasingly interested in this novel approach and CTA wants to support them.

When was ‘An ICT Agripreneurship Guide’ launched and what can you tell readers about it?

We launched the guidebook on 26 April 2017 both online and at the African Agripreneurs Youth Forum, organised by the African Development Bank, CTA and other partners in Nigeria. The guidebook provides young entrepreneurs interested in offering ICT services to the agricultural sector with introductory knowledge and recommendations that can help them to successfully launch their new venture and design effective business strategies. Many young innovators do not actually know the agricultural sector, have not studied business management and make errors that experienced entrepreneurs would naturally avoid. In addition, the ICT for agriculture sector is new and faces many challenges. This guide will give them more understanding of what needs to be done and how to design a winning business model.

CTA’s AgriHack initiative is successfully supporting young e-agriculture start-ups. Can you give an example of how some of the start-ups involved are contributing to agricultural transformation?

I would like to mention three start-ups involved in Pitch AgriHack!, our e-agriculture start-up competition organised in 2016. The first is Sooretul, a Senegalese company created by Awa Caba (30 years old), which is an electronic commerce platform offering expanded market access to, and improving revenues of, women cooperatives processing agricultural products. With CTA’s grant, Sooretul will strengthen their services and open two points of sale, notably outside Senegal. Another is AgroCenta from Ghana, funded by Francis Obirikorang (34 years old), which is an online platform connecting farmers in the staple food value chain to a wider market for trade, access to truck delivery services, etc. In March 2017, they signed their first big contract, worth €273,000, to supply a large-scale company with sorghum for processing. A much younger Pitch AgriHack! finalist is Ujuzikilimo founded by Brian Bosire, 24 years old, from Kenya. Ujuzikilimo offer a soil testing service that facilitates real-time monitoring of farm zones. Other start-ups we are working with are also becoming known internationally.

What more do you feel needs to be provided in terms of government and private sector support to encourage and provide the right conditions for young entrepreneurs?

Like most young companies, e-agriculture start-ups need critical support in two areas: increased business management skills (notably financial and account management), and increased access to capital. E-agriculture start-ups are addressing a market segment that is more challenging than many agricultural or ICT markets. They thus need more support to: better understand value chains and design successful business models targeting the appropriate market segment(s) with adequate ICT services; and facilitate acquisition of agrifood e-services customers, such as farmers, who are often unwilling to pay for many services. These businesses also need supportive policies and tax incentives. It is only under these enabling conditions that agripreneurs can fully deliver the innovation, productivity and employment potentials that they carry for their communities and countries.

 

For more information see the full review of ‘An ICT Agripreneurship Guide: A Path to Success for Young ACP Entrepreneurs’.

Susanna Cartmell-Thorp

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.