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From incubator to network

Dossier: Agribusiness incubation

The Baguinéda agricultural training centre provides trainees with agricultural equipment

© S. Diarra

Field report from Mali

The Baguinéda agricultural training centre in Mali has one main ambition – to help youths start their own farming businesses. Over 5 years, the centre has trained dozens of farmers who have formed a dynamic network of agro-entrepreneurs.

In the Malian village of Sincoro-Coura, 48 km east of the capital Bamako, stands the Baguinéda agribusiness training centre (CFEAB) on 11 ha of land, distinguished from the typical mud brick houses of the region. The centre – founded in 2010 by AJA Mali, a local NGO devoted to youth training and support – works with young people wishing to set up their own farming businesses. Students benefit from 3 to 8 month theoretical and practical agricultural training courses, which include a common core curriculum (cross-disciplinary training on management, accounting, business plans and negotiating with banks) and a practical phase (baseline techniques for running different types of farms). After training, these young entrepreneurs join the network of small agricultural enterprises specialised in production, processing, marketing and equipment that has formed over the years.

The Baguinéda agricultural training centre provides trainees with agricultural equipment

The Baguinéda agricultural training centre provides trainees with agricultural equipment

S. Diarra

Training for all

The CFEAB centre has become an alternative to the failing Malian educational system, according to Abdoulaye Ouattara, head of the incubator component of the agricultural value chain at AJA Mali. “There are many young people with a university education who are unable to find work in their field of study. We can offer them a short agricultural training course to help them start up their own businesses,” says Ouattara.

Prospective students have several training options available to them, focused on various specialisations, such as poultry farming, fish farming, market gardening, manufacturing agricultural products, processing and machinery. Most trainees are hosted at the centre during their course, which is subsidised by AJA Mali. Local villagers also benefit from training sessions for rural farmers, which are held periodically and publicised through local radio stations. CFEAB offers a second opportunity for unemployed university graduates, but also for many illiterate youths with little education. Since the centre was founded, villages in the rural district of Baguinéda – where the trainees gain practical experience – are regularly called on by Bréhima Traoré, head of CFEAB. “The aim is to get the villages to send us uneducated 18 to 40 year-olds in order to train them on agricultural entrepreneurship,” says Traoré.

Financing and market access

Most youths seeking the centre’s assistance have ideas but no funding. “We analyse candidates’ project ideas before recruiting them. Then, after 40 days to 9 months of training, depending on the selected field, we help them set up in that market,” says Ouattara. The centre can sometimes provide funding for projects, although financial resources are limited. AJA Mali, which manages the centre, receives support from the Department of International Cooperation of the Principality of Monaco, the NGO Crossroads International, and the Malian vocational training directorate.

To meet the financing needs of businesses it helps set up, AJA Mali negotiates with banks and microfinance institutions. Loan application files are drawn up by the NGO’s staff, who closely supervise young entrepreneurs until they have repaid the loan that has enabled them to launch their business.As the centre is close to Mali’s capital, poultry farming, fish farming and market gardening are the most popular training courses. “I started with one hen house, but now I have more because of high market demand,” says Seydou Samaké, 38 years old, who has become completely self-sufficient since completing his training at the centre 3 years ago. He says he does not regret changing direction after his law studies at a public university, which he feels was wasted time in retrospect. Samaké estimates that his current monthly income is over FCFA250,000 (€384), which he thinks would be unachievable with an office job in the current market.

One network, multiple benefits

CFEAB offers training in complementary fields so that start-up businesses can co-operate in a mutually-beneficial network environment. One of the advantages of a network is to overcome banks’ unwillingness to lend to agricultural enterprises. Traditional lenders, like banks, consider agricultural start-ups risky investments as much of the Malian agricultural sector is dependent on unpredictable weather conditions. Ouattara adds, “Thanks to the complementarity and solidarity of network members, these companies can help fund each other’s activities by providing in-kind contributions.” The network now includes over 200 small agricultural and craft businesses that communicate regularly. Oumou Diallo, a market gardener, says that entrepreneurs remain in touch with AJA Mali, whose headquarters periodically serve as a meeting place for entrepreneurs to discuss potential service exchanges. Diallo has already fertilised her crops with livestock waste obtained from other network members, thus avoiding the need to purchase commercial fertiliser. “Other members have also used my products on credit, especially restaurant entrepreneurs. They have always paid me afterwards without problem,” she says.