"Work by CTA has demonstrated that ICTs have a key role to play in transforming African agriculture through improving productivity and market access and catalysing youth entrepreneurship,” says Michael Hailu, CTA director. “For example, one of the things we have been doing is to engage young ICT professionals through a hackathon to develop smart ICT solutions for an agricultural problem (e.g. helping smallholders to access credit). The winners are given mentoring support over a period of 6 months in business skills and so on, which allows them to grow their business and attract investors and donors.”
Bringing ICTs to young entrepreneurs
AgriHack Talent, a CTA supported project launched in 2013, encourages young entrepreneurs to apply their ICT knowledge to agricultural problems. Several AgriHack hackathon winners have succeeded in developing notable businesses. Ensibuuko, in Uganda, has for example developed a mobile app, known as MOBIS, which enables savings and credit cooperative organisations (SACCOs) to provide inclusive financial services for the unbanked and underserved. “So far they have reached around 400,000 farmers,” says Ken Lohento, CTA ICT4Ag Programme Coordinator. “That kind of scaling up can really only happen through private investment. We help these young people to turn their ideas into promising businesses, and that is the only way to achieve large-scale adoption of innovations.” In 2016, Ensibuuko attracted a €420,000 investment from a Canadian venture capitalist and, in April 2017, the Ugandan-based company opened franchises in Malawi and Zambia.
To further support start-ups like Ensibuuko that want to take their business to scale, CTA used the success of AgriHack Talent to launch a new venture called Pitch AgriHack in 2016. Partners in the first Pitch AgriHack included the African Development Bank, ProHaus Group (a venture capital from the USA) and the African Agribusiness Incubation Network. One of the winners of this first event was Sooretul, a Senegalese company created by 30 year-old Awa Caba, who has developed a web and mobile marketplace for agricultural processed products offered by women. The platform ensures a better access of rural women offerings to the urban demand. With CTA’s grant of €15,000 and mentoring support, Sooretul will scale up their services and open two points of sale outside Senegal.
Another Pitch AgriHack winner is Bradstorne Entreprises from Botswana. With their mAgri application, they give farmers access to information, markets, low cost communication and short term finance. They started collaboration with the telecom operator Orange, the app has over 300,000 users to date. Currently, more than 600 young entrepreneurs and innovators and about 26 incubators from many countries have been involved in the programme.
A huge potential for drones
However, CTA is also aware that many young innovators do not actually know the agricultural sector, have not studied business management and make errors that experienced entrepreneurs would avoid. In addition, ICT4Ag is still new and faces many challenges. Therefore, to support young people in the ICT sector, CTA launched a first-of-its-kind publication in April 2016 to provide critical reference material for any young aspiring ACP agripreneur looking to provide services to the agricultural sector. Their ICT Agripreneurship Guide – A Path to Success for Young ACP Entrepreneurs describes real-life examples through case studies and interviews with entrepreneurs, provides step-by-step guidance on setting up and running an e-agriculture business, and gives recommendations on designing successful business models and how to avoid common pitfalls. Further examples and valuable advice are provided in another 2017 CTA publication Going to Scale with ICTS for Agriculture, which reviews seven promising ICT interventions supported by CTA but also highlights the challenges in scaling up.
CTA has helped several African companies in Benin, DRC, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda to become drone operators with training provided by French start-up company, Airnov. The selected companies have been supported to undergo intensive governance for unmanned aerial vehicles and related analytical systems training in order to fully deploy drone technology to benefit agricultural value chain activities across the continent. “An important part of CTA’s work focuses on innovative ICTs,” says Giacomo Rambaldi, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for ICTs. Rambaldi believes that there is huge potential for drones in African agriculture and that youths could benefit by setting up enterprises that make use of the technology to serve the farming community.