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Young women take the lead in Pitch AgriHack

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Since the launch of CTA’s Pitch AgriHack Talent Initiative in 2013, over 1 million farmers and agricultural stakeholders have benefited from services provided by start-up companies involved in its annual competitions. Their ICT-based innovations have helped to raise more than €2 million from investors and development specialists.

The 2018 Pitch AgriHack competition – the third of its kind – was held in September 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, during the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF). Its theme was ‘Women entrepreneurs innovate for agricultural transformation.’

“We wanted to focus on young women, as few of them are currently leading agricultural technology start-ups,” says Ken Lohento, CTA Senior ICT4Ag Programme Coordinator. “As a matter of fact, just 10% of tech start-ups internationally are led by women. This was an opportunity to show that women are every bit as capable as men when it comes to developing new technologies and managing ICT businesses.”

The announcement for this year’s Pitch AgriHack competition in April attracted 335 applications from ACP countries. Of these, 164 start-ups were led by women. The most promising 26 were invited to take part in the finals in Kigali, where 14 of the finalists were represented by women. The eight winners included four companies run by young women and four by young men. The awards, which included cash prizes as well as support for business incubation and the opportunity to participate in other ICT-related events, were presented in the presence of two heads of state, two heads of government and some 20 government ministers.

“These are entrepreneurs who have been inspired to make a difference – to help transform agriculture for future generations and to encourage young people to see the potential in farming and agribusiness,” said CTA Director, Michael Hailu, at the awards ceremony.

Before the judges chose the winners, the 26 finalists and 14 other guest start-ups benefited from a two-day training workshop on investment readiness. Here they learned how to better manage their financial accounts and how to secure deals with investors. “Pitch AgriHack has been fantastic,” said Varun Baker, CEO of Farm Credibly, one of the winners in the early stage category. “The investment readiness workshop has been extremely useful for us. We’ll definitely make better use of funding, having gone through this training.”

Farm Credibly is using blockchain technology to help Jamaican farmers without bank accounts to gain access to finance. Most farmers find it difficult to get loans or investment to expand their businesses, as they lack the financial records lenders require. Farm Credibly is using blockchain to record farmers’ transactions with input companies, processors and supermarkets. The farmers’ digital profiles illustrate their capacity to use loans effectively and their ability to repay them.

Among the women-led start-ups to win in Kigali was Fenou Foods from Benin, a company that develops local agro-processed products. With ‘Fenou Packaging,’ Sonita Tossou and her team had the innovative idea of providing 100% biodegradable packaging. The company are targeting local, youth-led agri-food processors – and the climate-conscious packaging is helping them to compete with imported products. Following Pitch AgriHack, Tossou was also selected as one of six winners receiving CTA funding to attend the Agristartup Summit held in France, where Fenou Packaging won third prize. CTA also provided support for some of the Kigali winners to attend the UN Social Good Summit, where they had the opportunity to make a pitch to potential investors.

During 2018, many of the winners of the 2017 Pitch AgriHack, held in Côte d’Ivoire, made good progress. To give just one example, Bayseddo, a Senegalese start-up that uses crowdsourced finance to invest in agricultural production, raised about €150,000 to support several projects. These have yielded a 10% return for investors and the company is currently developing a new mobile application for its platform, using financial support from CTA. Collaboration with the government agency Délegation de l’Entrepreneuriat Rapide (DER), which focuses on supporting young entrepreneurs, is currently being finalised. 

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