How digital platforms are aiding agri-SMEs bounce back
Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, the agriculture sector in most African countries faced numerous challenges that stood as barriers to food security and sustainability. These challenges included but were not limited to climate disasters, conflicts, and economic instability. With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the pandemic did not only serve to highlight these issues, but it also exacerbated many others, including the fragility of production systems, the lack of proper frameworks for food distribution and logistics, the lack of ecosystem support for agri-food entrepreneurs and inadequate business models that lack resilience in times of crisis. As a result, agribusinesses are still grappling with impediments in building back more than a year after the global pandemic first struck.
Although governments have made attempts at structuring interventions to enable small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to recover, these programs have been laden with operational complexities, have not addressed emerging issues such as the need to proactively leverage digital technology, and have therefore left agri-food entrepreneurs exposed. For example, while some African countries have deferred and waived taxes for SMEs, these measures have been insufficient to aid SMEs to adjust and pivot their operations during the crisis.
New solutions that are scalable, far-reaching, and tech-enabled are required. Solutions that provide financial and non-financial resources to agri-food enterprises and are complemented by capacity building and data; solutions necessary in propelling agribusinesses back to growth. Digital platforms aimed at providing information, resources and support to agripreneurs have offered such solutions.
Three digital platforms providing support
Nourishing Africa, Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN) and Generation Africa manage three distinct digital platforms providing ecosystem support to entrepreneurs and practitioners.
iBAN is a global initiative supporting the scaling and replication of inclusive business models. Through its strategic approach iBAN supports companies with tailormade investment readiness programmes and develops national inclusive business policy strategies with policymakers. On a global level iBAN manages the largest online knowledge platform on inclusive business. iBAN creates a space where evidence-based knowledge transforms into learning and new partnerships. With its focus on promoting the upscale of inclusive business models and consequently improving the lives of the poor, iBAN is actively contributing to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Similarly, through its Go-Gettaz platform, Generation Africa provides education, mentorship, and investment networks to agri-food entrepreneurs as they grow tech-savvy agri-ventures. Through their GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize competition, the platform also rewards two scalable and impactful youth-led businesses with $50,000 to continue to drive tangible social impact.
Nourishing Africa, a digital knowledge and membership hub for agripreneurs, provides information about data, funding, career opportunities, and other resources for food and agriculture entrepreneurs across the continent. Moreover, leveraging ICT, telecommunication, data and innovation, Nourishing Africa, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), have launched the Entrepreneurship Support Program (ESP). The program supports 2,000 MSMEs across the Nigerian agriculture and food landscapes to rebuild and strengthen their businesses through a 4-step program aimed at directly aiding these MSMEs with training, financing and support for the stabilizing and scaling of resilient businesses that can withstand future shocks. The ESP targets youth-led micro and small-scale enterprises engaged in critical food, cash crops, and livestock value chains from inputs, primary production, processing, logistics and storage, and distribution in eleven states in Nigeria. Besides, this program serves as a pipeline for these businesses to scale and meet the criteria necessary to become Nourishing Africa members, thus ensuring they continue to receive ongoing support. Programs providing a combination of capacity building, financing, ongoing support, and precise sustainability projections such as the Entrepreneur Support Program need to be replicated across the continent.
The goal to achieve and sustain food security on the continent is largely dependent on how successful SMEs in the food sector are in rebuilding and scaling resilient agribusinesses. Comprehensive approaches to ecosystem support and resources are crucial to ensuring that these SMEs, which produce, market and handle over 80 percent of all of Africa’s food, are sufficiently supported.