The first part of the Africa-UK Agri-Food Innovation Online Missions included 3 weeks of online events and activities, developed as a response to the Covid-19 situation which has prevented any face-to-face meetings. Each week focused on an African region (Southern & Central, Eastern and Western), and featured a range of speakers, including academics, government and industry representatives from Africa and the UK.

All weeks started with an introduction to the GCRF AgriFood Africa programme and an overview of funding opportunities available in the AgriFood sector for collaboration between the UK and Africa. This was followed by region-specific presentations, which provided relevant information about key challenges and opportunities for the sector in each African region. Speakers illustrated insight experiences from different perspectives, from funding providers to success stories from ongoing collaborative initiatives.

Most sessions where live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook and a live Q&A at the end of each session gave attendees the opportunity to engage directly with speakers. All weeks included several networking events which provided an online platform for registrants to book 1-to-1 meetings with other participants. In every region, an afternoon session was dedicated to a Pitch Competition, where participants had the opportunity to pitch their innovative ideas to other attendees, facilitating the establishment of new collaborations. The winner of each week has received a spotlight across different KTN platforms. All weeks closed with a live panel Q&A where experts discussed key topics highlighted during the week.

A total of 588 participants registered across all 3 weeks, with over 30% attendees from Africa and broad representation from Industry, Academia, Government and Research Technology Organisations. Online meetings were well attended across all three weeks, with a total of 179 1-to-1 meetings booked. Feedback received after the virtual missions indicates that most attendees felt the event helped them make meaningful connections.

This report summarises general information shared across the first three weeks of virtual missions as well as specific challenges and opportunities highlighted for each African region. Region-specific information has been compiled under three central themes:

  • Overview of the Agri-Food sector
  • Challenges and opportunities in the Agri-Food sector
  • Collaboration and partnerships between Sub-Saharan Africa and the UK.

Overview of the Agri-Food sector in Sub-Saharan Africa

A number of presentations from African and UK speakers provided an overview of the Agri-Food sector in each region. Speakers described the industry from different angles, including financial, technical and academic perspectives, and providing valuable insights to individuals considering applying for any of the funding opportunities described above.

Southern and Central African region

Wessel Lemmer, Senior Agricultural Economist at Absa Bank, presented an overview of the sector in South Africa from a financial point of view. He highlighted the contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, the value of which is highly correlated with rainfall. However, even though there has been a decrease in average annual rainfall over the last 20 years, production of field crops has increased over time as a result of improved efficiency. Wessel iterated the importance of irrigation to reduce uncertainty of crop success, a significant decisive factor for banks to provide financial support.

Several speakers recognized agriculture as a key industry in the region, which provides employment to a significant part of the population. In Malawi, the country introduced by Gavin Milligan from the Green Knight Sustainability Consulting Ltd, approximately 60% of the population is engaged in smallholder subsistence agriculture. There are important differences in the type of agriculture that dominates each country, whilst production in South Africa comes mainly from commercial agriculture, in most countries it comes from smallholder farming. As highlighted by Timothy Hobden from IPE Triple Line Consulting, family farming (less than 2ha) accounts for 90% of the agriculture in Africa. The major issue for these smallholders is low productivity.

Crop production across the region is varied, from oilseed, cereals or soya-bean, to higher-value crops like fruit and wine, often exported. Overall, the level of mechanisation is low, as highlighted by Timothy Hobden, Ben Bennett and Gavin Milligan. However, some countries, especially South Africa, have benefited from different SMART farming technologies for crop production, including the use of drones.  Prof Frans Swanepoel from the University of Pretoria highlighted some key innovations currently being developed at this University.

Livestock production has also increased in the region during the last few years, but the sector has benefited less from innovation, according to Wessel, there is great potential to increase gross value through efficiencies in this sector.

Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee (University of Pretoria) provided an overview of the Agri-Food sector in South Africa from an academic perspective, describing the types of high education institutions that exist in the country and the demographics of doctoral and graduate students. In South Africa, research is mainly government-funded and there is limited collaboration with industry.

Eastern African Region

The week started with a presentation from Susie Kitchens, British Deputy High Commissioner for Kenya, who highlighted Kenya’s dynamic entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, with Silicon Savannah being an exciting hub for exploring AgriTech and Agri businesses. In Kenya, 80% is arid or semi-arid land, but a range of crops are grown, including maize, wheat, beans, peas, bananas and potatoes. Maize accounts for 90% of the total production. With regard to farming, dairy accounts for 8% of GDP, and 80% of the production comes from smallholder farmers. From all the food processed in Kenya, 85% is sold in the same country, mainly through vendors and unregulated markets. But overall, the country is highly reliable on imports, even for wheat which is the most produced crop.

Also describing Kenya’s sector, Rishi Raithatha (GSMA AgriTech programme) pointed out that agriculture accounts for almost 34% of the country’s GDP, and at least 73% of its rural population relies on the sector for their main source of income and employment. Rishi highlighted little level of connection between farmers, distributions, and different parts of the supply chain. In Kenya, only between 10-20% of smallholder farmers are part of organised value chains. He presented Agrimagr, a project developed by Virtual City to digitalise the milk value chain. The platform records the amount of milk collected and received, ensuring transparency and accountability for all parts involved. It also creates financial records; key to get credit and have access to financial support.

Prof William Otim-Nape (Africa Innovations Institute) presented a more global perspective of the Eastern region; formed of 13 countries, agriculture contributes to 26% of the GDP and accounts for approximately 71% of the labour force. Over 75% of total agriculture outputs come from smallholders (less than 2.5ha) and arable land includes a diversity of agro-ecological zones, allowing different types of crops and livestock to be produced. Key export commodities in the region include coffee, tea, flowers, spices, fruits and vegetables.

From an academic perspective, professor Izael Da Silva (Strathmore University) described different education institutions in Kenya, including Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions which are becoming increasingly popular. TVET combine technical skills with skills needed in the labour market. Izael emphasised on the key role of academia as innovation accelerators and incubators and mentioned Kenya’s government Vision for 2030, which focuses on developing 4 key areas: manufacturing, housing, health and agriculture. He presented the view and educational system followed by Strathmore University.

Western African Region

The Honourable Amie Faburay started the week discussing the Importance of the AgriFood Sector to the Economy of The Gambia. In The Gambia, the agriculture sector contributes to 25% of GDP. Agriculture employs 46% of the labour force and is the source of livelihood for 80% of the rural population. However, agriculture production is subsistence, rainfed and only provides half of the country’s consumption needs. This reliance on importing large portions of its food requirements has contributed to food insecurity. The last ten years have seen the agricultural sector grow at an average of 2.4% per year, making it the third-lowest growing country in terms of agriculture in the region, with cereal crop yield, the stable food of The Gambian population, declining steadily for the past 10 years. This can partly be attributed to climate change, weak research, inappropriate and unsustainable farming practices. The minister of agriculture in The Gambia encourages system approaches to sustainability, aiming to make agriculture more productive and sustainable, also working to make food systems inclusive. The role of the market is key with consumer demand for sustainable foods. A collaborative effort is required from a variety of stakeholders and organisations involved in all activities of the supply chain in order to see the improvements required to move the Gambia towards a sustainable, secure food future.

An Overview of the AgriFood industry in West Africa was given by David Akana of CORAF. CORAF has received investment from DFID and its core mission is to feed people in west Africa and build food security through a consortium of partners from farmers, NGOs, Banks and universities. David indicated three policy milestones CORAF is working on, these are; Regional seed and seedling regulation implemented, to help facilitate the movement of seeds from one country to another, Integrated regional strategy for the sustainable management of agri-inputs in West Africa and Sahel developed, this Is 80% complete so far and a regional plan for fruit fly monitoring and control, the hope for this is to improve the export market for mangos in the region by reducing the interception of infected fruits. Other broader themes echoed those of the Honourable Amie Faburay as he indicated mentions the large yield gap in cereal crops and large food imports estimated a $35 billion across Africa.

Speaking on the academic landscape in Ghana, Ernest Teye highlight the recent reforms that have led to an increase in youth literacy of 15% and a 40% increase in students going into higher education over ten years. This has driven a growth in universities from 3 in 1990 to 70 in 2014, and with 40% of the population is under 15 so there is a great opportunity for further growth. On top of domestic students Ghana is a popular international student destination, international students increased by 838% between 2007 and 2015, the majority of whom are from Nigeria

Edwin Zu-Cudjoe spoke on his insights from the viewpoint of an agribusiness social Enterprise, social farm. Similar to The Gambia, there is a large population of smallholder farmers with little technology that is mostly rainfed. The main crops grown are maize, cassava and cocoa with imports of £2.5 billion per annum. Social Farm limited uses private capital to improve farming and empower and create wealth for women and youth by implementing solar power irrigation systems, access to tractors and other farming services. So far, they have supported 214 women and youth connecting them to 2000 acres of land, increasing income per person of £140.


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