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Blending it up: Innovative learning programme is to step up agribusiness in Africa

Meeting food demands of the growing global population is a great challenge of our times. There are estimates that food production will have to increase by 70% by 2050.  A growing body of work on health and nutrition suggests that we will have to improve the quality of the food we produce and consume too. All that will have to happen in a world experiencing climate change with the associated droughts, floods and temperature changes.

How are we planning to overcome this challenge if the average age of farmer is 59, especially if less than 5% of farmers are under the age of 35?  The question of who will farm in the future is particularly critical for agrarian economies, like those in Sub-Saharan Africa. But while facing many challenges, Sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to become a global powerhouse of quality food production, delivering enough for its own populations and contributing to international food systems. Clearly, it will not be possible without getting young people on board.

And that is why it is essential to show young people that it is possible to build modern and profitable businesses based on farming. “We work with our partners in Africa to equip young people with the business skills required to create sustainable businesses within the agri-food sector in Africa,” says Steven Carr, CEO of the Agripreneurship Alliance, a non-profit membership-led association with headquarters in Switzerland.

From A to B

Founded in August 2017, The Agripreneurship Alliance is based upon two pieces of research conducted in the period between 2015 and 2017, particularly focused on Sub-Saharan Africa. Through this research Steven has come to a conclusion that development of business skills may be that missing piece in the puzzle of attracting young Africans to farming.

Firstly, together with his colleague Anne Roulin, Steven did a scoping study on agripreneurship.  It helped to identify a network of key actors and possible partners within academia and the non-profit sector who work with agripreneurship and carry out activities supporting youth-driven entrepreneurship across the agri-food sector. It also provided Steven with an understanding of International and African strategies used for agribusiness development.

Drawing on this information, Steven was able to identify some of the key blocks that stop young people developing new agribusinesses. These include: lack of access to land and to start up capital. Many educational courses focus on technical agricultural skills and do not include or concentrate upon the essential business skills needed.

The second piece of research explored how can business skills could be incorporated into the existing training programmes within universities and training organisations. The research explored different approaches to business training and reached out to young agripreneurs across Africa to identify their needs and aspirations.

This survey, which received responses from young people from countries as diverse as Nigeria and Kenya and everywhere in between, found there is a clear need for training of early-stage agri-business start-ups for young people and that a cloud based approach was something that young people found particularly appealing.

At the same time, the research explored other strategies and resources for improving business training within existing organisations. It was found that there are a lot of diverse and quality materials available on the web to help young agripreneurs create their business ideas, but such resources are fragmented, hard to find and often do not have an African focus.

The research programme also considered  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) as a possible solution to the business training needs of young African agripreneurs. MOOC’s can have excellent entrepreneurship curricula which are consistent and quality assured, but they are more often focused on the global north and on sectors other than agrifood. It should also be recognised that the completions rates for MOOC’s are very low (average 6%), in part a result of the individualised nature of study.

From A to Z

So, Agripreneurship Alliance was looking for another approach and after some poking around, decided to adopt the blended learning approach.  Blended Learning mixes online and in-class experiences.  Culturally adapted and topic relevant learning materials are developed and hosted on the cloud.  These materials are then utilised and localised within a particular setting, facilitated by trained tutors who take the students through an experiential learning process.

Supported by SIANI through its Expert Group seed funding mechanism, Agriprenership Alliance is currently working on the first module of a blended learning course for young agripreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The Agripreneurship Alliance has pulled together a diverse and experienced ‘Expert Group’ to support and guide the pilot, with members including representatives of universitiues and organisations such as Teach a Man to Fish (UK), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Lund, African Management Initiative (Kenya), Kinneret College (Israel) and Makerere University (Uganda).

The pilot programme includes the development of an ‘Entrepreneurship in Agribusiness’ course. The course will be hosted on an online platform, held by the African Management Initiative and will include 10 sessions that will enable budding agripreneur to complete their first high-quality business plan.  Such a plan will enable them to clearly articulate their business idea, understand the action steps that are needed to launch and run their business and identify where start-up capital can be accessed.

This pilot programme will run within five East African institutions between April – September 2018 and will include a total of 100 students (twenty in each institution).  A ‘Training of Trainers’ course will be held in Nairobi in March 2018 which will bring together two facililitators from each institution.

“We are delighted that Egerton and Laikipia Universities in Kenya, Gulu University and the IITA Youth Agripreneurs in Uganda and the IGAD Sheikh Technical Veterinary Training School in Somaliland have all committed to piloting this ‘Entrepreneurship in Agribusiness’ programme within their institutions,” says Steven Carr.

In addition, this blended learning approach, will be accompanied with a set of three business start-up guides, developed in collaboration with Teach a Man to Fish. These guides will primary focus on protein production, including fish, pig and poultry (broiler) farming. All of them will be in online free access. These guides will be short downloadable pdf’s that will be freely available to everyone.  Their developers hope the guides will spark ideas and contribute to the development of quality business thinking among young African agripreneurs.