September 2, 2016

How agri-business incubators can boost agric, create jobs

Venturing into commercial farming is tasking particularly for young farmers. They are faced with inadequate infrastructure, lack of start-up capital, capacity building and mentoring services, among others. Experts however, say that establishing agri-business incubators is a viable mechanism for creating an environment where youth-led start-ups can be nurtured and allowed to flourish. They note that by giving impetus to promotion of youth-driven agri-business entrepreneurship, agri-business incubators would boost agriculture and create jobs. DANIEL ESSIET writes

With agriculture as one of the major planks of Federal Government’s current strategic re-focusing on the non-oil sector to diversify the economy, focus appears to be shifting to Nigerian youths. The generational shift in favour of youths is understandable. For one, Nigeria’s farm labour is ageing, requiring young and vibrant farmers to help exploit the nation’s largely unexploited agricultural potentials. Besides, with the current challenges of boosting food security, stakeholders in the agric sector are of the view that there is need to engage many youths in agricultural production, including farming, seed supply, agri-chemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, processing, marketing and retail.

However, with many young agro entrepreneurs already showing keen interest in agri-business, most of them are still faced with the challenges that come with starting off new agro ventures such as inadequate infrastructure, capital and technical knowhow. To turn the tide and unleash the immense potential in agri-business, which is believed to have the capacity to take as many youths as possible off the unemployment market, experts and stakeholders in the agric sector are canvassing the promotion of agri-business incubation centres. The thinking is that agri-business incubation is a viable strategy to transform the agric sector by smoothening the way for new, young farmers’ entrants.

If Nigeria embraces the strategy, it would only be borrowing a leaf from countries across the globe where it is believed to have worked wonders. Indeed, globally, agri-business incubators serve start-up entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises and agro-tech innovators among others. Through this initiative, governments across the world have promoted the establishment of agri-business ventures through a vast pool of commercialisable agro-technologies from Research and Development (R&D) institutes, provided access to infrastructural facilities, made available capacity building and mentoring, and facilitated funding.

In most advanced countries such as the US, United Kingdom, and Germany, where the strategy has worked, more agri-business incubation centres provide settlement for activities that cover the entire agri-business spectrum including fisheries, horticulture, veterinary, agri-engineering and food processing. Such agri-business incubators are known to have empowered entrepreneurs who in turn, have created companies that churned out several jobs, thus reducing youth unemployment and also contributing to their country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The Nation learnt that while government research institutes in those countries showcase ready-to-commercialise agro-technologies from different segments of the agric sector, there are few agricultural incubators in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, to provide access to land, equipment and infrastructure for farm start-ups. This is despite the fact that agri-business incubators have shown the potential to integrate smallholder farmers into the sector in a range of innovative ways that show that small agro-industrial activities can lead to massive job creation in the places where people especially youths live and work…………….

For founder, AgroInfoTech, Mr. Oluwajoba Ayo Okediji, agri-business incubators represent part of the ongoing efforts at increasing economic opportunities for Nigerians. He said there is need to identify potential entrepreneurs in agri-business and offer them value chain development technical support including funds. This, he said, would encourage them to nurture profitable enterprises that can create jobs.

Okediji announced that his organisation is kick-starting an agri-business incubation in Nigeria. He said his organisation has been working with smallholder farmers and some leading agri-business companies to address challenges in the sector. “We pioneered some solutions to reduce the challenges faced by the stakeholders using new technologies to enable access to market for farmers, information dissemination, farm to table services to mention a few. We need a platform where these solutions can be incubated and accelerated,” he said.

The expert lamented the lack of facilities in Nigeria primarily focused on agri-business incubation when countries such as Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal and Mali have agri-business incubation centres operated by Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UniBRAIN), a facility coordinated by Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa (FARA).

Okediji said this was what led his organisation to pioneer an Agri-business Innovation Centre – Agro Innovation Hub, in collaboration with the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Obafemi Awolowo University (IAR&T), and Moor Plantation, Ibadan. The centre, he explained, would provide a platform where solutions will be created using new technologies to promote agricultural research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

In Okediji’s words: “We are redefining farming through innovation, using new technologies to make agriculture much more profitable and attractive by collaborating with educational institutions and youth agencies such as the National Youth Service Corps to achieve our goals. We will be organising various youth-driven programmes, events and summits and also offer agri-business incubation, acceleration, and mentorship to interested youths.

“It will be a hub where various initiatives to add value to the agri-business sector will be launched, collaborating with various stakeholders. We have the consent of some local and foreign based organisations that are willing to collaborate with us to achieve the full purpose of the centre.” He also said his organisation is considering forming public and private partnerships in pursuit of an agricultural sector that meets the job creation requirements as a tool for fighting poverty and food insecurity. Read more

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