KIGALI — An agricultural business conference in Kigali has allowed a half-dozen fledgling entrepreneurs the opportunity to discuss innovations designed to improve incomes for farmers.
After developing their respective products via World Bank-sponsored "agri-business incubators" based in six African countries, many of the young professionals hope to launch companies of their own one day.
Karupan Chetty of the International Crops Research Institute says each of incubator belongs to a network called Unibrain, and each is a partner academics and businesses to aid the process of sustainable economic growth.
"Each entity which is being created has a multi-partnership in terms of [a] research institution, a university and a particular agri-business organization of that particular country," Chetty said.
The young entrepreneurs made new products out of coffee, banana, sorghum, mango and pineapple, and the winning contestant, Denis Kasule of Uganda, produced a pineapple juice drink.
Started in 2010 with a $25 loan from a friend, Kasule says his business totaled $7,200 in sales last year.
"I started in a kitchen and today I have a market share of 0.0005 percent, and I am aiming for 99.998 percent market share in Uganda," he said.
According to development research conducted by the World Bank, each new job in agro-processing leads to the creation of nearly three additional jobs and contributes to so-called "green growth," environmentally friendly economic expansion.
Kasule says his product complies with the program's ecological criteria by using pineapple peel waste from his processing method to make an enzyme that can be used to tenderize meat, which helps reduce cooking time, thereby lowering the amount of charcoal used and minimizing deforestation.
While World Bank consultant Judge Steve Giddings says African business incubators, initially founded some 10 years ago, are now starting to bear fruits of commerce and enterprise, more data is needed from the innovators.
Some, he say, submit little or no financial information about their businesses.
"It is increasing," Giddings said. "It is looking way more positive than it did five years ago, but even that said, I think we are not collecting enough information to really make the case for incubation."
Last year World Bank researchers released a study which looked at three agri-business incubators that had been operating in Africa for about 10 to 15 years, and found that one in Mozambique had "graduated" — that is, helped in creation of some 400 companies.
Another in Uganda, however, had not graduated any, and a third in South Africa had several hundred clients, but the report did not say how many successful businesses it had launched.
Those representing the World Bank’s agri-business innovation programs have said they will focus more on established small businesses than on start-ups.
Ralph Von Kauffman, a former Unibrain coordinator said some organizations have found that incubating agri-business startups is difficult, and that even California’s Silicon Valley sees less than one in ten start-ups succeed.
But, he added, there are great opportunities if university brains can be applied to agri-business community, and Unibrain is helping academics and firms to work together in a way they have not done before.