The super seed for improving Africa’s food systems; ambitious (and skilled) agribusinesses and entrepreneurs

30th September 2021

Addressing the challenges facing the world’s food system requires ambitious, bold action. Specifically,  the social impact ecosystem must set out to equip Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with the tools and training to improve their businesses, so these essential frontline actors can bear the weight that ultimately rests on their shoulders. 

According to the authors of a commentary in Nature preceding the recent 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, the facts implore us to act and support MSMEs to be a key part of the solution; one in ten people is undernourished, more than one-third of the global population can’t afford a healthy diet, 30% of the world’s greenhouse emissions come from the food sector, the sector drives two-thirds of the loss in forests and poor farming practices degrade the shocks and strains brought about by Covid-19. 

The Food Systems Summit is now in the rear view mirror and the challenges to the world’s and Africa’s food systems remain daunting.The question is how will we navigate the road ahead, and get closer to meeting SDG 2,  which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. We should do it by implementing what we know works; supporting agribusinesses and entrepreneurs to grow stronger. 

As the African Management Institute (AMI), we know that businesses with improved core business skills drive economic growth, support and protect jobs – especially for women and youth –  and secure livelihoods for hundreds of millions. Even more important is that businesses with these essential skills are more likely to survive the already significant challenges of running a business, when faced with game changing shocks and stresses like Covid-19 or climate change. To add to this, if MSMEs can be oriented from the beginning with sustainability as a core habit and core building block, these actors can counter climate change and environmental degradation for generations to come.  

However, the “hidden-middle,” as MSMEs in Africa’s food system have been called, are often overlooked in their essential role in Africa’s food systems. With environmental and climate change challenges added on, supporting entrepreneurs and teams that are bringing innovative and new business models can begin to change the tide. Though at the heart of the system, these businesses are significantly under skilled and their core business capabilities have largely remained unattended to or focused on. 

At AMI we’re taking on this challenge head on, and with a laser focus, setting out to improve business and management skills across Africa’s ag sector at multiple levels – the private sector, civil society and government. Through our Agriculture Impact Area, we’re building a practice and approach which applies our expertise in building MSME and management capacity more intentionally across agriculture and agribusiness value chains. 

For example, during the last year in the face of Covid-19, we launched the virtual Grow Your Agribusiness programme with Aceli Africa to support small and growing businesses in agribusiness to weather the challenges of Covid and build more resilient businesses and teams. 

Aceli Africa is a high-impact partner, “increasing lending to underserved agricultural SMEs, thereby improving livelihoods for farmers and workers, creating opportunities for women and youth, strengthening food security and nutrition, and promoting sustainable environmental practices.” Through delivering our core business growth and resilience programmes to Aceli’s portfolio of scaling businesses we aim to  fortify and protect MSMEs that are leading the charge to strengthen Africa’s food systems.  The pilot cohort has shown exciting impact- 100% of businesses observed an increase in revenue, 76% had an increase in profitability, and 97% of those reporting improvements in their business attribute this success to the GYA programme. We’re expanding to hundreds more agribusinesses over the next year.

Over the last year, we’ve also enabled civil society actors to further support their ecosystem of agriculture MSMEs. For example, our partner Farm Africa, works to reduce poverty, grow agriculture, protect the environment and develop businesses in rural areas. In eastern Africa, our Survive to Thrive programme is at the heart of their Cultivate programme, focused on supporting small and growing agribusinesses. We’ll be reporting impact data on this programme, which will employ a hybrid tech+touch approach to support hard-to-reach small agribusinesses in their own language, as it is collected. 

With COLEACP, an association of companies and experts committed to sustainable agriculture in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, we delivered our Business Survival Bootcamp programme to help key agriculture businesses who trade with the European Union and intra-regionally, to survive pandemic lockdowns. 100% of the businesses we supported are applying AMI tools on the job.

Finally, we’re working at the country policy and leadership levels to support critical food systems and agriculture priorities. AMI, the Alliance for a Green Revolution In Africa (AGRA) and USAID’s Policy LINK, recently launched the Centre for African Leaders In Agriculture (CALA), The Centre’s inaugural Advanced Leadership Programme delivered by AMI, will support 160 leaders from eight focus countries across the continent in government, public and private sector to deliver on agriculture sector priorities over the next three years. 

We’re already seeing the net positive impact of these programmes and our other non-agriculture sector programmes. In 2020 alone, AMI supported over 3,700 businesses through our MSME bootcamps and programmes and we’ve estimated that businesses participating in our programmes protected an estimated 40,400 jobs, impacting over 202,000 livelihoods. More importantly, 100% of the businesses we supported on our core MSME growth programmes are still operating, based on a 78% response rate. 

Our collaboration with partners such as Aceli Africa, Farm Africa, COLEACP and AGRA are just one contribution toward addressing the dire food systems challenges Africa and the world faces. However, we know that investing in leadership capacity, business skills and de-risking businesses for investment will be an investment akin to a super-seed to boost Africa’s food systems, one that the generations of today and the future are counting on us to plant and harvest. 

Lillian Mwai is a Senior Partnerships Manager at AMI and a seasoned international development specialist with over ten years experience. Lillian previously worked as a Regional Grants and Partnerships Manager at One Acre Fund.

To learn more about how your organization can partner with AMI to deliver high-impact programmes, contact Lillian.mwai@africanmanagers.org.

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