The Africa Future Lab for Innovation and Policy
Insights from a collaborative workshop to develop future-proof solutions
On July 28th 2022, SEED, in collaboration with GO4SDGs, organised the Africa Future Lab for Innovation and Policy. The event was organised as part of the Global Future Labs that bring together 30 – 40 regional SME stakeholders, such as policy makers, intermediaries and SMEs to co-create and develop future-proof solutions.
The participatory workshop focused on the African agriculture-food sector. As one of the largest employers, especially in rural areas, the agriculture-food sector remains a key driver of the Sustainable Development Goals. Moreover, the African agri-food sector is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, while also contributing significantly to environmental degradation. Therefore, the agri-food sector is key to driving the transition toward more a more sustainable economy. The Africa Future Lab analysed how SMEs can lead the way to transform the agri-food sector through the lens of Five Key Action Areas such as Innovation, Non-Financial Support, Finance, Policy and Market.
The event was split into two parts. First, a panel discussion, representing key SME stakeholders. The panel included representatives from government, intermediaries, research institutes and SMEs.
The panel discussion was kicked off by Indoomatee Ramma of the Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (FAREI) of the Mauritian Ministry for agro-industry. Presenting FAREI’s work, Indoomatee Ramma focused on the collaboration between the governmental research institute and local farmers. Through this collaboration, FAREI shares findings from its research directly with the farming communities and transfers technologies to improve climate adaptation. Following the input from the policy and research side, Samuel Rigu, co-founder of Kenyan SME Safi Organics, presented his enterprise’s solution to one of the many challenges faced by farmers. Namely, how the land that used to sustain the community for generations, became less and less productive due to the use of inefficient and harmful fertilisers. To overcome this challenge, Safi Organics manufactures and sells high yielding organic fertilisers. Directly involving rural farmers and youth, the enterprise was able to improve productivity and create additional social benefits, while improving the environment. One difficulty that Samuel Riga pointed out regards the accessibility of finance for rural farmers and SMEs. This was addressed by the next panellist, Etienne Ndatimana of Aceli Africa, a development organisation founded to bridge the financing gaps faced by SMEs. Etienne Ndatimana stressed the potential of SMEs as drivers of inclusive agricultural growth. Due to the importance of agriculture in many African economies, Aceli Africa supports SMEs in obtaining finance so that they can scale their impact and innovate even further. Finally, Baldwyn Torto of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) introduced the research perspective. Focusing on “novel foods”, Baldwyn Torto talked about innovative ways to meet the challenges of the future, for instance by introducing into mainstream new sources of protein.
Following the panel discussion, the participants engaged in a collaborative workshop to develop future-proof solutions. The workshops were opened by four input speakers: Ernest Chitechi of the Climate Innovation Centre, Worlali Senya of Farmerline, Bezawit Eshetu of the Africa Circular Economy Network (ACEN) and Charles Ralison of the Madagascar Biodiversity Centre. In these inputs, the speakers addressed some first insights to start the debate and development of future-proof solutions in the next step of the collaborative workshop. The workshops moved along in three stages. Initially, the discussion centred around today’s challenges. This included the challenge of environmental degradation, as well as SME specific challenges, such as the access to financial and non-financial support. Next, the discussion moved to the question what solutions we need to be ready for 2030. The participants talked about technological innovations, such as using better digital infrastructures to improve the agri-food sector’s productivity. Moreover, they stressed the need to be more socially inclusive to create better resilience in the sector, especially through the empowerment of youth through green jobs. Finally, the question “How do we get there?” was raised in the discussion. One key factor according to all participants were improved partnerships. Through more collaboration among SMEs and between different actors (including governments, intermediaries and financiers), there will be a better transfer of knowledge and technologies that will enable innovative and future-proof solutions.
The outcomes of the Africa Future Lab, together with the other events in the Global Future Lab Series, will inform a New Sustainable SME Action Agenda that will frame pathways for future actions to be ready for the challenges of 2030.