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GAIA Accelerates Gender-Responsive Innovation Across the Continent

Emboldened by the success of the first Gender in Agribusiness Investments for Africa (GAIA) AgTech Innovation Challenge for East Africa that took place in November 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, AWARD launched two more GAIA regional AgTech Innovation Challenges for North and West Africa and Southern and Central Africa in early April. AWARD partnered with the African Development Bank (AfDB), Intellecap and African Agribusiness Incubator’s Network (AAIN) to launch both events. 

2017 North and West Africa GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenge

A diverse team of 25 agricultural innovators were brought together at AWARD’s inaugural 2017 North and West Africa GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenge, which included a boot camp-style training and an entrepreneur showcase. Entrepreneurs came from Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Liberia for the launch of the boot camp in Accra, Ghana on April 3-5, 2017, a two and a half day training event. The boot camp, which was facilitated by AWARD Gender Specialist trainers Titilope Fakoya and Anne-Marie Nyamu, together with Intellecap trainers Martin Kiilu and Agostine Ndung’u, focussed on several topics, including the current investor landscape, how to raise funds, and how to more effectively network with potential investors and collaborators. Boot camp participants also learned how to successfully integrate gender considerations across all aspects of their businesses.

The North and West Africa GAIA AgTech Innovation challenge began with a regional call for applications, which attracted over 200 responses; these were then narrowed down to twenty-five innovators. “Selecting the twenty-five innovators from a pool of over 200 applications was not easy. The selection team mainly focused on start-ups that have a high potential for scaling up and responding to Africa’s agricultural needs,” said Eva Otunga, AWARD’s Fellowships Officer.

AWARD Trainers took the North and West African entrepreneurs through an extensive and rigorous gender session, with special support accorded to the Francophone entrepreneurs by Francis Nuwame, also an AWARD Trainer. Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, a representative from ColdHubs Company, said “I didn’t know what gender was at the beginning of this training. When I get back home, I will re-evaluate my business structure and work towards achieving a gender-responsive outcome”. ColdHubs works to reduce post-harvest losses by providing solar-powered walk-in cold rooms designed for installation in off-grid markets to store and preserve perishable foods and extend their shelf life.

On Wednesday, April 5th, the top five entrepreneurs that were selected based on their performance during a preliminary pitch competition the previous day, showcased their innovations to investors and a panel of judges. The judges were Ms Efua Amissah Arthur, Social Development Specialist of the African Development Bank, Mr Nana Osei-Bonsu, the Chief Executive Officer of the Private Enterprise Federation of Ghana (PEF), Prof RoseEmma Mamaa Entsua-Mensah, AWARD Steering Committee Member and Deputy Director General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana, and Mr Ben Morrison, the Development Advisor for GIZ – Market Oriented Agriculture Programme (MOAP). Also present for the showcase was Mr Andrew Karas, USAID’s Ghana Mission Director.

“Many still assume that women account for 60-80 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations put that figure at between 70-90 per cent for sub-Saharan Africa from 1984, with the former having been true over 10 years before,” Mr Nana said while delivering his keynote address. He urged organisations to be sensitive and responsive to the various needs of women farmers and entrepreneurs in agricultural value chains. Ms Amissah Arthur shared the same sentiments as she strongly advocated for women’s inclusion in agribusiness. “Africa’s food markets are projected to grow to USD $1 trillion by 2030. Inclusive agribusiness is one way to make sure that women, who contribute largely to agricultural production, can benefit from the economic growth.”

The showcase culminated with the judges selecting the winner of the 2017 North and West Africa GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenge. Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja of Fresh Direct Nigeria took the top prize. Adelaja’s Nigeria-based project strengthens the entire value chain for premium produce by bringing production closer to markets using container farms that are able to grow produce in urban areas; this innovative technology increases year-round yields in an eco-friendly way, and reduces post-harvest losses because of close proximity to markets.

The second best innovation went to Mr Awin Peter of Ghana’s CowTribe Company, and the third prize went to Nigeria’s Oluwaseun Sangoleye of Baby Grubz. CowTribe closes yield gaps in livestock value chains by manufacturing chicken brooders that allow smallholder farmers to rear poultry in an efficient and profitable manner, whereas Baby Grubz produces low-cost complementary meals made from locally-sourced iron- and protein-rich ingredients that help reduce malnutrition in underweight children.

2017 Southern and Central Africa GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenge

The following week, AWARD launched the Southern and Central Africa GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenge. Twenty-five innovators from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe convened in Lusaka, Zambia from April 10-12, 2017 for boot camp training and entrepreneur showcase. These 25 entrepreneurs were selected from a pool of over 90 diverse innovators across the region.

Fakoya and Nuwame, AWARD Trainers, and Kiilu and Ndung’u, Intellecap trainers, brought the curriculum from the North and West Africa boot camp to Lusaka, but tailored it to the specific needs of the Southern and Central Africa market. The Southern and Central Africa participants also benefitted from a special session on intellectual property rights from Rose Mboya of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The entrepreneurs eagerly took up the intellectual property rights session, as many of them have patent-pending innovations and want to expand their reach beyond their base countries.

On Tuesday, April 11th, after taking in the various components of the workshop and having the opportunity to perfect their pitches and slide decks, the entrepreneurs participated in a pitching challenge to determine the finalists for the following day’s entrepreneur showcase. In an arduous process, the judges eventually settled on six finalists: Samuel Guizado of Agromaco Dairy (Mozambique), Clever Mukove of KTA eMakambo (Zimbabwe), Arthur Bobo of Harare Institute of Technology/Vermifertilizer (Zimbabwe), Tendai Mugove of Sorghum World (Zimbabwe), Hastings Mkandawire of Turbines Development Company (Malawi), and David Chisulo of Zelo Foods (Zambia).

Wednesday’s entrepreneur showcase welcomed local investors, AWARD alumnae, and other dignitaries to listen to the top six entrepreneurs pitch their innovations to a panel of judges, who represented leading businesses and agribusiness investment firms operating in the region. The judges were Mr Andrew Bamugye, Head of Operations for the African Management Services Company (AMSCO), Ms Mabel Mungomba, CEO of Belcomm, Mr Lukonga Lindunda, Executive Director of BongoHive, Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, AWARD Director, and Dr Amel Hamza, a Principal Gender Expert at the African Development Bank.

Before the pitching competition began, Mr Natan Jere, the Senior Procurement Specialist of the African Development Bank’s Zambia office, delivered a keynote address. “Increased wealth and growth cannot happen without women,” Jere noted. He also praised the collaboration between AWARD and the African Development Bank as GAIA advances the work of the Bank’s High Five priorities.

Dr Judith Lungu, a 2008 AWARD Fellow, a repeat AWARD Mentor, and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Mulungushi University in Zambia, shared how she sees GAIA as integral to the work AWARD does to raise the profile of African women scientists and bridge the gender gap across African agriculture. “We have the innovations, we just need to turn them into agribusinesses,” she said.

As the pitching got underway, the guest investors and the judges were clearly impressed by the calibre of innovations and pitches presented to them. The top three winners were selected on the basis of their businesses’ readiness to scale up, the gender-responsiveness of their innovations, and the overall quality of their presentations.

Tendai Mugovi of Sorghum World, based in Zimbabwe, won first place. “We need to tap into opportunities within the gender space. I’m working on our business model to address the most pressing issues in our communities,” he said about what’s next for Sorghum World.

Sorghum World uses stalks from sorghum plants to create a non-toxic, energy-efficient gel fuel for cooking. Not only does Sorghum World offer a better alternative to traditional cooking fuels, but the company also helps reduce post-harvest losses by offering an additional market for sorghum farmers to sell their products.

David Chisulo of Zambia’s Zelo Foods and Clever Mukove of Zimbabwe’s KTA eMakambo won second and third place, respectively. Zelo Foods created Ntwilo, a pounded groundnut powder that extends the shelf life of groundnuts. KTA eMakambo is a web-based mobile knowledge-sharing platform that gives smallholder farmers access to information on various markets.

Chisulo, an alumnus of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), said, “GAIA was another great networking opportunity. I really appreciate that our product is now visible to others, and I’m anxious to share it with non-traditional users to promote local products.”

The launch of the GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenges for North and West Africa and Southern and Central Africa are only the beginning of opportunities for the selected entrepreneurs. As alumni of the boot camps and entrepreneur showcases, the participants are now part of a growing network. Mary Joseph of Farm Drive from the 2016 East Africa GAIA AgTech Innovation Challenge will be presenting her innovation and her GAIA experience at the African Development Bank’s Annual Meeting in India.

GAIA, an initiative by AWARD, seeks to identify, spotlight, and support the growth of agribusinesses with the potential and commitment to bridge the gender gap in African agriculture.

The rollout of GAIA Boot Camps and Investor showcases for AgTech entrepreneurs from West, North, Central and Southern Africa in 2017 was supported by the African Development Bank under the African Women in Business Initiatives program implemented by the Bank through the Norwegian Trust Fund. The GAIA initiative is at the heart of the banks High 5 priorities, specifically the Feed Africa strategy. It is also aligned to the AfDB Gender Strategy on women’s economic empowerment, creation of knowledge and capacity building.