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Uncovering Africa's agribusiness potential

The AgriBusiness Forum 2008 will focus on developing the continent's agro-food sector as a promoting economic growth
The AgriBusiness Forum 2008 will focus on developing the continent's agro-food sector as a promoting economic growth

News from Africa often makes bleak reading. With the world's attention currently focused on Zimbabwe as people watch and wait to learn the outcome of the current political impasse, instability continues in Sudan, Somalia, and DR Congo. In Kenya, the political deadlock appears to be resolved and yet the country is still faced with the issue of resettling thousands of internally displaced people after the recent unrest.

But there is a more positive side to African development, which is often overlooked. Economic growth on the continent has averaged five per cent each year over the last seven years. In 2007, growth was over six per cent (6.1%) and is expected to rise in 2008. Agriculture and agro-industry form the backbone of the African economy in terms of GDP, employment, food security and trade. And, in the context of a generally favourable business environment, African producers, processors and traders are increasingly making their way into sustainable business development.

While the number of business successes may not yet be prominent enough to make headline news, it inspires hope that better management and demand for commodities will boost further growth and expansion of agribusiness across the continent. And, at the forthcoming AgriBusiness Forum 2008, African business leaders will have an opportunity to catch the world's attention by highlighting the latest trends, technologies and best practices that are transforming Africa's agribusiness sectors.

Showcasing practical business solutions

The AgriBusiness Forum 2008 will focus on the role of Africa's agro-food industry as an engine for growth and will be opened by Franz Fischler, former EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. Business leaders, researchers, investors, traders and international donors from four continents and more than 25 countries will gather in June at the FAO Headquarters in Italy, to share and promote their ideas. "Within our business network, we see success stories happening on a daily basis", explains Idit Miller, managing director of EMRC International, which hosts the event in collaboration with FAO. "And each year in June, our AgriBusiness Forum provides an international platform to discuss and network these success stories."

NERICA has brought about a boom in rice production (WRENmedia)
NERICA has brought about a boom in rice production

Monty Jones, executive secretary of FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), and co-recipient of the 2004 World Food Prize in recognition of his work on New Rice for Africa (NERICA), will be amongst the keynote speakers. According to 2007 figures from the FAO Rice Market Monitor, paddy production in Africa has risen consecutively for over six years, reaching over 21.6 million tonnes in 2006. NERICA has been identified as a major factor in this growth. Jones' case study will highlight the importance of practical research and innovation specifically targeted at Africa's needs in order to achieve sustainable growth in agriculture.

Another case study to be presented by Olam International, a leading supply chain manager of agricultural products and food ingredients, will illustrate how taking the international market and funding to small and needy growers and tradesmen has helped developing markets for semi-processed, processed and finished produce from Africa. Olam International is recognised particularly for its partnership with the NGO, Technoserve, for its support in the development of a sustainable cashew industry in Africa.

Identifying partners and project owners

Throughout the three days of the forum, multinational companies as well as regional and local business initiatives will showcase their contributions to Africa's economic development. "It is our aim to gather the best on this platform," emphasises Miller. "But this is not just a one-off event for discussion, following our forums we organise and support the development of new business opportunities by capitalising on the contacts and expertise offered at the event."

Mamadou Dijte, chief executive of the Senegalese fruit and vegetable trader Agral-Export, first attended the AgriBusiness Forum in 2007. Early in 2008, EMRC supported a visit by Agral-Export to Spanish fruit and vegetable trading companies, where Dijte gained an insight in the European market conditions for Senegalese fruit and vegetables. "Even though I have only spoken to trading companies based in Spain", explains Djite, "their international outreach can also allow me to enter the Central and Eastern European market."

Agricultural exports could become the driving force of economic growth in Africa (WRENmedia)
Agricultural exports could become the driving force of economic growth in Africa

And Agral-Export's prospects for getting into business are good: Senegalese fruits and vegetables are an ideal bridge during the season gap between European and South American production. Consequently, Dijte concluded his mission in Spain with several partnership offers in hand. "To be honest," he enthuses, "I have received too many proposals to be able to keep up with all of them."

This is just one small but significant example of the role of Africa's and Europe's private sectors in Africa's agro-industrial development. Stories like these may not yet be headline news, but nevertheless should not be ignored; it is business enterprises like Djite's that are contributing to Africa's continued economic growth.

With contributions from: Hans Goessl

Date published: May 2008


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