African Agribusiness on the Move – International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) Review Special Report

IFAMA has a review publication called the International Food Moderator Aidan Connollyand Agribusiness Management Review (IFAMR), which publishes high quality contributions on topics related to the practice of management in the food and agribusiness industry. A Special Issue of the publication featuring 24 case studies on Food and Agribusiness success in Africa, African Agribusiness on the Move was compiled and published in time for the current IFAMA conference currently underway (15 to 19 June) at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The Review provides managers, researchers and teachers with a forum where they can publish and acquire research results, executive interviews, case studies and industry notes that are important to the global food chain. The conference included a session during which a number of the authors of these published cases delivered presentations to showcase these successful businesses to the delegates.

The cases are widely diverse from all across the African continent and include studies of innovative businesses producing, amongst others, dried Marula fruit snacks in Botswana, shea production in Ghana, herb production in Kenya, honey production in Uganda, livestock production in Benin, Coffee production in Ethiopia and many more.

What emerged clearly from the discussions is that throughout Africa there is a new class of entrepreneurs emerging with remarkably ingenious success stories in various agricultural and agribusiness sectors. Most of these businesses have developed from entrepreneurs seeing an opportunity and pursuing it, learning by the seat of their pants in the process. An example of this is that cellular technology is being used widely throughout Africa as a medium to transfer knowledge as the cellular coverage and access to cell phones is far more comprehensive in Africa than internet access.

“Africa is experiencing a new gold rush except it is not in the mining sector it is in the Agriculture and Agribusiness sector,” remarked Aidan Connolly, Vice President of Alltech Inc. (Washington DC) and one of the editors of this publication during his introduction to the session. He added that 50% of the African Population is below 25 years old and 50% to 70% of the population rely on agriculture. Currently 6 of the 10 fastest growing countries in the World are in Africa. Viewed as a continent, Africa has the most remaining arable land of all continents.

A significant challenge that was highlighted was that Africa has a lack of human capital which is now slowly starting to be addressed. University Business Schools in Africa are a relatively new phenomenon in most of Africa so this level of business training is now becoming available. It was also emphasized that African business schools should develop their own models not follow the standard Harvard type of business school models. Academic institutions should do more to foster entrepreneurship.

For western businesses to start operations in Africa, instead of the usual “think big” mentality, they were advised and urged to start by “thinking small”. In an African context thinking small is pragmatic and will provide a platform for future growth.

Politics often have a different agenda to agriculture and agribusiness and as a result Politics often poses a threat to entrepreneurial development as over regulation stifles entrepreneurship. A realistic problem in Africa is corruption.

“For observers looking at Africa it is also important to remember that Africa is a continent with 64 countries and circumstances on the ground in various countries differ vastly,” said Mary Shelman, Director of the Harvard Agribusiness program.

“There are certainly opportunities in Africa for development, but remember, Africa is not for Sissies,” said Edward Mabaya from Cornell University and a co-author of three of the studies.

“The most important thing of our generation is to have grown up in this great African Story,” concluded Mandla Nkomo, Operations Director of Technoserv (South Africa) and co-editor of the African Agribusiness on the Move.

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