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By Alexander Hitzemann

Private and public sector working together – this is how the much anticipated, upcoming outdoor agricultural show, Agritech Expo Tanzania, taking place in Arusha from 26-27 January is described by the local agricultural sector in the country.

The inaugural farming B2B platform, which already enjoys strong support by the farming community, will not only gather farmers, from commercial to emerging and small scale; but also key officials from regional governments, agro associations, NGOs, aid, development and research agencies; agro dealers, traders and retailers; suppliers, consultants and technical experts as well as venture capitalists, investors and bankers.

“The role of private sector is highly recognised in the agricultural policy, strategies and programmes” says Dr David Nyange, Policy Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Tanzania, a supporting partner of the upcoming Agritech Expo Tanzania.

He adds: “as industrialisation is at the top of the current development agenda, the technologies that will be displayed at the Expo have potential to play a great role toward the commercialisation of agriculture which is necessary for ensuring sustainable supply of raw materials to the industry”.

Other host partners for the event are the Agriculture Council of Tanzania (ACT), the Tanzanian Horticulture Association (TAHA), the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) and the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Arusha.

Agri suppliers supporting Agritech Expo
The industry has responded with great enthusiasm to the first Agritech Expo in Tanzania.

Global farming equipment leader John Deere and its distributor in the country, LonAgro Tanzania Ltd, are gold sponsors for the event. Says Lukas Botha, Managing Director, LonAgro Tanzania: “from land and seed bed preparation, through to crop care and harvesting, LonAgro John Deere in Tanzania has the complete solution.”

“The horticultural sector is an awakening giant” says Harald Peeters, MD Tanzania of the vegetable breeding company Rijk Zwaan Q-Sem, a bronze sponsor at Agritech Expo. He adds: “Tanzania has plenty of land, enough water and year round sunlight. I am looking forward to an Expo which raises the awareness of the Government to the fact that the private sector is a partner in development, creating thousands of jobs, educa ting workers and building the nation”.

Other leading agri suppliers that have already confirmed their presence at the event include Afrivet, Ford, CMC Automobiles, Hughes Motors, Maji, HortiPro, Irrico, Rivulis, AMDT, FNB, Lindsay Africa, Balton, Kibo Seed, Neptun Boot and TFSC.

The Agritech Expo success story
The success story of the outdoor agricultural show, Agritech Expo, which is about to expand to Tanzania, started in the Zambian agri-hub of Chisamba three years ago and has been a tremendous boost for that country’s farming sector. The inaugural Agritech Expo Tanzania has transitioned from the Agribusiness Congress conference that has taken place in Dar es Salaam for the last three years.

Agritech Expo Zambia in 2016 drew a record-breaking attendance of 17 605 visitors and 160 exhibitors over 70 000 sqm of space. The three-day expo also featured two international pavilions, from Germany and Zimbabwe, welcomed two agriculture ministers, from Zambia and the Czech Republic, and the Zambian President H.E Edgar Lungu officially opened the show.

“We at John Deere have been attending and exhibiting at this event since its inception three years ago and are pleased to see the progress that the organisers are making in growing this event and reaching all those concerned with agriculture from government to small scale farmers” says Kevin Lesser, Global Marketing Director, John Deere, Kenya, adding: “we fully support the direction of growth intended for this event in Tanzania. We look forward to next year’s event”.

Event dates and location:
Exhibition: 26-27 January 2017
Commercial Farmers’ Focus Day: 26 January 2017
Venue:  Selian Agricultural Research Institute, Arusha/Dodoma Main Road, Arusha

Twitter: @Agritech_Expo
Facebook: @AgritechZambiaTanzania
Linkedin: Agritech Expo
Instagram: Agritech_Agribusiness
Website: http://www.agritechexpotanzania.com/

Senior communications manager: Annemarie Roodbol
Telephone:  +27 21 700 3558
Mobile: +27 82 562 7844
Email: annemarie.roodbol@spintelligent.com

Vongai Musembwa’s eyes light up as she scoops up healthy white grains from a metal bin she uses to store newly harvested maize. Happily, they’re free of a naturally occurring poison — aflatoxin — that can contaminate crops in the field, before or after harvest and during storage.

The metal silo protects the grains from aflatoxin — produced by certain fungi that grow on food crops like maize, millet, sorghum, groundnuts, cassava and rice.

 Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana

Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana

Ms. Musembwa is one of more than 260 smallholder farmers in Makoni District, east of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, who have switched to non-chemical hermetic storage to prevent food from contamination. Musembwa received her metal silo from a local organization, under a multi-partner project seeking to prevent aflatoxins contamination of maize grain.

The Makoni District farmers are participants in a two-year project worth $1.6 million supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future programme, an initiative funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research. Under the project, Zimbabwean farmers are given access to metal silos and thick plastic “superbags” to determine if improved storage can reduce aflatoxin contamination in local maize grain.

Crops contaminated by aflatoxins develop moulds and acquire a dark colour. Livestock and humans can fall sick or die after eating contaminated food grains. It has also been linked to childhood stunting, liver cancer and immune suppression in adults.

 Scientists warn that extreme weather is increasing the level of health-damaging toxic chemicals in crops, including staple foods which are key to food, nutrition and trade security in Africa. To protect themselves against extreme weather, plants generate aflatoxins, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

“Aflatoxins are pervasive in African food systems negatively impacting health of women and children, income from agriculture value chains, and food safety and security of nations,” says Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, a senior plant pathologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), where he guides research and development activities on crop diseases and poisonous chemicals produced by certain fungi known as mycotoxins.

Bandyopadhyay, said people fall sick, farmers lose income, grains are destroyed, food prices soar, profitability of animal industries declines, reputation of African exports are tainted and nations become less food secure due to aflatoxin contamination.

“Aflatoxin contamination presents a barrier to trade and economic growth and is a serious obstacle to programmes designed to improve nutrition and agricultural production while linking smallholder farmers to markets,” Bandyopadhyay said. “The extent of contamination varies by seasons, crops and regions and can be anywhere from none to 100% and often hovers around 25%.”

Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the AUC’s commissioner for rural economy and agriculture said curbing the menace of aflatoxin contamination was critical to improving child and maternal nutrition and health as well as achieving Africa’s goal to transform its agriculture.

Farmers are particularly vulnerable to fungal poisons, according to a 2015 baseline study to reduce maize-based aflatoxin contamination and exposure in humans in Zimbabwe by researchers from the University of Zimbabwe and the international humanitarian organization, Action Contre la Faim.

Dr. Loveness Nyanga, the project principal investigator and researcher at the University of Zimbabwe, notes that the high-level of aflatoxin contamination is a public health concern because Zimbabweans eat maize and legumes on a daily basis.

The existence of aflatoxins has other consequences to Africa’s economy. The continent is losing more than $450 million annually when its commodities are rejected on global markets because of high contamination levels, says the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), an initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC) whose aim is to protect crops, livestock and people from the effects of aflatoxins.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) confirmed that aflatoxins affect 25% of the world’s food crops and hurt trade. About US$1.2 billion is lost in global commerce annually as a result of aflatoxins, according to IITA. While the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that the World Food Programme has sharply reduced the quantities of maize it has been able to buy locally in Africa since 2007 because of aflatoxin contamination.

Africa also faces a health burden associated with humans’ exposure to contamination.

Harming our health

An estimated 26,000 people die annually in sub-Saharan Africa from liver cancer resulting from chronic aflatoxin exposure, according to a 2013 research by IFPRI.

Globally, 5% to 30% of all liver cancer cases are linked to aflatoxin exposure, with the highest incidences occurring in Africa, according to the Platform for African-European Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD), an eight-year project sponsored by the European Commission.

In Mozambique, a high prevalence of liver cancer in southern part of the country has been associated with consumption of aflatoxin contaminated food, especially from groundnuts.

Sustainable solutions

Cultivate Africa’s Future is one of several ongoing efforts to contain aflatoxin contamination. If experiments with the plastic “super bags” are effective against contamination, they will be a highly sought after item by Zimbabwean farmers who lose up to 30% of harvested maize every year to pests and poor post-harvest handling.

More than $50 million worth of maize, the staple food, is lost annually during storage alone, says Ringson Chitsiko, the permanent secretary in Zimbabwe’s ministry of agriculture.

To fight aflatoxins contamination and maintain food quality and safety, scientists recommend an integrated approach, including, among other techniques, timely planting and harvesting, proper plant density and managing insects. This is in addition to crop rotation, shelling, enhancement of proper plant health and nutrition, rapid drying of grains in the sun for days, or with driers to reduce the moisture content and proper storage.

Bandyopadhyay leads Africa-wide efforts on the development and scaling-up of the aflatoxin biocontrol technology known as Aflasafe, a novel biological product developed by the IITA to fight pre-and post-harvest aflatoxin contamination.

Already the IITA has a programme to develop Aflasafe in Malawi where between 40% and 100% of the country’s groundnut-based commodities contain unsafe toxin levels. Aflasafe has also been tested in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal since 2009. About 30,000 farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia and Kenya are using Aflasafe and getting 200 to 500% return on investment, Bandyopadhyay said.

Tanzania in June 2016 announced that it was undertaking field trials in the use of Alfasafe targeting four regions. A 2012 study in Tanzania established high incidents of aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnuts in the country.

The Africa Aflatoxin Information Management System platform spearheaded by PACA is creating a “one stop shop” database for aflatoxin-related information in the health, trade and agriculture sectors as a way to raise awareness and prevent contamination.

The Aflasafe product has been registered in Senegal and Gambia where aflatoxin contamination is a major deterrent for groundnut exports. Bandyopadhyay said aflatoxin exposure in humans is rampant in West Africa with the toxin found in the body fluids of 100% Senegalese and The Gambian people in a few instances.

In 2005 the World Bank estimated that investments in aflatoxin control can add $281 million to the Senegalese economy from increased export volume and price differential of aflatoxin-safe crops.

A key impediment is the level of aflatoxin awareness among farmers and consumers. Because of poor policing of food safety standards in many African countries, researchers say that many people eat contaminated foods, especially the staples such as maize, legumes and groundnuts, without checking for signs of aflatoxins.

Researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in  June 2016 announced the decoding of the DNA of the ground nut or peanut (Arachis hypogaea), an oil and protein rich crop of global importance with the annual production of 42.3 million metric tonnes.

Rajeev Varshney, the Research Programme Director- Genetic Gains at ICRISAT said in an online interview that groundnuts, though an important crop in terms of nutrition and income in Asia and Africa, face low productivity as compared to Americas. The current pace of developing improved peanut varieties and their productivity may not be able to meet the demand of ever increasing global population, especially in Asia and Africa where in some countries productivity is less than one tonne per hectare. According to the FAO, the world average productivity of groundnuts is 1, 6 tonnes per hectare.

Varshney said the gene resources generated through this breakthrough provide an opportunity for scientists to prepare an efficient road map for developing improved groundnut varieties with increased productivity and quality.

“Peanuts produced from African countries and India have high level of aflatoxin contamination,” said Varshney. “This makes peanut produce unsuitable for export to Europe and Americas. Therefore it is really important to work in the direction of producing varieties with minimal aflatoxin contamination.”

Manish Pandey, a groundnut genomics Scientist at ICRISAT said the availability of the DNA sequence will accelerate basic research to answer important biological questions about groundnuts and help crop improvement programmes around the world.

Article by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications, Land O’Lakes International Development

Having insufficient money to feed and clothe her children tormented Teresa Alberto João Danasio for years. “It used to tear me up inside when my children would come back from playing, staring at me, and for me as their mother to have no food for them,” Teresa, 28, recalled. “We have a saying in Mozambique that happiness comes from the stomach. So, if the kids are hungry, it means that they are sad. As a mother, this really affected me.”

At the time, the entire family relied exclusively on the US $50 monthly income Teresa’s husband Jemute Manuel Chaona, 32, earned as a social service assistant. There were nine mouths to feed in all, including their three children and several relatives. Teresa recalled, “We experienced a lot of challenges because of insufficient income, but we had no options. It was all we could rely on. There were days when we had no food, and no ways to fill other needs.”

But despite their difficulties, and the stress he felt being the family’s sole provider, Jemute wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of acquiring a dairy cow when Teresa told him about the USDA-funded Food for Progress Program implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development. The program is linking 4,050 smallholder farmers to a commercial dairy value chain in Maputo, Sofala, and Manica provinces, and training 16,000 Animal traction farmers in new and improved agricultural techniques and management practices.

More broadly, the program is working to build an effective dairy value chain, reduce imports, rebuild the dairy herd and promote private sector investment – in the aftermath of the 16-year civil war that decimated the country’s dairy herd and infrastructure.

Overcoming Fear and Moving Forward

“I told her, how are you going to manage such a demanding animal? And how are you going to provide it with feed?” Jemute recalled asking. He had also heard about the program, and knew that free-grazing was discouraged; considering feed is the most onerous cost of caring for dairy cattle, this was a legitimate concern.

Beyond the fear of whether they could manage taking care of a dairy cow, their biggest concern was what it would mean for Teresa’s education. Teresa was busily trying to complete 10th grade and was loathe to drop out, especially considering her children, ages 8, 10 and 12 weren’t far behind her in their studies.

But Teresa insisted and convinced Jemute to give it a try with her and see what might happen. And so it was that the two began tag-teaming as partners in everything to make this new opportunity work.

“When I made the decision, it was really a challenge for me, but I continued studying. My husband would wake up early morning and go to his work, while I went off to school. Then, around 9am, we’d both escape from work and school to attend our dairy trainings, and then we’d head back to work and school when we could.”

They both laughed as she relayed the story of how they managed to make things work during the 2-week training. “We were acting like fugitives, constantly sneaking out to make ends meet,” Teresa said. Jemute joked, “If I was really a fugitive, I wouldn’t have come back!”

Since successfully completing Land O’Lakes’ training and passing the course was a prerequisite to actually receiving a pure-breed in-calf Jersey heifer, Teresa was skeptical her efforts would come to fruition. “Initially, I doubted myself. I wondered, would I really be eligible to receive a dairy cow? And is this program all talk?” But within a few weeks of passing her course, she received her cow and life began to change.

Teresa Alberto João Danasio affectionately holds her new “cash cow,” Teresinha.

Teresa Alberto João Danasio affectionately holds her new “cash cow,” Teresinha.

The Arrival of Jemute’s ‘Second Wife’ Teresinha

When the cow arrived in July 2014, Teresa says her family exploded with emotion, and the cow quickly became a critical part of their lives. “The cow and program came at the right time. We smelled the cash as soon as we saw her!” Fittingly, their cow was given the name of Teresinha – small Teresa – and her children regularly call out if they observe that Teresina needs more food or water.  Jemute added, “I now consider Teresinha my second wife!”

After calving, Teresinha started providing the family with between 12 and 13 liters a day. After keeping about 2 liters for enriching the nourishment of the family, they sell the remainder for between US $0.40 -0.46 per liter either to Copoleite, a cooperative based in Beira, Sofala provincial capital that operates a processing plant, or to a local microprocessor. Ultimately, Teresinha’s milk provides them with about US $100 a month – almost double her husband Jemute’s salary, which triples the overall household income.

Teresa shows off the new home she’s busily constructing with her new income from dairy.

Teresa shows off the new home she’s busily constructing with her new income from dairy.

“I’m happy that Teresa is bringing in this income, and I’m not threatened that she’s now earning more than me. It means our financial burden is alleviated, and I’m not threatened by the fact that the family isn’t entirely relying on my income anymore,” Jemute explained. “In fact, it means I actually have a little more time to breathe, and to be a real father to my children.”

When Teresinha calved, her first born was a bull. She will soon pass this on to another program client. . Shortly after the bull was born, the family accessed artificial insemination services through the program to get Teresinha pregnant again, and this time she produced a female calf, who is now 5 months old. Afterwards, they used a bull stud service to impregnate her again, and she’s currently in-calf.

Looking Forward to the Future

While they cannot say the income from Teresinha’s milk covers all their needs, the couple notes that it minimizes their burden significantly. “Although we still find we need more money than we have, rarely do our kids go to bed hungry anymore.”

What’s more, Teresa is not only dreaming of building a large house to fit her entire family, but she’s nearly realized her vision. Construction is ongoing, and is nearly complete, and they are easily able to pay for their children’s school uniforms, and school lunches, so that they can concentrate better while studying. They are also setting a portion of their earnings aside to pay for the feed that Teresinha needs to remain healthy and productive.

She imagines things will only get better. “Where I once doubted myself, I can now envision a future where my female calf grows up and starts milking. That means in a year or two, I will have two cows, and then three. This will really put me in a great situation.”

For Teresa, the impact of the USDA-funded Mozambique Food for Progress program has truly been profound. “I was a person who had no hope, and I wasn’t even aware that this could be my life. But now, I really feel like a new Teresa, as a proud mother able to meet my household needs.

untitled-9Hello! I’m Alexander Hitzemann and I handle digital media (as well as other things) at Africa Agribusiness Magazine (AAM).  5 years ago, when I was in college, I met Jeff Vosseller, AAM Publisher, and as he described his outlook for the magazine I was intrigued. He told me, “Hitzemann, by connecting the agriculture sectors of America and Africa, there is not only a huge benefit to the people in Africa, but also business potential for everyone!” It was this idea of win-win, beneficial partnership that got me excited about this project and keeps me going today. 

Alex Hitzemann (alex@africaag.org) has been working with AfricaAg for 5 years, since the beginning in 2011.

Alexander Hitzemann is responsible for all digital media at AAM. This includes, web & graphic design, social media, and all marketing activities. Alex Hitzemann is also the contact for advertisements and media partnerships opportunities

img_20160620_182002Alex Hitzemann graduated from Indiana University in 2015, where he studied Business and Philosophy. Hitzemann also has certificate degree in digital media arts. Alex is currently an ESL teacher in Henan Province, China where he lives with his fiance Alina Hitzemann. Alex and Alina Hitzemann will move to Tampa, Florida in 2017 where they hope to take a more active role in Africa Agribusiness Events.

Alex Hitzemann’s hobbies include running, rock climbing, and photography.

If you would like to contact Alex you can email alex@africaag.org

You can contac

The drive is six hours from Kampala to African Rural University, Uganda’s first all-women’s university. As in many African cities, Kampala’s congested city center gives way to surrounding slums inhabited, in large part, by previously rural residents who have left their villages for the city in hopes of finding work. Often, they’ve moved only to find their hopes of prosperity starkly juxtaposed with the realities of urban slum existence. The road must be traversed by Land Cruiser. The University’s founder, Dr. Musheshe, our wonderful driver, Edward, and I left in the early afternoon, driving at maximum speed, and arrived at around eight in the evening in the pouring rain.

Kigadi is located in one of Uganda’s poorest districts, evident in the deeply rutted roads long forgotten by the local authorities. Here is the home of newly minted African Rural University, officially awarded its higher education licensure in 2011. It is a part of the Ugandan Rural Development Training Centre (URDT), which started in 1987 as a nonprofit working with local communities on agricultural training and extension services and later expanded to include URDT girl’s school in 2000, which began with thirty students. It has expanded to an institution of more than three hundred. The University will be graduating its second ARU class this year. All University graduates receive certification to become Rural Transformation Specialists, immediately to be employed by ARU as Epicenter Managers. As Epicenter Managers they will live full-time in assigned communities, serving as rural development field officers facilitating strategic planning and community development emphasizing agriculture.

Safira (right) and her mother (left) with their car

Safira (right) and her mother (left) with their car

When you pull off Hoima Road, which is strewn with trash and brimming with honking cars, motorbikes, bicycles, you find a campus with the same feel as a UK or US university. The campus roads are dirt but the hedges are neatly trimmed. The small roundabout in front of the main building has manicured hedges that spell out URDT from above. Smartly dressed students carry their books with purpose and attention.

URDT’s motto is “to awaken the sleeping genius in each of us,” rooted in the idea that each of us has the capacity to envision and create the life we desire for ourselves, our families and communities, and our country.

I’ve worked in rural development for the past few years and have heard much of URDT’s success. In June, I interviewed Dr. Musheshe for Africa Agribusiness Magazine; he was in Boston receiving an award from Harvard University for his creation of URDT and ARU. “Come to see for yourself,” he said at the end of the interview. A month later, I found myself on the tarmac of Entebbe airport.

The Ugandan Rural Development Training Centre thrives remarkably in one of the world’s poorest countries. Important factors are: its visionary founder, Dr. Musheshe, the loyal community that works with him, and the employment of systems-thinking as an approach to human development.

The University is based on a simple, powerful way of thinking called the Visionary Approach. A series of questions provides a structure for achieving personal and community development. What do you want? What is your current reality in life? What are the action steps you need in skill level and education? What resources do you need to mobilize in order to move efficiently toward making your vision reality? Simple, not easy. This way of thinking has powerful effects. It moves people away from problem solving, getting rid of what you don’t want, toward creating what you do want. It is extremely empowering because implicitly it says to each of us, “You have the capacity, intelligence and creativity to make what you want a reality. Not only can you create the life you desire, but you are the active agent in your own development and future.” Each student has this mentality engrained in her everyday thinking.

8One evening, as I sat on my stoop watching some girls play volleyball, a group of girls asked me how I was liking Uganda and URDT. We chatted for a few minutes about the universal questions: “Do you have a boyfriend? Is he handsome? Can we see a picture?” Laughing, I say, “Yes, yes, and yes.” “Why aren’t you married yet? You ARE 26!” The questions continue unrelentingly, but I’m happy to fire a few back: “What is URDT like?”

One young woman speaks up, “URDT has taught me to be honest about what I want, not what I think I can have. I want to build houses and be an engineer, so I take math, and physics.”

Another girls said, “URDT is about envisioning not just what you want, but what you want for your family. We are just about to finish up our permanent house which will be made of bricks, not mud. I created a plan with them on how we would achieve this. We’re close.”

A few days later I arrange a session with six school girls of different ages to learn more about how URDT is affecting their lives. They echo one another. “URDT is teaching us to envision what we want, have confidence that we can achieve it, and be clear about the skills we need to achieve these goals.”

ImageMost girls I asked will say they are working with their families to expand agricultural businesses, build permanent houses, send their siblings to school or start more businesses within the family. Students at URDT can articulate the purpose of their education and its direct relationship to their lives outside of school.

Sitting in the morning assembly, after listening to the lilting voices of the national anthem, I realized that the second song that they sang was the African Rural University Anthem, sung by the entire community, every day. It goes like this…..

African Rural University
The Cradle of learning
African Rural University
The centre for transforming

You educate a woman
Uganda to be prosperous
You educate a woman
Africa to be at peace

You educate a woman
The world to be free
You educate a woman
Humanity to be happy

You have a vision
That is inspiring
You have a mission
That is empowering

They come from the East
They come from the South
They come from the West
They come from the North
To drink on the well of wisdom

twoEvery day this Anthem reminds everyone how important women’s education is to the future: to the future of Kigadi, to the future of Uganda.

A report by Ugandan Human Services and international agencies shows that that over half of women in Uganda experience domestic violence, compared to the global average of 30%. In Uganda, like many African countries girls are pulled out of school to get married and/or because scarce family resources are used for boys to be educated. URDT girls school starts at primary five (around age nine) specifically to target girls who would likely otherwise leave school at this age.

Signs adorning the roadside say, “Beating my wife destroyed my marriage. Don’t do what I did.” and “Domestic violence is a criminal offense.” While “stay in school” plaques decorate high school lawns. But when I spoke with Michael Newbill, the Economic and Political Chief at the US embassy he noted, “Yes, these signs are important. Remember, though many are funded by international donors.” I wondered, if these are not locally inspired are these messages really taking root in Ugandan society? Patriarchy is a way of life here and women’s rights will not be achieved in any real way without a prolonged struggle. Needless to say supporting women’s education is hardly a top priority for many.

In the shade of a eucalyptus tree, Charlotte, an Epicenter Manager, sets up her “power point” presentation, a dowel wrapped in fabric with the facilitation “slides” she uses in villages. Charlotte was assigned to work in Kasambya subcounty after graduation. Earlier, in her third year at the University, she lived for a month in the village, working to understand the local challenges. She took this knowledge back to ARU to develop her research and skills before moving to the village after graduation. Each slide is drawn as well as written because of both the high illiteracy rate and the large number of local languages. Below are a few of the nineteen slides in her presentation.

URDT Rural Development Curriculum

URDT Rural Development Curriculum

“Know what you want: When you know what you want you gain great power”

“Foundation Choice: the three foundations for a happy life are freedom, health and being true to one’s self”

“The first act of creation is to imagine what you truly want”

“Remember your inner power will work like a sharp spear to get what you want. But you must direct it very clearly and firmly (focus).”

“In times of difficulty, tell yourself the truth of how things are and what you truly want”

“Reflect upon the water project as if it were accomplished”

“Anything which is truly important to you in your life is worthy of your life energy”

“Creating momentum. Nothing happens until you take action. There is often a delay between the time you do something new and you see results.”

“Point of most power. You create tomorrow today. Right now is the key to your future.”

I’m touched by the simple genius of the curriculum, which is like a condensed version of every self-help book, motivational course, and strategic planning workshop I had ever taken – no small number. Over thirty years, these slides have been honed by Dr. Musheshe, alongside Peter Senge, a top systems thinker at MIT, and Robert Fritz, an award-winning artist, author and leading professional in corporate change management. These are no ordinary “slides.”

To see the outcomes of this approach, we drive two hours to Safira’s house. We turn off the main road, a narrow track with high elephant grass squeezing the Land Cruiser, onto a shaded driveway that passes through a large grove of matoke, Ugandan bananas. This matoke is now part of the thirty acres Safira’s family owns. Before she entered URDT, her family of eight lived on a quarter-acre.

oneSafira is the first in her family to attend school. Her father beams with pride as he tells me, “Now all five children are in school.” When I ask Safira’s mother how URDT affected the family, she turns to the interpreter, “I never had an education. I dropped out in primary four, but when I attended parent visitor days I realized I wanted to go back to school. Now I have my high school degree just like my daughters.” She beams at me, and I wish I spoke the local dialect to tell her much I admire her and her family, but Charles, our excellent interpreter and radio manager, does the job.

I ask them, “How did you go from a quarter-acre to thirty acres? That’s a big farm!” Safira, now 24, says, “Well, all students at URDT have to do what we call a Back Home Project. We learn in school and then we have a project we implement at home. It is part of our education to work on a vision with our family. We have family meetings and develop a vision together, then we decide what each member will do to make this vision a reality. We kept our vision on a piece of paper near the kitchen table. Our vision was to have a permanent house and have everybody go to high school. With the agricultural and management skills I learned at URDT we were able to grow a variety of crops to sell at the market. Now we have expanded into other business such as mechanics and are working to open a pharmacy. Now all the children are in school, we have a large farm and a car, and are looking to buy more land. The Safira story epitomizes the Back Home Projects at work, radically changing family life and opportunities for the next generation.

I think to myself, “I wish my family could have such a clear vision!”

Similar to Safira’s story is that of Charles Kisembo Goodyear, a student at URDT Institute, the only area of the organization that enrolls boys. Charles’s neat house resembles the URDT campus. Meticulously maintained hedges ring the house, and the dirt yard is swept clean. Charles is a savvy entrepreneur and equally skilled farmer. On the tour of his farm, he explains in minute detail the intricacies of biodynamic farming, the expansion of his passion fruit crop, and his steadily growing swine business. With direct enthusiasm, he says, “I have started farmer’s cooperatives and groups in this area to teach others the best practices I learned at URDT.” He, like Safira, is spreading the word through his commitment to his business and family, and also through his strong “pay it forward mentality.” To list his bustling farm’s activities would require a lengthy case study; in short, he is adding value to sugarcane using machinery he designed and built in his URDT metalworking classes. Additionally, he has extensive mango groves, and even transports his produce to Juba, South Sudan, to fetch premium prices. No grass grows under his or his lively wife’s feet. His manner and speech resemble that of a TEDster delivering the classic eighteen-minute talk in Monterrey California.

Dr. Musheshe is a leader with awesome vision and crystal clear purpose who embodies the values he instills in his students. URDT and ARU are products of his vision and his committed team of educators, who put their hearts and souls into maintaining and growing these schools. “I’ve always been an activist at heart,” he says. He was tortured as a political prisoner under Idi Amin for being a leader of student protests while at Makerere University. Later, an attempt was made on his life by a grenade thrown into his house. He says, “I might not have started the URDT if that hadn’t happened. It had the opposite effect they wanted. It made me determined to stay in my country and help my people forever. Uganda has come so far. Back then it was a very violent place.” He has received prestigious awards across the globe for his achievements, as well as the Golden Jubilee Medal from the President of Uganda for the creation of African Rural University.

URDT’s programs and activities range from a burgeoning TV station and exchange students from the US, to a long-standing and award-winning community radio station. The radio station, broadcast to over three million listeners in Western Uganda and the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is particularly impressive. One evening over a Nile Special, the local Ugandan sorghum beer, Dr. Musheshe told me its story.

four“I attended the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil in 1987, the first global summit on climate change. When I returned to Uganda I wanted to start a radio station along with four other countries. We called it Eco News Africa. The idea was to combat desertification in Uganda. When I told this to a UN Development professional the man laughed uproariously, “We don’t have desertification in Uganda. Are you kidding me?” I said, “Yes, that’s the point. We don’t have desertification YET, but if we don’t provide education on deforestation and environmental protection measures we will in twenty years.” Now twenty years later, western Uganda, where URDT is located, sees few issues with desertification. The same cannot be said of Northern Uganda.

The radio station is wildly popular in the community. After a breakfast of matoke and coffee deliciously prepared by Kadija, the cook and mother of everybody at URDT, we bundled into the land cruiser to visit a “farmers’ listener group” that convenes weekly to listen to the agricultural program broadcasting up-to-date research, technologies, and market data, all of which help them to improve their farms. For half an hour, farmers introduced themselves to me through Charles, the radio manager and my translator. Their testimonies tell not only many challenges, but a deep sense of appreciation for the radio station that provides them with information that they could not be accessed otherwise.

I asked the farmers how they communicate to the station the topics they need the program to cover. They point to Catherine, Kyanaisoke subcounty’s Epicenter Manager who is standing quietly to the side of the group. “She comes to our meetings, plus she is around. We tell her and she lets the station know. Sometimes people from the station come to us.” The feedback system works: there is currently a mango blight, and next week’s program is on prevention methods.

threeAfter a week at URDT I accompanied an economics Lecturer, Emmanuel Sunday, on a recruiting trip for the University. We were recruiting at high schools in Kibale district, near the border of Rwanda, a nine hour drive south through Queen Elizabeth Park. We went to three high schools, where each headmaster kindly rallied the students to hear Professor Sunday explain ARU’s mission of developing women leaders who will focus on rural transformation in Uganda. Each time Professor Sunday noted the University is for women, and women only, there was a considerable stir in the room followed by a young man asking, “Why is this place only for women?” The answer: “Women are essential to changing society because they effect the family. Unfortunately girls are often taken out of school early, before boys, and therefore do not gain the knowledge and skills to positively affect their families and communities. Women interact with the family more than anybody else. When you teach them about nutrition, health, and economics, they are a good investment for uplifting the family. When you educate a woman, you educate her family.”

In each school, the teachers and headmasters knew of URDT, and particularly they knew of Musheshe. Their eyes showed deep respect. One headmaster put it so succinctly that I scrambled for a pen and a piece of crumpled paper: “If we had a hundred URDT’s, Uganda would be just fine.”

As the African Rural University Anthem says, people come from the North, South, East and West of Uganda to URDT to “drink on the well of wisdom.” This is a bright light in a country whose 32 million people are hampered by high HIV, unemployment, a particularly violent history, and low development levels. URDT is a rock causing ripples that spread further and further each year. These ripples make their way into every valley and every mud hut, to families who dream of having a brick home with neat hedges. URDT is changing Uganda one mind at a time through the dedication of Dr. Musheshe’s vision.

Interview with Shamima Mallam Hassan, Senior Director, Board of Investment – Mauritius

By Dave Ramaswamy

AAM: Why are investors coming to Mauritius, and what are key things you are doing to promote investment?

Mauritius is a small island, we don’t have natural resources except for good beaches and the sea. We used that as a basis to initially promote tourism industry. Then, over the years with different challenges, Mauritius had to reinvent itself. Today, we can say that we have a very well-diversified economy. And when investors are looking for a destination, where they want to invest, I think they look for countries that are stable, that have certainty, countries that have predictability. Over the years Mauritius has been able to show that we do have the stability, we do have the certainty that investors are looking for, and we do have an environment that offers predictability. Mauritius has a vibrant economy: we have a stable democracy and a very business friendly environment. And you would see that increasingly over the years we have attracted a lot of investment in different sectors. Initially, we started attracting investment in the tourism sector, to develop that industry; we developed the manufacturing industry because we had preferential market access agreement with the European Union and the US. So, initially some investors from China and Hong Kong – that had export quotas and faced tariffs, established presence in manufacturing. Over the years, as China started to open up – many of them went back to China. The industry then evolved to attract Mauritian companies to invest in the textile sector as a diversification strategy from sugar and tourism. Textile manufacturing in Mauritius then began to face issues, with other countries coming up – countries like India, Bangladesh. Then manufacturing costs in Mauritius started not to be competitive especially for basic products. We had to reinvent ourselves, yet again. Then we started to look at services. And among services, financial services were one of the main sectors where we started. That started with a treaty that we signed with India. And that started to create momentum around offshore and that sector started to get propelled. Then, over the years we realized we cannot put all our eggs in one basket. We could not just rely on India. So, we started to position ourselves as a platform for Africa. And more and more we see in terms of the figures: funds and structures that have been created, over 50% have been created for Africa rather than India. We also developed our free port to be a logistics platform for the region. The geographic position of Mauritius makes it interesting for those who are exporting from Asia to Africa; using Mauritius as their base they have several advantages. If they are in the free port, they have 0% corporate tax, and they don’t pay any import duty when importing products within the free port. They can do product transformation, they can do packaging/repackaging, they can even do manufacturing if they want to export to Africa and benefit from the corporate tax. And they would also benefit if they meet the rules of origin criteria – duty concessions that we have under COMESA and SADC. All these, predictability, the certainty and finally all the advantages that our government has put in place makes Mauritius an interesting place for investors to look at.

AAM: Can you talk about some specifics that investors would find of interest?

When investors are looking at a country, they are looking at a place where they can do business easily. Firstly, the Mauritian government has come up with major reforms where we have made it easy for someone to incorporate companies. Within 1 or 2 working days, you can have an incorporated company. You can incorporate a company that is 100% foreign-owned, you don’t need a local Mauritian partner. No minimum capital is required. And for some sectors you don’t require any clearances – like an Environmental Impact Assessment etc. You can start a business immediately once you get your clearance from your Building and Land Use permit – the activity can really start. That has really helped to propel the industry. The second point that has really helped is the taxation. Whether you like it or not, Mauritius is a low-tax platform. 15% of corporate tax, 15% for individuals, VAT is at 15% which really creates an enabling environment for investors to do business. In addition, we have made it easy for a lot of foreigners to come and work and live. That policy has helped to not only bring in the capital, but also bringing in the know-how, the technology into Mauritius.

AAM: Speaking of tax incentives and speedy business incorporation, are there any financial incentives like tax holidays?

No, we don’t have any tax holidays any more. When we started the Export Processing Zone (EPZ), we did offer investors a tax holiday – where people were given 5- or 10-year tax holidays. Long ago, we have abolished that system. What we have done, and especially starting in 2006 when we did the major reforms, instead of having different schemes – we used to have 20 or so schemes, where you required approval from the Board of Investment before you started business. What we have done is abolished all those schemes. And instead of giving a particular scheme 15%, another one 3%, another one 2% – we have made it a simple platform where we have made it 15% for everybody. No tax holidays, but you pay 15% corporate tax across the board. Except, that there are 2 schemes where today people will get incentives. One is the Freeport – where you don’t pay any corporate tax. And the second is within the offshore sector – it is not 0%, people would pay the tax, but they would have a deemed tax credit of 80% where it could bring down the effective tax that they pay to 3%.

AAM: Some people still consider Mauritius a tax haven, even though from what you said it is a low-tax jurisdiction. They say that Mauritius siphons away money from countries where economic activity takes place. Some politicians in Asia, specifically India, have launched attacks against Mauritius because a lot of stock market inflows are routed through Mauritius structures. What is your response to such charges and how do you counter these arguments? 

If you look at the definition of a tax haven by the OECD, they would look at 3 criteria when they define a country as a tax haven. First of all, jurisdiction will have no or nominal taxes. Second, the laws or administrative practices do not allow effective exchange of information between governments and regulatory bodies. Third, they look at lack of transparency. In fact if you look at those 3 criteria, it is very difficult to say that Mauritius is a tax haven. IF you go to the first of those criteria criteria, we are a low-tax platform. It is not that people are not paying tax. Corporates within the global business are paying tax. They are paying to a maximum of 3% of tax. We don’t have a system where we don’t have any taxation. Second, if you look at the exchange of information, Mauritius has done a lot in terms of exchange of information.  We have signed 9 Tax Exchange Information Agreement and a number of MOUs with different countries and regulatory bodies have also been signed. So, there is a mechanism in place where we exchange information with relevant entities. Whenever there has been a request, and that has been the case with India as well, where that has been any concern about cases or companies, the Mauritius Financial Services Commission (FSC) and even the tax authorities have always addressed that. Third, if you look at the transparency, we have a transparent system. OECD itself has classified us as being on their whitelist, being a transparent jurisdiction. So, I don’t see where – looking at the OECD definition of a tax haven, Mauritius fits into that category of tax haven. If you look at the global business sector today, the number of Know Your Customer (KYCs), the number of procedures have been in place to check the ultimate beneficiary owner – all this is in place in Mauritius.

Over the last 3 or 4 years we have started to engage with the media to counter misperceptions. We need to tell the framework we have put in place in Mauritius. Over the last year to 18 months, we have started to see a change in how Mauritius is perceived. It is a question of education. We started to invite people to Mauritius to see that there is a real economy, real employment being generated. Today, we have 15,000 people working in that sector. It is creating employment, creating jobs and is contributing towards the economy.

AAM: What sectors are attracting the strongest investment interest? Both into Mauritius, as well as using Mauritius as “a bridge into Africa”.

If you look at investment into Mauritius, and the trend within the last 3 to 4 years, real estate has been an important sector that has attracted a lot of investment, a lot of FDI. Real estate – not just residential, but also in terms of office space, mixed-use development. That has helped in terms of enhancing our infrastructure. If you are asking foreigners to come and work and live, you need to have the appropriate infrastructure – in terms of housing, malls, offices and schools. That has created a boost in the construction industry in Mauritius . Besides that we have tried to emphasize services. The Information and Communication Technology( ICT) sector has contributed about 6.8% to the GDP. It has created over 15,000 jobs in Mauritius. Today, we have more than 600 companies that are operating, servicing their global clients out of Mauritius. Data centers, shared services. The education sector has been another sector where we have tried to attract players trying to position Mauritius as a regional hub for education. We want to attract foreign students to come and study in Mauritius rather than to go elsewhere. In the healthcare sector, we have tried to position ourselves as a medical hub and we have attracted hospitals to come and setup – not only for general services but also for very specialized services. Manufacturing is still important – it contributes to 18% of GDP. We have been pushing for more value added manufacturing to come and setup in Mauritius and that includes jewelry, diamond cutting-and-polishing, electronics – parts and components for electronic products. Medical devices is another area where we want players to come in

If you look at the idea of being a platform for Africa, financial services has played a key role for us. Financial Services has contributed to 10% of GDP. So we have worked to Attract foreign banks, attract companies to have their holding, their structures in Mauritius. Most of the leading private equities in the U.S., U.K. are either going to India or Africa. And they are using Mauritius as a platform for their structuring to go into Africa. For the platform into Africa, the free port has also played an important role to provide access to the African market.

And something new that is coming up – is the government of the ocean economies. That came up last year. Mauritius has an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.3 million square kilometers, and that provides a lot of opportunities for development in fisheries, and in aquaculture. There are several components being identified: (1) Seabed exploration for hydrocarbons and minerals, (2) Fishing, seafood processing and aquaculture, (3) Deep Ocean water application, (4) Marine Services, (5) Seaport related activities, (6) marine renewable energies and (7) ocean knowledge cluster.

AAM: How can the Mauritius financial platform facilitate investment in African agribusiness? Can you give a couple of examples of companies who have been successful doing this?

We are looking to develop strong relationships with African governments. We have been given land for agricultural development in Mozambique. We have invited expressions of interest from companies that would go develop these lands. 2 or 3 companies already going there – one going there for seed cultivation, other is going there for rice, and one going for a project in renewable energy.

Mauritian companies in the sugar sector are evaluating opportunities in Africa. Some of them have setup factories for sugar production in Africa. Others are cultivating sugarcane as well. Olam, headquartered in Singapore, who are big investors in agriculture in Africa, are using Mauritius as a financial platform. Other companies too are using a similar approach for their African agribusiness investments.

Regional Development Company – that is doing agricultural projects in Mozambique, has the Government of Mauritius as a partner.

We have setup an Africa Center of Excellence within the Board of Investment. The goal is to provide information to companies that would like to go to Africa, including the agricultural sector.

What we like to see is more companies do their R&D in Mauritius, do their company structuring and then go to Africa. That gives you the whole package where Mauritius has an important role to play.

AAM: Can you speak a bit about this Regional Development Company and its focus?

Currently, it is operating in Mozambique but also looking at opportunities in Zambia and Tanzania for agricultural development.

AAM: What services does the Board of Investment Provide? E.g. Like single-window investor clearance.

We promote and facilitate investment in Mauritius. Our role is advising and counseling investors into which sectors to consider. Once they have decided on a particular sector, help them with the process and implementation. We help them getting any required permits, we connect them with relevant ministries, we help them with identifying partners, and we help them in identifying land for their projects. We are really a facilitator for the investor. We also help with the Occupation Permit for foreign employees – with due diligence, which is later approved by Passport and Immigration Authority.

We provide Certificates for operating in the Free Port. For residential projects, investors need approval from the Board of Investment.  We have a strong role in policy advocacy to the government.

AAM: What milestones would you like to accomplish in the next three years?

We are constantly trying to attract new players to take Mauritius to the next level. We want to avoid the middle-income trap. We need to create jobs, we need to build a country that is pleasant to work and live. Board of Investment has a very important role in that.






AAM: First, I want to quickly thank you for taking the time to consider these questions. I believe there is a great story here. There have been scores of articles written on this topic over the past couple months. We’ll begin with a brief summary of the facts we already know about Spinlet. But then hopefully go a little deeper, I have the following questions:

First I have a personal question directed at you. I read that gender empowerment is an issue close to your heart. What are your thoughts on the effects emerging media and mobile accessibility could have on gender issues in developing nations? In my opinion the accessibility of technology as leveled the playing field in some regards. I’m curious as to what you think.

Nkiru Balonwu: Gender empowerment is indeed close to my heart, as an African woman. Historically, and not just in Africa, women have had fewer opportunities than men and have only recently increased in self reliance. I think emerging media and mobile accessibility have democratized (or leveled the playing field) in many aspects of African living. Previously inaccessible content/information has become available as a result of tech advancements opening up a wide array of resources and increasing opportunities in many areas including education, business and healthcare.

Questions on Spinlet

AAM: What are the potential roadblocks for Spinlet? More specifically what makes your model different than the existing mobile music services (i.e Spotify, iTunes, Rhapsody, Beats Music) and, furthermore, tell us about the predicted demand for your project in Africa.

Nkiru Balonwu: The streaming and downloads business, as it mostly operates today, is structured for societies with reliable and affordable mobile internet, rigorous intellectual property prosecution and enforcement, seamless online payment systems and being accustomed to spending considerable sums of money on building a music library. With mobile Internet and payments still in their infancy, streaming and buying music in Africa is not quite the same experience as in Europe or the US. We think however that with a strong focus on African content, we have ready markets in Africa and Africans in the diaspora, and we also see increasing demand from non-English speaking countries like Mozambique and Angola.

AAM:  You said in an interview with Forbes that “We found there was about 85% of music landscape (in Africa) was undiscovered.” is this a core concept for your business model in Africa? Do you plan to monetize this undiscovered talent? Can you tell us some more about how you’ll integrate that staggering statistic into your platform.

Nkiru Balonwu: Well, it certainly is a huge part of our strategy going forward. We think that increasing the quantity of indigenous music that is available will drive subscription numbers up, particularly when you consider that a lot of this music is old, nostalgic music that is yet to be digitized and simply isn’t widely available anymore. We certainly plan to monetize as much of the content as we can, not just for ourselves but also for the benefit of artists who haven’t earned royalties since music stopped being widely distributed on vinyl and 8-track tape in Africa.

The key to integrating the music on our platform is assisting with remastering and conversions to digital formats, and possibly producing such collaborations as we did in 2013 with the hugely successful “Baby Mi Da” by veteran musician Dr Victor Olaiya, featuring modern day sensation 2Face Idibia. We think this is a model that will prove as successful across other African countries as it has in Nigeria.

AAM:  The service you’re providing sounds quite like Rhapsody (est. 2001), a company which has it’s ups and downs. Is your team in communication with their leadership, or the leadership of any other established music streaming services?

Nkiru Balonwu: The music streaming industry is part of a fairly small ecosystem, so we’re well aware of the different challenges each unique model is facing and how some services are trying to innovate away from pitfalls previously experienced by others.

AAM: I’ve read that Spinlet wants to move beyond just being a music platform, but also supply news and other media. Would there be any possibility for partnership with Africa Agribusiness Magazine to help supply media content for the new dynamic Spinlet app?

Nkiru Balonwu: We’re looking at delivering a more rounded entertainment package – a one stop shop, if you like, for music and related media. This is still in its development phase but yes, we would be looking to partner with publications such as yours in achieving this target.

Mobile Banking

AAM: There is no denying that mobile banking is on the the rise in Africa, however, “On Device Research” found that “25 per cent of users say they do not make mobile payments because of slow network speeds” and “those with 4G connections only 64 per cent have made a mobile payment,” (Human IPO) What are your thoughts on this?

Nkiru Balonwu: Not being in the mobile banking industry per se, my perspective is the layman’s, but I would say that apart slow networks and other issues of poor infrastructure, there’s also a lack of trust in the system coupled with a perceived inability to fix problems quickly. For example, where a mobile payment is declined and yet the payer is still debited, the fact that reversing such a transaction is often a cumbersome and lengthy process does not help in building trust in the system.

AAM: Do you think mobile infrastructure is expanding at a sufficient rate to support you current venture’s goals?

Nkiru Balonwu: The rate of expansion could be quicker but we can’t really complain. We also expect that as more African countries establish more stable and regular supplies of electricity and, consequently, telcos spend less on backup power and have more to invest on infrastructure, things will improve.

AAM:  In your opinion what are some of the pros and cons of mobile banking as opposed to the conventional “western style” of commerce?

Nkiru Balonwu: The biggest pro, as seen in the success story that is Mpesa, is that people in the urban centres can send money safely to friends and relatives in the rural areas. In the wide support structure that African culture promotes, this is a welcome development. Another is the way in which it brings “informal” money into the formal economy, seeing as a significant segment of the African population is unbanked or without access to financial services. To my mind, the pros far outweigh any cons. Mobile banking is increasingly safer, more convenient, faster and more accessible for many, a win-win situation all round.

AAM:  Is mobile banking safer, more secure and faster than conventional payment methods?

Nkiru Balonwu: I wouldn’t say that mobile banking is safer or more secure but I would think  that it is significantly faster yet offering a good standard of safety and security.

AAM:  Do you think there is a role for mobile banking outside of the developing word, say in the US or EU?

Nkiru Balonwu: Yes, I definitely think there’s a role for mobile banking in developed economies. Don’t forget there are a not insignificant number of people living in similar situations as the unbanked or informal economies found in the developing world. But also interestingly, mobile banking in the west is relevant for a different reason, more advanced customer service i.e. deeper customer relationships and superior customer experience. In the end, whether developing or developed, mobile banking can play a pivotal role in increased customer satisfaction. It is also particularly attractive to the younger more tech-savvy generation. And, really what easier way is there to check your balance or pay a bill.

AAM: Is it possible that once a safe banking infrastructure is in place will this mobile banking revolution could be a fad that fades away?

Nkiru Balonwu: I doubt it. It seems to me that the more convenient and efficient mobile banking becomes, the more likely that it would become less a fad and more the norm.

Additional Questions

AAM: Topics I would like to discuss could include Spinlet’s plans for rapid expansion in Africa during 2014-15.

Nkiru Balonwu: Content acquisition drive, diversification  of product offering and product interface, working with artists to promote their on-platform music more.

AAM: Additionally, I would like to talk about the role of digital media in emerging markets.

Nkiru Balonwu: Digital media is extremely relevant in emerging markets and the developing world primarily because it solved the distribution problem. Until recently, viewing 24-hour news, drama series, movies etc required expensive, and often unreliable, satellite TV equipment and high subscription costs. Original music also required expensive physical medium for mass delivery. For books and magazines, it was paper or you were out of luck. These constraints essentially placed a very low upper bound on the size of the entertainment market. Digital media eliminated these limitations and enabled the concept of content streaming. While distribution was a major headache for large scale content providers, the smaller players and individual consumers faced a crisis of access. Prior to the introduction of digital media it was nearly impossible to put out material without incurring prohibitive costs. The requirements for advertising, placement, and promotion meant that this sort of activity was entirely in the domain of large providers. Digital media has also enabled the on-demand paradigm which has been a revolution in its own right. The notion that a consumer can only access content at a time predetermined strictly by the provider is counterproductive from a business standpoint and unnatural from a philosophical point of view. Finally, digital media has greatly simplified content consumption by eliminating the assortment of incompatible standards that proliferated during the analog era. For example, there were more than a dozen standards for delivering color information in television broadcast such as NTSC 3.58 (US), PAL B/G (Australia, NZ), PAL I (UK), SECAM (France) etc. These standards all required dedicated equipment and very often meant that even when content was physically available it was still inaccessible. Digital media essentially unified the content space freeing the consumer from the tedious chore of managing hardware compatibility requirements. All these fall within the mission and business profile of Spinlet which is to provide an on-demand content stream.

AAM: I would like to like to show how the use of mobile technology in the developing world differs from that in the western world.

Nkiru Balonwu: The use of mobile technology does not particularly differ geographically presently and that is because there has been significant success in creating a universal user experience for commercial products. Perhaps the only place that a marked difference exists is why the technology is relevant. In the western world it has become dominant mainly owing to convenience and portability – compared to the developing world where existing communication infrastructure was, at best, poor. However, the unifying theme in the mobile technologies today is on-demand presence and user behavior is shaped around that irrespective of geographical location. In any case, the world is becoming more of a global marketplace so consumers are being targeted with, broadly speaking, the same products and solutions.

AAM: Finally, I would like to know his opinions on “Africa as a 99 percent pre-paid economy,” I am veryfascinated about how this effects the economic climate in these regions.

Nkiru Balonwu: Prepaid was probably the best option to break digital services into the continent because of the following reasons:

· No credit histories (but this is gradually changing)

· Very few national identification schemes

· Poor address mapping

· Slow, laborious judicial process (for enforcing contracts)

These factors affect not only services but such things as rent (payable in advance, sometimes 2-3 years), acquisition of assets (e.g. Electricity generators, vehicles, etc., all payable in advance).

And even where credit is presently available, the payment spread is much shorter, with bigger deposits required.

Lu Asoka Tribal Chief PictureIt is often said that in business success never comes easily, nowhere is this principle more fitting than with the story of Liberia Cocoa Corporation (LCC). Founded in late 2009, LCC is a 100% Liberian owned agribusiness nestled in the Northeast corner of the country near the Guinea border. Like its name suggests, LCC specializes in the production of the high quality commercial grade cocoa for the export market. The company’s socially conscience business model incorporates both community out-grower farmers as well as plantation style farming for its cocoa development. With an ambitious development plan to establish 6,000 ha of hybrid cocoa within the next 5 years, LCC will likely be the largest privately owned cocoa plantation in the Africa and certainly one of the largest in the world, if successfully implemented.

The company is the brainchild of its founder and CEO, Mr. Momolu (Lu) Tolbert (a western educated Liberian entrepreneur) who simply dared to challenge the perception that African run businesses are neither serious nor viable. Despite its many social and governmental challenges that confront Liberia, unique business opportunities still do exist – albeit not for the faint at heart. For what should have been a rather straight forward business implementation model, for the first two years, LCC was heavily bogged down by many challenges including having to deal with corruption, a culture in which people were unaccustomed to working in a professional environment and the difficulties of funding such a pioneering project.

DSC02190 LLCAs the CEO recently explained, “I never imaged that planting trees and creating jobs would be so difficult”. Part Hollywood movie, part political thriller, the story of LCC is one of survival, unwavering perseverance and the sheer will to succeed against all odds. Though the company has had many setbacks, it has had even more achievements. One such example is the company’s corporate social responsibility programs that have developed over 15 kilometers of new feeder roads, a 6 classroom primary school, local bridge construction, local scholarships, boreholes as well as plans to begin construction of a community clinic in mid 2014.

Like that of LCC, Liberia itself has experienced some turbulent times. After gaining its independence 1847 (the first African nations to do so), Liberia was for a while considered a beacon for economic and social stability. Though its economy was largely based on extractive industries such as iron ore mining and precious metals, the country also had vibrant agriculture sector that included ) rice production, poultry, timber, cocoa and coffee. At the time, Liberia was home to the largest rubber concession in the world (owned by Firestone) but also had locally owned commercial fisheries that exported processed fish and shrimp as far away as Japan, United States and the United Kingdom – as early as the 1960’s and 70’s. Despite its many industrial gains, Liberia , as with many other African nations during the 1960’s through 1980’s, the geo-political pressures  of the Cold War coupled with the home grown movements for self determination and national identities brought with it social unrest and in extreme cases – bloody regime change.

Picture4 LLCSuch was the case in Liberia when its 133 years of peace was abruptly ended in 1980 with a coup d’état that deposed of the then president William R. Tolbert and his administration. In the preceding years intermittent and protracted civil wars raged on until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2003. Though peace was in place, the country was in virtual ruins and with it the once burgeoning commercial cocoa sector. Neglected during the war years much of the country’s cocoa trees were lost to the forest and its once internationally renowned research center (CARI – Central Agriculture Research Institute) completely destroyed.

Like neighboring Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, Liberia has ideal conditions for cocoa cultivation. With its rich soils, warm climate and over 170 inches of rain per year, Liberia has the very real potential to become a serious player in the world cocoa export market. Recognizing this potential, LCC has begun positioning itself through its outreach to thousands of out-grower farmers and the direct hiring and training of community based local labor for its nurseries and nucleus plantation. The wider social benefits of LCC’s business operation are palpable and can be seen in many ways but more significantly in the reduction in the number of food insecurity cases as many community household heads now earn regular monthly incomes.

Picture1 LLC (1)Asoka Ranaweera, who is advising LCC on the development of its concession and marketing and sales, says that the company has a clear vision for producing the finest cocoa beans and in ensuring that its product is ethically sourced and fully traceable. This is a project whose success will revive Liberia’s prewar cocoa sector with big implications for the economy and the population at large most of whom are subsistence farmers according to Asoka.

Asoka who trades cocoa beans from different origins in Africa on behalf of a number of clients says the cocoa market is in a structural deficit during which years of neglect has resulted in falling supply. This coupled with increasing demand from countries such as China and India as well as revived demand in the U.S. and Europe has further contributed to a deficit in supply.

LCC is therefore primed to grow into a market in, which there is already significant demand and the forecast is for increasing demand years out. “Lu, the founder of LCC is typical of a new generation of African entrepreneurs, who have returned to their countries determined to make a difference. These guys want to make things happen, are resourceful and in the process are changing the image and perception of African businesses.” said Asoka. “Its people like Lu that are transforming  Africa and its going to be private enterprise that is going to deliver the biggest  impact because its self generated growth, not aid dependent” he added.

In a country and region where unemployment rates have in the past reached upwards of 80 percent, the need for private sector investment like that of LCC is crucial to the long-term peace and stability of the country. When asked about the challenges of doing business in Liberia, Mr. Tolbert was quoted as saying…“conditions in Liberia are extremely tough and this is primarily because the normal support structures that exist in other countries do not function well in Liberia. For example the country’s physical infrastructure, roads, bridges and power generation services all need major rehabilitation and without public investments to these areas, the country will have difficulty attracting the private sector especially in the area of agribusiness.

Another serious constraint, is acquiring access to financial capital. Most banks require a minimum of 150% collateralization on loans and often impose 12-24 months payback periods which as you know does not work for tree crops. ” With the exception of Bridgestone firestone and a few of the Malaysian oil palm giants such as Sime Darby and Golden Veroluem, there are no other companies quite like LCC and its companies like these that are at the forefront of reviving the country’s agricultural sector. 

For more information on LCC

Contact e-mail:

Lu Tolbert


Asoka Ranaweera


Website: www.liberiacocoacorp.com

The story of Mamadou Edrisa Njie

If someone had told me that a few years ago that using the social media will one day land me in a job, I would have totally disagreed with that person, be it an expert, a researcher or a fortune teller. In fact, this wasn’t because I didn’t know what social media was all about but mainly because I was ONLY passionately on Facebook to chat with friends with some that I don’t know.

Here I am, have signed a six month-contract with one of the best IT Service Providers in The Gambia to be its “Social Media Administrator”. A post I only knew existed during the signing of the contract.

Being born and brought up in the rural community of The Gambia where young people trek several kilometers to access internet to use the social media-Facebook and Skype, today, I count myself as one of the luckiest to have had the opportunity to access the social media anytime, anywhere with thanks to an IPAD provided by Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN) International.

Training counts a lot in life and it is the turn-key to potential opportunities, with great thanks to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Communications Division, me and some colleagues were given practical training on social media 101 on how to use Twitter, Google+, blog post and LinkedIn. I was particularly excited for this training opportunity and as a result, today I am a very happy young digitally connected person in and beyond my country.

My sincere gratitude and sincere appreciations goes to Moses Abukari (IFAD Country Programme Manager for The Gambia) who first helped me to use an IPAD and encouraged me to be sharing agricultural and rural development stories focusing on rural youth; to Roxanna Samii (IFAD Manager Web, Knowledge and Internal Communication) and Roxy for exposing me to more social media (twitter, Google+, LinkedIn) at a training organized by GYIN Gambia for Gambian journalists, bloggers and online reporters at the Kairaba Beach Hotel prior to the IFAD 7th Regional Forum in Banjul in November 2012. Since then, I regularly participate in major public events and share information on social media platforms.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ have been my favorite’s social media. I have been using the following sites to communicate with the wider world on events happening in The Gambia and beyond with more attention on youth and development in rural areas.

Again, been among the leading bloggers in The Gambia, I manage my blog Mansa Banko http://mansabanko.blogspog.com

With the training and tools, my passion has been driven to reporting and sharing widely with issues of youth, agricultural development, development projects, environmental issues and more general news of public worthy. Sometimes, I feel nobody is reading or even aware of whatever I share with the public. I occasionally get feed-back from one or two peers or audience who say they like what am sharing with the public.

I only started realizing how valuable these little services of sharing information with the public were seen by some entities as opportunity to have wider outreach through real-time information flow. One opportunity led to another and this was the point that I said “is social media such a powerful tool to empower me economically?’’ and why me?

  1. I have become the key media and communication focal points for all the IFAD-financed projects in the country.
  2. So on 1st October, 2013, I signed a contract with Biodiversity Action Journalists-Gambia (BAJ-Gambia) as their “ Online Manager” to manage their Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn platform for a period of one year.
  3. I also signed a contract with Nifty ICT Solutions in The Gambia for a six-month period as their “Social Media Administrator”. This is what the portion of the contract reads… “To advance our strategy and execute more quickly, more efficiently, with greater excellence and profound learning, we need to transform how we organize, plan, work and collaborate. It is a big undertaking that changes our group structure, but will help us achieve our mission, in web designing, and training.

“You have been contracted as one of the individuals we feel has the capability, drive, and commitment to achieve Nifty ICT Solutions’ goals. We would like to welcome you to our team.

“Once again, we congratulate you in your new position and you will be responsible for developing and managing the relationship with the media, general public….and creates a strategy that will drive communications through social media pages- Facebook, and Twitter and other modes of distribution.

“We appreciate your tireless effort and dedication to Nifty ICT Solutions. We look forward to working with you in the upcoming year and ensuring the success of Nifty ICT Solution and a better life for young people.”
With these recognitions and tasks ahead, I have accepted these opportunities and will continue to remain committed to providing the invaluable services for these institutions as well as to advocate and promote further opportunities for youth especially those in rural Gambia to embrace social media as means for their self-empowerment.


For 70 percent of the developing world, agriculture is the main source of income and employment.  In Ethiopia, agriculture accounts for almost half of the

country’s GDP and 90 percent of its exports.  However, agriculture in Ethiopia is often characterized by low productivity, with most smallholder farmers having limited access to inputs, information and services.  While the demand for these ingredients for successful agricultural production is high, access and delivery is often

An innovate solution to these constraints, the USAID-funded Commercial Farm Service Program (CFSP) is establishing a network of private, retail supply and farm service businesses called Farm Service Centers (FSCs) throughout the Oromia region of Ethiopia.  The program was designed by CNFA, a U.S. international development organization that focuses on stimulating economic growth by empowering the private sector.  CFSP adapts CNFA’s market-oriented, private sector model for a sustainable enterprise-based delivery of farm supplies and services.  The Farm Service Centers are one-stop-shops that provide smallholder farmers with agricultural and veterinary inputs, services and technologies that will help them produce surpluses and become better linked to end markets. This highly adaptable model, with support from CNFA in capacity building and training, has already been proven successful in Afghanistan, Georgia, Moldova and Romania. Building off the success of these enterprises in previous countries, CNFA is adapting the model to build a Farm Service Center network in Ethiopia – the first of its kind.hampered by a variety of factors including high transaction costs, inadequate infrastructure, the lack of commercial distribution networks and limited financing.  In addition, many smallholder farmers have a poor understanding of the productive benefits that would be achieved through the use of quality inputs and improved cultivation practices.


Setting out for Success

Launched in the fall of 2012 through a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Innovative

In the initial phase of the program, staff worked to survey target Woredas (counties) for a viable year-round market demand for agriculture and veterinary products and services. Outreach events were then held in targeted towns and cities to generate interest in applying for the opportunity to work with CNFA and USAID in establishing these new enterprises. Applications were reviewed and ranked on a competitive scale that evaluated their technical capacity, proposed business plan, and potential impacts.  CNFA then selected six of the applicants for the matching grant award and subsequent Farm Service Center development. Of these six, one is a woman-owned proprietorship, three are privately owned and two are owned by Cooperative Unions.  The six selected CFSP grantees include:Fund for Ethiopian Agriculture (IFEA) and CNFA, CFSP kicked off its two-year operation with the goal of creating six locally-owned Farm Service Centers in Ethiopia’s Oromia regional state and establishing a wholesale buying cooperative owned by and dedicated to serving the inventory needs of the Farm Service Centers and linking them to national and international suppliers.

  • Bishoftu – Alema  Farms PLC
  • Shashamane – Barite Agricultural Inputs Trader
  • Fiche – Biftu Salale Farmers Cooperative Union
  • Nekemte – Etafa Mekonnen Crops Trade
  • Ambo – Gadissa Gobena Commercial Farm Products PLC
  • Dodola – Raya Wakena Farmers Cooperative Union



Leveraging Investment from the Ethiopian Entrepreneurs

In addition to encouraging a competitive business plan evaluation in its grant award process, CFSP places an equally important emphasis on investment on behalf of the selected entrepreneurs. For each of the new Farm Service Centers, USAID has dedicated a $40,000 grant to be used for branding costs (uniform shelving and signage), environmental mitigation measures, worker safety measures, farmer outreach activities, and office and/or service-providing equipment. But the investment into this agribusiness start-up does not end there. To promote buy-in and sustainability, CFSP also asked that each selected grantee “match” USAID’s investment to the dollar. As a result, each grantee has contributed a minimum of $40,000 to the project in the form of construction/renovation, inventory and salaries for newly created jobs.  By leveraging private sector investment, the Farm Service Centers will have a minimum initial value of $80,000 – a first for an Ethiopian business dedicated solely to serving the needs of s
mallholder farmers.

Appreciating the  potential as well as  recognizing the need for improved capacity of these new business ventures, CFSP has also provided targeted training to all Farm Service Center staff which includes an Owner/Operator, General Manager, Accountant, Agronomist, Veterinarian and two Sales Clerks at each Farm Service Center. Trainings ranging from business management, to integrated pest management, to environmental mitigation, to marketing and communication have developed the business and technical capacities of all Farm Service Center staff members and helped to ensure the sustainability of the Farm Service Center network.


Program Map

Open for Business

By January 2014, five out of the six Farm Service Centers held ribbon cutting ceremonies and were formally open for business.  At the Bishoftu Farm Service Center opening ceremony USAID Mission Director Dennis Weller expressed his optimism by commenting that, “these Farm Service Centers provide increased access to high-quality, reasonably priced inputs, training, technical advice and output market linkages to at least 30,000 smallholder farmers. At the same time, they also serve as an innovative model for scaling up private farm supply and service networks in other regions of Ethiopia and other nations of Africa.”  Ribbon cutting ceremonies were held at the five locations and attended by officials from the Government of Ethiopia, USAID, input suppliers, local media and eager customers that were ready to shop. Delayed due to land acquisition and construction, the sixth Farm Serve Center is slated to hold its ribbon cutting ceremony in April.

The positive reaction from Ethiopian Farm Service Center customers has been astounding.  Chaltu Senbetu, a customer of the Nekemte FSC commented that she has, “never seen any other shop in town that is as appealing to shop in, that is very clean and safe for medicines and that provides quality products on a timely basis.”  She also expressed gratitude that the shop provides everything she needs “without having to travel as far as Bishoftu or Addis Ababa.” Even from Chaltu’s testimony, it is clear to see that the Farm Service Centers alleviate the traditional input supply bottlenecks by reducing the time and money spent typically spent for traveling to find the relevant products.  Now, customers can purchase relevant, high-quality products that are available at the time the farmers need them.

Complimenting a diverse agriculture and veterinary product line, customers can also visit uniformly branded and environmentally sound stores to receive agronomic and veterinary consultations and training from highly trained staff. When describing the immense value of accessible expert advice Atsede Abate, a customer of the Ambo FSC, stated, “I bought a calf and it became so sick and very close to death. I lost all my hope before I came to this center and got treatment for my animal. Now my calf is more than well and is even running around. I believe this center brings hope to many of us in the town as it is accessible, knowledgeable and welcoming.”

By providing quality inventory and expertise that is tailored to the demands of their respective local customers, the six Ethiopian FSCs are helping improve the productivity, incomes and food security of the smallholder farmers that they serve.  And because each FSC is locally owned and operated, it is a sustainable model that showcases the success of harnessing the power of private sector entrepreneurs to help solve development problems.