The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and African Agribusiness Incubation Network (AAIN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), Finland at the just concluded program on Linking African Agri-Business Incubators with the Finnish Social Enterprise and Innovation Ecosystems in Helsinki, Finland. The MoU states that partners are expected to explore different avenues of collaboration within the agriculture value chain from research and development technology transfer to improving the teaching and learning processes in agribusiness incubation. It is expected to bring about improved investor confidence and accelerate the incubation models following the benchmarking of best practice. In addition to improving the operational ecosystem of the current incubators, AAIN hopes to spread the best practice in the over 300 AAIN member incubators and associate partners across Africa. According to Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, the Executive Director of FARA, “…the MoU is a promise of cooperation. Now we will start together a persistent journey of joint development work”. He further invited HAMK to use FARA as the research partner in Africa noting that FARA has the continental mandate to coordinate agriculture research and was well positioned to execute such research in Africa.
On the importance of the physical presence and matchmaking event, Mr Alex Ariho, the FARA UniBRAIN/AAIN Coordinator was quoted thus: “…meeting the various companies and people interested in agri-business from Finland showed the huge potential in the agriculture value chain, especially in the waste as an energy source”. He indicated that sustainable development and continued growth between Africa and Europe can only be attained through increased networking, partnerships and trade among countries and regions globally hence, increased job and wealth creation.
Furthermore, the MOU will permit HAMK to increase its professional expertise and promote the opportunities for doing business with Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises from Finland to Africa. In exchange, some of the new businesses and start-ups from the incubators will target to provide outlets and marketing network for Finnish SMEs and vice versa. Mr Ari Mikkola, Dean of HAMK School of Bioeconomy stated that the MoU allows for more deepening and enlargement of the work that HAMK has been doing in Africa, which until recently have concentrated on capacity building on forestry education institutions, innovative extension methodology and bioenergy. The MOU ratification which is effective immediately and with options for renewal was witnessed by 5 CEOs of successful agribusiness incubator companies from Africa amongst who are Prof David Munthali, representing 158 African Universities; Ms Julienne Kuiseu, representing sub regional research organisations (SROS) from the Northern, Southern, Central and Western parts of Africa; Mr Dan Acquaye, a board member of the AAIN with membership across 54 African countries and Ms Mary Njeri, the Unibrain business partnerships and communication officer at FARA.
In addition to understanding the HAMK innovative ways of encouraging entrepreneurship, the team visited different incubators including the Aalto Start up Center and the Design Factory to benchmark the startup ecosystem in Finland and to engage with innovative start-ups with solutions relevant to Africa. Mr Apollo Segawa from CURAD saw opportunity in insects as a future food solution where termites can be harvested on a daily basis, mainstreamed to provide protein to the body and cash to millions. On another hand, Dr Eija Laitinen a member of the AAIN Advisory Board, emphasized that applied research will be part of the cooperation noting that HAMK had done research on bio-energy. As for the bio-economy, he stated that a look at the industrial application of banana fibers developed by one of the FARA-UniBRAIN incubators from Uganda will be the starting point. More so, there will be call for student internships and graduate volunteers as part of the partnership because HAMK education, research and development are all closely tied together to create and support the expertise, competencies and actions which foster sectorial, regional, societal as well as financial well-being of people.
The African Agribusiness Incubator Network (AAIN) was established by FARA to support the business development within the continental framework. AAIN is a result of the FARA-UniBRAIN program which currently hosts 80 incubators, members and partners under AAIN in 54 African countries. Under UniBRAIN, the incubators have collectively commercialized over 75 Agribusiness technologies, created thousands of jobs and produced over 200 incubates. The research networks have supported over 137 SMEs to startup and expanded businesses along selected commodity value chains, while creating business networks of about 24,000 value chain actors engaged in agribusiness. More about the MoU is expected to be discussed at the 1st annual agribusiness conference organized by AAIN between 28th and 30th September, 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya.