AfDB Lauds Youths Transforming Africa’s Food System

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By Adedapo Adesanya

As the world observes the International Youth Day, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has lauded youths that are using its AgriPitch competition to help transform the food system on the continent.

According to the Abidjan-based bank, Africa is producing a growing number of young entrepreneurs who are adopting new ideas to bring more affordable, quality food from farm to fork.

This was disclosed during a forum celebrating youths by the Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, AfDB, Dr Beth Dunford, themed Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health, putting the spotlight on the role of young people in achieving the success of such a global effort.

“Africa’s youth play a key role in scaling up the continent’s agricultural production that can transform Africa’s food systems. On International Youth Day, we celebrate Africa’s next-generation agripreneurs, whose innovations in agribusiness are helping to feed Africa,” she said.

One of the youths boosting Africa’s food system is Mr Ikenna Nzewi, the Nigerian-American CEO of Releaf, a Nigeria-based smallholder farmer food procurement company focusing on industrializing food processing in Africa.

Releaf’s innovative approach to improving food systems is to help industrialize Africa by setting up smaller factories that are closer to farmers. It also wants to finance and teach farmers agricultural practices that make their businesses more productive.

“When the logistics costs are really high, you have to pay farmers low prices for their commodities. When you are closer by, you can afford to pay them more,” Mr Nzewi said.

Releaf’s agribusiness plan won over a panel of judges and investors during the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, where the continent’s top agripreneurs vie for a share of $120,000 in seed funding prizes and a slot in the competition’s business development boot camp. The finalists also receive mentoring and training.

AgriPitch is part of the African Youth Agripreneur Forum, an annual event organized by the bank’s Enable Youth program. The forum instils a culture of innovation and nurturing for technology-led agribusiness innovations to create jobs and improve youth livelihoods.

Releaf edged out more than 600 other business proposals from 30 countries to be named one of the AgriPitch winners in 2020. Placing first in the “early-start up” category, Releaf took home a $20,000 prize cheque.

“The grant was very helpful to operationalize our work – we started operations in January. The publicity was helpful for our company. Being able to have more people hear about…how we are tech-enabled industrialists has been really exciting,” Mr Nzewi said.

Opened to youth aged 18 to 35 who hold African nationality or citizenship – since its launch in 2017, AgriPitch virtual competition in 2020 drew more than 2,500 applications, compared to approximately 600 applications in the 2019 event, which awarded $74,000 in prizes.

“The interest is there – as the prize money gets bigger,” joked Enable Youth Coordinator, Mr Edson Mpyisi, adding that “youth are more willing to try out new technologies and innovations – they lead [the transformation of food systems] toward higher production and productivity.

“We need to think of food and agriculture as a system – not as disjointed issues of poverty or food insecurity. Nutrition, water, good health, the climate, environment, trade, food as a human right – all these are interconnected. The success of young agripreneurs in Africa can help address these important social and economic issues,” Mr Mpyisi said.

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