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Summit discusses future of grain trade in Africa

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The culmination of the recently held 10th Annual African Grain Trade Summit has sparked a new conversation about the need for influencing policy to accommodate women and young upcoming start-ups in the evolving landscape of food including grain trade in Eastern Africa.

This is after a presentation made by Dr. Roselyn Marandu-Kareithi, Jasiri’s Country Lead, Kenya, and a subsequent panel discussion which unpacked an analytical framework that could reshape the way we think about entrepreneurship and ecosystem collaboration to expand cross-border grain trade in the region.

The panel that was facilitated by Gerald Masila, the Executive Director of Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC), comprised David Kamau, the Managing Director of the Fortified Whole Grain Alliance (FWGA), Naliaka Naporwa ,Trade Policy Expert from the Africa Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Stella Apolot, Principal Standards Officer at East African Community and RHEA and Radava CEOs among tens of other corporate representatives who formed part of the audience.

During the breakfast session that took place at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda, Dr. Roselyn gave an analytical approach to tackling policy issues in Eastern Africa which she noted should take the path of problem diagnosis, fostering dialogue among stakeholders and finally policy prioritization and implementation. “At Jasiri, we endeavour to attack poverty by investing, nurturing and empowering responsible entrepreneurs and leaders who benefit the society by helping to accelerate meaningful employment creation,” she said.

She also spoke into the unique contributions of the Jasiri Talent Investor, a unique incubator, which supports the growth of enterprises from ideation, churning them out as high-impact ventures within a short period of time. This program guides and supports Eastern Africa entrepreneurial women and men known as Jasiri Fellows in their early stage startups during the initial and high-risk phases of their entrepreneurial journey.

It introduces the Jasiri Fellows to equally ambitious co-founders and supports them on an individual, team, and business level through seasoned facilitators, mentors, and business coaches. Jasiri further runs a Growth Accelerator that invests in early-stage startups that demonstrate product-market fit but may still be too risky for commercial funders to invest in. These ventures are provided with funding to scale and grow, and are assisted with investor readiness.

Speaking on the use of policies private investment, Kamau spoke of the need to amend policies to incentivize financing. “Policy needs to make investment attractive, be it donor, financial service providers or individual oriented,” he said. “There is also need for affordable and available finance for entrepreneurs, including early-stage start-ups, and these should be involved in the discussion on how investment should be shaped.”

During the session, the place of sustainability was reinstated where it was noted that there is a growing global discourse around sustainable agricultural practices and that there was a need for policies to be standardized across nations.

On the topic of fintech solutions, which are facilitating smoother transactions in the sector, the question of cybersecurity and data protection arose. With increased digitization, the vulnerability of these platforms to cyber threats could be an emerging concern that needs to be addressed in cross-border trade policies. Technological advances spearheaded by Jasiri Ventures like RHEA and Radava were also noted.

Priscilla Wakarera, the CEO and Cofounder of RHEA, who was part of the panel noted that, “It is vital to scrutinize whether some of these innovations that we have brought forward can be seamlessly integrated into existing systems or if policy changes are required for them to be effective across different jurisdictions.”

RHEA is a Jasiri Venture that provides smallholder farmers with soil and recommendation information that allows them to grow profitably and sustainably while reducing their negative impact on the climate.

The company also provides farmers with vital data about their farms and then the tools to improve their agricultural practices, a solution that combines Internet of Things (IoT) devices equipped with sensors, cloud-based data analytics, and machine learning algorithms to deliver actionable insights as recommendations.

On her part, Josephine Adeti, the Chief Technical Officer at Radava Mercantile noted that, “Warehousing stands at the intersection of technology, logistics, and policy,” she said. “Effective warehousing solutions do not just require state-of-the-art technology but also necessitate harmonized policies across countries to ensure that grains can be stored and moved efficiently which brings us to the need for standardized storage and quality control regulations that are aligned across Eastern Africa.” Radava is also a Jasiri Venture that addresses fundamental agricultural market failures that threaten food security by facilitating electronic trade of agricultural commodities. The company provides smallholder grain farmers with access to well-equipped warehouses where they can store their produce until they can fetch a better price in the market thus preventing post-harvest losses.

The inclusion of underrepresented groups like women and youth was also identified as another policy concern noting that existing trade policies often unintentionally favour established, typically male-dominated enterprises at the expense of youth and women who are normally excluded. “A shift in policy to embrace equal opportunities for all is a possible game-changer in democratizing the grain trade innovation across the region especially with the enactment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA),” Apolot, explained.

Other issues raised include cross-border policy harmonization, stakeholder inclusion, and technological integration which remain open to analytical exploration.

Speaking of entrepreneurial challenges, it was identified that challenges such as intellectual property rights, access to financial resources, and market barriers all indicate a need for robust, unified policy frameworks. An example cited was that lack of reliable data, for instance, is not just a technical problem but also a policy issue that affects investment and growth.

The discussions further revolved around the importance of partnerships in influencing policy where Dr. Roselyn highlighted that policy changes often involve protracted negotiations and trade-offs.

She explained that having multiple stakeholders in influencing policy can speed up this process and that a cooperative model involving public and private stakeholders could offer a pathway for policy synchronization across nations. She also re-emphasized on the need for constant conversations to introduce and amend policy to enhance production, distribution and democratization.

Participants from the region commended the impactful work done by Jasiri and noted their programmes “Jasiri is the way to go”. The uniqueness of Jasiri’s model lies in its support to Supports Jasiri Fellows from scratch and its focus on high growth ventures and market creating innovations. On his part, Gerald Masila, the Executive Director of EAGC, noted as he concluded the session that the pathways for policy influencing and implementation are myriad and complex.

 

“Thank you Jasiri for igniting this conversation and indeed taking the steering wheel. This is an insightful session which I believe sets the pace for policy influencing in Eastern Africa. Policy influencing encompasses a multitude of stakeholders and the representation in this room is testament that this is the time for partnerships and working together,” he noted as he commended Jasiri’s initiatives for serving as a strong foundation.

Further Masila thanked Dr.Roselyn for her leading a session chair in the summit on Innovations for Resource Efficiency and Business Competitiveness in Grain Trade.

Thanks to the partnership with Jasiri, the 10th African Grain Trade Summit discussed innovative products technologies and business practices that help to grow grain trade sector agribusinesses for waste reduction, improvement in business efficiency and business competitiveness.

Report by Solomon Ngoru

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