Contributed by Kipp Wettstein, U.S. Embassy Freetown, Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone possesses enormous potential when it comes to fertile land, water supplies and enthusiasm for agriculture. However, prospective entrepreneurs face a number of significant challenges in getting started in the field. To help address this need, U.S. Embassy Freetown brought together 47 YALI Network members and representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture for a YALILearns session on agripreneurship. Participants, including farmers, agricultural advocates, journalists, filmmakers and those interested in applying IT solutions to agribusiness, traveled from across the country to attend the session. Fomba Wai, a program officer for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), facilitated the program and led a dynamic discussion in a context specific to Sierra Leone.
The YALILearns session inspired lengthy and lively discussions, allowing the participants to begin to address some of these challenges and to engage in group problem solving. Some of the challenges specific to Sierra Leone — as expressed in firsthand accounts by program participants — include:
- Transport and storage of products.
- Poor road networks/infrastructure.
- Lack of mechanized equipment.
- Lack of reliable/predictable customer base (variable demand).
- An education system that is not oriented toward agriculture.
- Limited availability of technology training for farmers.
- Fact that few financial institutions are equipped for agricultural financing.
- Financial institutions’ lack of capital.
- Complicated bureaucracy.
- Lack of political will to foster agricultural development.
The first lesson of Agriprenuership: A Path to the Future — “Agriculture and Entrepreneurship” — provided excellent insights into why agribusiness is important to the future health of Sierra Leone. Food security is a major issue, as is lack of access to nutritionally balanced foods, especially for children. Many farming operations are still subsistence models in which the farmer grows crops only for family consumption. The lesson provided valuable insights and engaging questions and discussion topics for group work, which was aimed at examining the current challenges and possible solutions.
The second lesson — “Finding Opportunities Along the Agricultural Value Chain” — presented the attendees with the concept of the comprehensive “value chain” and what it means to analyze the entire process between grower and consumer in order to identify potential opportunities. This topic is highly relevant in a country with a fragile road system, poor power infrastructure and a number of other major challenges to the factors that affect the transfer of goods from grower to consumer. However, the participants were quick to identify potential solutions to some of these challenges and identified a number of opportunities for business development. At the same time, the lesson highlighted the importance of understanding agribusiness as more than simply growing crops and selling them. There are potential opportunities in every stage of the process.
At the conclusion of the presented lessons, participants formed groups that were based on their respective fields of work within the agricultural sector. This was done so that they could work together on specific solutions within their related value chains. This process encouraged participants to apply what they had learned through the program and hopefully served to encourage real-world solutions to existing challenges.
You can organize your own YALILearns session using Agripreneurship: A Path to the Future! Get started by visiting yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com/learns and use the YALIGoesGreen facilitation guide to plan your session.