Delegation seeks Israeli startups to help African farmers boost crops

Team from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa visits Israel to pinpoint local agricultural technologies that are pertinent to Africa’s challenges

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of hands of African children cupped under tap of water (borgogniels; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of hands of African children cupped under tap of water (borgogniels; iStock by Getty Images)

A four-person delegation from Africa, members of an organization that is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, visited Israel this week to see how agricultural technologies developed in the Startup Nation can help farmers in Africa.

Led by Agnes Kalibata, the president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the group was hosted by the non-profit organization Start-Up Nation Central and met with representatives from Israel’s tech industry and government officials.

The idea, said Kalibata in a phone interview with The Times of Israel, is to pinpoint local agricultural technologies that are “pertinent to the challenges we see in Africa.”

AGRA, founded in 2006, aims to reduce poverty and hunger in Africa by investing in agriculture. The organization works across the continent with millions of smallholder farmers — who make up 70 percent of Africa’s population — to boost their farm productivity and incomes.

Dr. Agnes Kalibata, front, right, the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA ) with members of the AGRA delegation and Shira Goldblum. Strategic Partnerships Manager at Start-Up Nation Central, July 31, 2018 (Courtesy)

These farmers, who produce most of the continent’s food, struggle with unproductive soil, unreliable water supplies and low quality seeds, AGRA’s website says. The organization, which is also backed by the World Food Program, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Canadian, German and UK governments, has already supported more than 400 projects, including ventures to develop and deliver better seeds, increase farm yields, improve soil fertility, upgrade storage facilities, expand access to credit and improve market information systems.

In Israel, AGRA wants to identify not just technologies that can be implemented on the ground but also people who will be able to understand the challenges ahead and develop products that are tailored to these needs, explained Kalibata.

“We are looking to support products that work for the community of farmers that have a potential to scale up,” she said.

Any selected startups would be eligible for funding from AGRA, she said, to help adapt their products to Africa’s needs. “They have to prove to us that they are sustainable, they can attract other sources of funding and their technology is innovative enough to disrupt things,” she said.

Professor Eugene Kandel, CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, left, with by Agnes Kalibata, the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA ); July 31, 2018 (Courtesy)

Success will be measured by the roll-out of the technology and how many lives it impacts, as well as a set of milestones that will need to be met, she said.

This is Kalibata’s first visit to Israel. The team was also eager to study how Israel’s “startup thinking” can be deployed in Africa.

The next step, she said, for Israeli entrepreneurs interested in deploying their technologies in Africa, is to attend an agricultural conference in Kigali, Rwanda, in September, the African Green Revolution Forum, attended by some 2,000 farmers and government officials, to showcase their technologies and study local needs.

“AGRA has the mandate to transform African agriculture,” said Shira Goldblum, strategic partnerships manager at Start-Up Nation Central. “Helping African farmers become successful and sustainable agricultural entrepreneurs is an extremely worthy opportunity. This delegation is important as it comes at a time when both African farmers and Israeli agri-food tech entrepreneurs can realistically implement the very latest technologies to tackle historical, economic, and environmental obstacles to sustainable agricultural business growth.”

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