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Dynamic agri-entrepreneurs shine at the Grow Digital AGRF

Earlier this month, Susanna attended the Africa Green Revolution Forum, held in Accra in Ghana, with the theme Grow Digital: Leveraging Digital Transformation to Drive Sustainable Food Systems in Africa. Here, she chats to Sophie about navigating the crowds, as well as the highlights and surprises of the week.


Susanna speaks on some of the events and outcomes from the Grow Digital AGRF in Accra

The AGRF is a large event with over 2,400 participants from 75 countries – does it get a bit overwhelming?


Yes, it’s a huge number of people! You don’t really get a grasp of just how many sessions are going on throughout the week, where they are happening and how many people are involved. Having said that, it was really nice to see organisations that we have worked with who had stands there, and bumping into other people that we know, whilst also being able to network and meet with new people. One of the ways to do that was through the conference app, which enabled you to see the agenda and message people to set up meetings – over a lunchtime or coffee break, for instance. This was a first for me and I found it really helpful.


On the first day of the AGRF, CTA and Dalberg Advisors launched The Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report, which WRENmedia have covered in Spore. How did you feel the report was received?


The report was launched in the first plenary session of the conference so it was a key part of the first morning, with Michael Hailu of CTA and Michael Tsan of Dalberg Advisors co-presenting and providing an overview of the report’s findings and recommendations. The response from the panel who came after the keynote remarks was very positive, including Nick Austen, Director for Agricultural Development at the Gates Foundation, who emphasised the importance and comprehensiveness of the report.


Throughout the week, lots of people continued to talk about the publication – it was mentioned in quite a number of the sessions, and lots of report copies were picked up from the CTA stand. I think CTA felt very positive about the launch, the reaction it received and the discussions that were stimulated. And it was good to know that we had written about this landmark publication in Spore and helped to promote it via our social media campaigns.


Whilst at the AGRF, you also attended the IDRC side-event on the first day. How did it compare in style/content to the rest of the conference?


There were less people around because it was held the day before the official start of the conference, which meant it was much easier to network. The side-event was still focusing on digitalisation and also very much on women and entrepreneurship, so it was picking up on those AGRF themes. What I really liked about it was the fact that they didn’t have too many presentations, there was a lot of chat-show style discussions with one or two people doing a short opening presentation, then a panel of people discussed a topic, which the moderator would then open up to the floor. I really liked that style, it was quite refreshing.


The forum provided an opportunity for a number of young entrepreneurs and start-ups to be involved in a variety of sessions on digitalisation – were there any examples that you felt were particularly interesting?


I think the fact that such a large number of dynamic young people were involved in the AGRF was really great, it gave an energy to the whole event. A number of people came across really well, but in particular, I was struck by some of the women. I attended the women’s session organised by the Gates Foundation and IDRC and there was one young lady, who was also in the earlier IDRC side event, Talash Huijbers, who I found particularly inspiring. She has set up an insect business in Kenya, part of IDRC’s CultiAF programme which we are working with, to collect waste from all around Nairobi for feeding to black soldier flies. The insects are then used in poultry and fish feed. She stood up wearing a pair of wellies to show that she was first and foremost a farmer; she’s only in her twenties and she spoke with such passion, energy and enthusiasm. One of the things she said to encourage others was, “Dream big but start small”, and to look out for other partners to maximise on what you were trying to do. So what she said was really impactful and I liked the circular economy nature of her business.


The final plenary session of the conference highlighted the winners of CTA PitchAgrihack competition. Of the fourteen finalists on stage, half were women and the two top winners were women who spoke really well about their achievements and aspirations. We will be covering Jaguza – one of the winners – in a forthcoming story for Spore and I look forward to reporting on more of the start-ups in coming months.


Any surprising highlights?


I turned up to a session on trade and the launch of the 2019 Africa Agriculture Trade Monitor, which CTA have been a part of, to find ex UK Prime Minister Tony Blair sitting next to CTA director, Michael Hailu, on the front seats. Blair spoke clearly and concisely for 10 minutes, and was on message for the session. He responded well to the keynote remarks and made a good joke about the current dire straits of UK politics. And best of all, our tweet about what he said received very impressive engagement!


Sophie Reeve

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