Wednesday May 7 2014

Makerere pioneers promoting farming as business

An exhibition on IMO, an innovation for piggery, during the agricultural show

An exhibition on IMO, an innovation for piggery, during the agricultural show in Jinja. These are some of the enterprises that can be supported or linked with the Curad initiative. FILE PHOTO 

By Dorothy Nakaweesi

Universities and tertiary institutions in Africa are set to benefit from an initiative directed at transforming the current agriculture curricula and blending in modern day agribusiness systems so as the students are able acquire skills relevant to the dynamic job market.
It is the brainchild of Makerere University, which aims to close the gap in required practical skills that exists in various agriculture-related courses.

In 2009, Makerere partnered with a number of organisations in the public and private sectors to form the Consortium for Enhancing University Responsiveness to Agribusiness Development (Curad). The objective is to enhance the graduates’ roles in creating jobs for national development.

Viable plans
Under the conventional arrangements, most students of agriculture disciplines in Africa are groomed to serve the public sector in areas like soil science and agronomy. Curad broadens their skills by incubating them into creating viable agribusiness plans relevant along the value chain to the level of product marketing.

With its benefits in Uganda, the Curad concept has further been demanded by other universities across Africa and experts from Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (Muarik) are set to promote it across the continent; starting with Kenya, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Prof. Samuel Kyamanywa, the programme director, says the initiative prepares students with a business mind-set and gets them more inclined towards serving the private sector than the public sector because the former is more of an engine for economic growth.

“This programme is a public-private partnership initiative with the aim of producing innovative entrepreneurs and agribusiness leaders to champion productivity and profitability of the agricultural enterprises that can steer new enterprises for more jobs,” he said in an interview.

The programme is geared towards creation of jobs and boosting incomes within the agricultural sector in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa.

About the programme
The $2m (Shs5b) agribusiness innovation will be officially launched on May 9, at Kabanyolo. So far, there have been at least 30 agribusiness projects by students taken on at Kabanyolo. Each project funding varies depending on its actual requirements of the agribusiness plan.

Joseph Nkandu, execuitve director, National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe), who participated in formulating of this programme, says the incubatees are students as well as entrepreneurs already working in the private sector.

“They are required to make business plans; some of them are offered working capital while others are linked to local and international investors for business opportunities,” he added.

Origin of idea
With his background as an agriculturalist, Nkandu thought that students should follow a value chain curriculum that would enable them to learn and develop their entrepreneurship skills.

Students doing courses in agribusiness or agriculture will be able to come up with a business plan at the end of the day.

“Just like when one goes to a business school, to attain a degree, he or she has to have a business plan as one of the requirements. That graduate will create businesses and not look for white collar jobs, “ Nkandu explains.

“This is the curriculum, which is being applied with agribusiness and agriculture students,”

In 2008, after selling the idea to the then Faculty of Agriculture at Makerere University (it is now a constituent college), the strategies on breaking the ground for this concept started.
“However, our challenge was on how to fund this programme,” Nkandu recalls.

As coincidence would have it, there was a call for concept notes put out by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, a continental organisation that promotes agriculture, which is based in Accra, Ghana. The selected projects would receive support from Danida, the Danish international aid agency.

They applied and their concept was among those which were selected in Africa.

Curad primarily provides an opportunity for students who are interested in starting an agribusiness enterprise as part of their curriculum.

It helps to nurture the start-ups by providing a package of services including technical know-how, physical infrastructure, business plan, networking, mentoring and coaching.

The other target group are the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) involved in wholesale and retail agribusiness although these are unregistered members of incubator.

Target groups
The incubator partners with these members for business development support, trading services, and agro-input supplies in coffee value chain.

With every business contract with the SME wholesale or retail trader, the incubator will realise a slight margin as a service fee from the customer or farmer.

Generally, the SMEs are farmers, women entrepreneurs, students, companies, or scientists who want to start their own firms, develop innovative technologies in agriculture and allied sectors, scientists looking for opportunities to commercialise their technologies or transfer their technologies or private companies, which are already in agribusiness looking forward for expansion or scale up.

A partnership of many

The Curad programme is run in partnership with national, regional and international organisations.

It is one of the six incubation centres for agribusiness in Africa, which are supported by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa.

This is under the UniBRAIN facility, which is funded by the Danish international aid agency, Danida.

So far, Curad has received more than 100 applications. Out of these, about 30 plans have been supported with some start-up funds to build and develop their business plans further.

The initiative has also entered into an arrangement with commercial banks like Centenary Bank.
Some of the projects being incubated are mainly into processing of coffee, fruits, multiplication of coffee through tissue culture and mushrooms among others.

These are being supported at the incubation centre which is based at Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo.
The partnering organisations include Nucafe, Naro, University of Copenhagen and NIRAS International, Anafe, Asareca, PanAAC and ICRISAT.

-Dorothy Nakaweesi