… Holds first edition of TAAT Investors Forum
In a bid to connect innovative agricultural technologies coming from research to private sector partners who can adopt them and use them to transform African Agriculture, the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), a flagship program from the African Development Bank (AfDB) has hosted its first edition of the TAAT Investors Forum.
The Forum which was virtual featured topics like: Private sector involvement in the scaling of innovations coming from the CGIAR–What relevance for African Agriculture?, Licensing approaches of IP developed
through public funding(CGIAR examples), Showcasing TAAT Technologies: Scaling and licensing concepts via the private sector, Maize technologies: Drought tolerant maize varieties (DTMA, WEMA and others) TEGO seed licensing as well as Rice technologies Aromatic rice varieties (ORYLUX).
The Forum also featured video on Wheat technologies: Heat tolerant wheat varieties, Cassava technologies:
Biofortified Cassava Varieties, Selected technoogy: Mobile cassava processing unit, Potato technologies: Puree production and products
Orange feshed Sweet Potato (OFSP, high Vitamin A), Sorghum and Millet technologies: Bio-fortified sorghum and millet varieties, Double purpose sorghum & Millet varieties, Organic & Mineral Fertiizer Microdose among others.
Speaking in his opening statements, Dr. Martin Fregene, Director, Agriculture and Agro-Industry, African Development Bank (AfDB) observed that TAAT is a flagship of the Bank’s number two priority which is feed Africa, even as he described it as a bold and ambitious effort to raise food production on the continent by hundred million tonnes of food every year through reaching forty million farmers with the best available production technologies to double their yields.
“We estimate that that hundred million food could lead to additional food produced every year, could reduce hunger by 80 percent. Today, Africa has about 280 million people. If you just take a rule of thumb that an average African eats a tonne of food every year, so hundred million additional tonnes of food will reduce hunger by 80 percent. That’s a lot. It will also cut food import by half. Africa today, imports about N47 billion worth of food, so, another hundred million tonnes of food will cut food import by half.
“Like you know, since 2018, TAAT has got some important achievements including helping Sudan and Ethiopia to reach 50 and 80 percent self sufficiency in wheat respectively. In Ethiopia, wheat is growing in highland but with TAAT interventions, wheat is now grown in low lands. We began in 2018/2019 and by this year, we have gone from 5,000 hectares in low lands to 400,000 hectares in low lands. This is driven by technology. Farmers see a very highly productive crops, farmers also see a crop easy to grow and farmers also see a huge gross margin and they get involved.
“So, TAAT is surely succeeding but we need to replicate our skill. TAAT is about technologies but it is also about skill and most importantly, it’s about partnership. That’s why this meeting is so important. How do we get the private sector interested and invested in TAAT?
“At the core of TAAT is the compact and the compact is actually an essential innovation platforms and they bring together the private sector, they bring together government, they bring together national and international agricultural research systems and they bring together regional and continental agricultural research network just to ensure that farmers get the best technologies”, he said
He informed that a critical look at the history of the large scale deployment of agricultural technologies either in Asia or Latin America would reveal that scaling up of millions of farmers of new technologies could only be done by the government or the private sector.
He, however, noted that in many African countries where there were fragile government with limited capacity, the private sector becomes a very important player.
Speaking on why the private sector was so important and why a lot of effort should be put in to attract the private sector into TAAT, Dr. Fregene pointed out that economic motivation drives the private sector adding that for government, whether things happen or not, they get paid but for the private sector, if they don’t have a product that the market accepts, they don’t earn a salary.
“So, that economic motivation is very much important not just for scaling technologies but for sustainability. There’s no way you are going to have an efficient, competitive and a successful seed sector without the private sector. It’s just not going to happen.
“The second reason is the know-how. Private sector brings a lot more of genetics and know-how to production of seeds and also to production of new varieties. That skill is not always easy to acquire, it’s a skill that often come from a very long years of experience and also come from working across many regions of the world, many different continents. So, that know-how is very important.
“Also, the private sector brings a very important thing which is setting up a very strong value chains for input systems and also being able to stock seeds and distribute them at an accessible cost. For example, the private sector, like we all know, have a very powerful distribution channels. Look at Coca-cola, there’s no village you go to in Africa, you will always find Coca-cola because Coca-cola is not just a soft drink company, it’s also a logistics company. They are able to reach everywhere and they are able to stock these products that at any time you wake up, you can buy Coke in any village. This is a very important role of the private sector – being able to set up a very efficient distribution channels.
“Fourth, the private sector has vast experience in creating alliances. Production of improved varieties and seeds is a science, it has its root again linked to private sector research and investment in seed treatment, technologies that can help you pro
“So, we really need a private sector to create an efficient, profitable environment so that we can attract more finance and the private sector, like you all know, helps to develop value chains. You have Babanguna’s Farming Company up in Kaduna with almost two hundred thousand farmers and provides seeds, provides mechanization and then, provides access to market and they do all that by access to finance both within and outside the country”, he said.
He went on to posit that efforts should be geared towards protecting intellectual property as a means to create incentives for the private sector to get involved.
According to him, “We also need to have license agreement on plant varieties respected. What do I mean by IP? When you develop a variety, it’s a technological propriety, it has been developed by you spending some time and investment. So, you must be able to get back returns on that investment and to do that, there has to be rules and regulations and laws that actually protect whatever a private sector company is pushing out there in the market. Nobody can use it without signing a license agreement.
“One of the reasons why you don’t have a lot of genetics coming into Africa is because many of these big companies don’t feel as if farmers or other users will pay for IP of these varieties. For example, Soybeans, there are varieties that can give you four tonnes but many of those companies like Donmario which is an Argentine company, they won’t come into Nigeria even though they are in Brazil, they are in US, they are everywhere but they won’t come into Nigeria or into Africa because they feel that soybean is a self pollinated crop and farmers will grow it directly and would not buy hence they cannot protect their IPs.
“Also, in licensing agreement, we have to be able to license certain varieties in certain areas so that the private sector can at least recoup their investment in promoting and distributing those varieties and not allow other people to undercut them. This is a very important part and I am sure you guys could discuss it more. How do we do that and how do we ensure that government put in place strong regulations to protect IPs and licensing agreements.
“The second is the enabling environment. Seed policies and laws that enforces seed certification and also penalizes sale of non-certified seeds is a sine qua non because why would I produce hybrid seeds that cost so much and some unscrupulous guys will sell grains and completely destroy my market because once farmers grow the grains, the so called hybrid and he doesn’t get the yield, next year, he wouldn’t. And so, it is difficult to convince the farmer after he has failed. It is so important for government to have strong regulations of food certification and also have a way of penalizing people that do the wrong thing.
“Number three, we need to harmonize national and regional seed systems. The private sector will be more interested in the bigger markets as markets are major drivers of innovation and investments. If a private sector knows that he can sell seeds in Senegal and sell the same seed in Ivory coast and sell the same seed in Nigeria and in Ghana, the attraction for him to come in is more important. So, we need to harmonize. I know ECOWAS has its own regional seed system but we need to harmonize the national seed system with the regional seed system so that a company can register a seed in one country and sell it in another country. It is so important.
“And then, lastly, for the private sector to thrive especially in the seed sector, he needs continuous access to R and B both public and private R and B. He needs continuous access to new varieties and traits and also needs access to early generation seeds. In many African countries, early generation seeds are produced by international and national research centres that actually produce the seeds. That connection between the private sector and those international and national research centres has to be strengthened.”
He, however, regretted that a look at the amount of seeds being produced right now in most African countries “tells one a sad story in the sense that informal seed sector that sells seeds that are non certified actually accounts for between 40 and 80 percent. So, if we are really going to make a difference, we really need to ramp up the formal seed sector and the only way we can do that is to actually have more and more private sector people coming into the sector.”
On how to get the private sector to invest in TAAT, Dr. Fregene maintained that public fora like the 2022 TAAT Investors Forum would provide the private sector the opportunities that exist saying “like any private sector that actually goes into seed production in Sudan and in Ethiopia will make money because the demand is just huge because of increase acreage. So, there’s need for Seed Fairs where you come and actually see what is happening and what is being done.”
He continued, “You will also want to de-risk for investors to come in. There must be demand and supply of those improved seeds. First of all, you have to have demo trials that the private sector and the farmers can see and know that these seeds add value and actually have an edge in the market and of course, there has to be supply.
“The early generation seeds have to be done properly otherwise it is difficult for the private sector to come in and do do three years of bulking seeds. You know it has three phases of pre-basic, basic and then certified seed. It’s hard for the private sector to do that but if a private sector sees an immediate source of basic seeds, he can now say, okay, I will do certified seeds and then… So, you need that early generation seeds system in place.
“So, if you have those two things in place; awareness and the system that works, I think the private sector will take it up. Investment from the private sector is key. Whatever the public sector brings is a fraction, a drop in the bucket compared to what the private sector can bring. The private sector is by far in any country, the provider of risk capital.”
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