As Africa’s agriculture sector moves toward operating like a business, U.S. and African agribusiness leaders gathered for the Initiative for Global Development’s Des Moines roadshow stop on April 25-26, to explore how to deepen the United States-Africa trade and investment relationship to build markets and accelerate growth.
The Des Moines roadshow stop, which was held on April 25 and 26, was part of IGD’s four-city inaugural U.S. roadshow tour, “Africa Investment Rising: Building Momentum for Investing in Africa’s Economic Prosperity”. The full U.S. roadshow tour, taking place from April 18-May 1, is aimed at re-shaping perceptions on doing business in Africa by bringing trade and investment opportunities to U.S. companies and forging stronger connections between U.S. and African business leaders in key growth sectors.
Launched on April 18 in Washington, D.C., the roadshow traveled from New York City for banking, finance, and investment to Des Moines, IA for agribusiness and agro-industry and then Houston, TX for power and energy.
Africa sits on 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land. African countries currently spend $35 billion annually on food imports and, if current trends continue, the continent will spend some $110 billion annually by 2030 on food imports.
The Des Moines roadshow stop began with a day-long site visit to Corteva AgriscienceTM, the Agriculture Division of DowDupontTM in Johnston, Iowa, where high-level African executives and representatives from the USAID East and Southern Africa Trade Hubs toured the labs and research and development facilities and walked through the plant breeding processes that produce the company’s world-renowned seed products.
The site visit also featured presentations that highlighted the company’s work in Africa, such as distribution of seed products, use of multiple integrated solutions to address fall army worms and other pests, and their technologically advanced research centers in South Africa.
The Corteva site visit concluded with an afternoon discussion, where the delegation spoke with the organization’s leadership about how the company could build partnerships with the African private sector and boost agribusiness on the continent.
The evening reception at the World Food Prize Laureate Hall in downtown Des Moines officially kicked off the Des Moines roadshow stop. Morgan Day, Director of Planning at the World Food Prize, spoke about Founder Norman Borlaug’s vision for the World Food Prize. “Agriculture is not just a way to feed your family. It’s a way to improve your livelihood and the livelihoods of many,” said Day. In 2017, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina received the prestigious World Food Prize award.
The forum took place at the Iowa State University (ISU) Research Park in Ames, Iowa. Participants took a bus tour of the park, which was founded to drive economic development by nurturing and growing start-up companies.
ISU President Dr. Wendy Wintersteen opened the second day with remarks on the university’s work to bring science and innovation to the real world through public-privae partnerships. “We really do care deeply about our partnerships in Africa,” said Dr. Wintersteen.
A panel of U.S. and African private sector leaders convened for an agribusiness-focused investor roundtable aimed at revitalizing the agriculture sector through agro-industry to fuel Africa’s global competitiveness.
Moderated by Carol Pineau, award-winning journalist and documentary producer, panelists included Amina Hersi Moghe Osman, CEO at Horyal Investments; Van Jones, Co-Founder at Hello Tractor; Geoff Andersen, Director of Regional Ag Strategic Planning at John Deere Africa; Martin Fregene, Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry at African Development Bank; and Abe Hughes, General Manager of Ag Division at Trimble.
Abe Hughes of Trimble expressed that his company is in the process of expanding operations on the continent and is eager to do business with Africa. “Africa deserves to have all of the technologies that we have to offer,” said Hughes
Geoff Andersen of John Deere Africa, responsible for the company’s business development in Africa, also stated that he looked forward to partnering with attendees to scale African business. “Africa can become self-sustainable and can even become exporters in agriculture,” said Deere.
Andersen also referenced John Deere’s existing partnership with Hello Tractor. Van Jones, co-founder and Head of Marketing at Hello Tractor, explained how his company is leveraging technology help mechanize African agriculture by providing tractors to smallholder farmers. “We want to make sure we are getting mechanization into the farmer’s hands,” said Jones.
Accessing financing continues to be a challenge for African agribusinesses. Amina Hersi Moghe Osman, CEO of Horyal Investments, shared the adversity that she had to overcome to finance and build the largest sugar factory in a war-torn area of Uganda, while receiving short-term, high-interest funding from commercial banks.
Fregene outlined the four principal ways to transform Africa’s agriculture sector: farmer access to high-quality technology;training and knowledge transfer for growers; affordable, long-term financing; and land tenure policy. “The agriculture sector will be a trillion-dollar sector in 10 years. You cannot ignore that,” said Fregene.
The panel discussion concluded by emphasizing the need to address the ever-present dilemma of political will. “The question is a question of leadership: leadership within the context of larger corporations,” said Pineau.
During the networking luncheon, attendees listened to IGD’s Making Farming Cool podcast series, produced in partnership with Afropop Worldwide to attract young, entrepreneurially-minded African professionals to careers in agribusiness.
USAID’s East and Southern Africa Trade and Investment Hubs gave presentations on the Trade Hubs’ work in strengthening U.S.-Africa trade and economic ties and boosting agribusiness in Africa. East Africa Trade Hub Director Kanini Mutooni talked about the Hub’s work with investment promotion agencies to incentivize investment outside of urban areas to boost rural development.
“Agriculture can can be sexy from the tech perspective, and it’s actually investable as well,” said Mutooni.
In emphasizing the need to build business-to-business connections, the presentations set the tone for the speed networking and company matching session that closed out the Des Moines forum.