Charting the way to ‘The Africa We Want’

My domestic worker is a good sharp-eyed boy. When I returned home from work yesterday, he told me: “Tonton, something special might be going on in our city.” Even before I intervene, the guy went on saying: “I’ve been watching TV since Monday and I realized that there is a big event which attracted a lot of foreigners to the city.”

And the 23-year old guy went away as he was busy with cooking activities.

afrThen, I thought for a while; just wondering to what extent the event was organized to catch the attention of laypeople like my domestic worker! The guy was absolutely right and there was a ‘big event,’ indeed!

The special event was the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank that took place in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, from the 19th to 23rd May this year, attracting more than 3,500 high profile people from all corners of the continent and beyond. It was very special in a sense that the bank was at the same time celebrating its 50th anniversary of operations.

Unlocking agric potential

The meeting was a kind of platform to talk about different crucial aspects that affect development of the continent such as political stability, infrastructure, access to clean water, education, health, ICTs, to mention a few others. But more interestingly, unlocking agriculture potential for fast economic growth, youth and women participation to make all these aspects a success were at the center of the debate.

For instance, you could hear from speakers something saying that Africa’s agriculture potential is staggering while the region has more than 60 percent of the world’s uncultivable arable land. Others repeating that it’s unacceptable to see that the continent has become a net food importer while some 50 years ago, it was a net exporter of agriculture produce.

Indeed, the challenges facing agriculture are enormous. Of these challenges, one stands out. There is chronic underinvestment in agriculture in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, smallholders still depend on rain for irrigation. They use simple tools denying them opportunity to increase production. Those who manage to produce under these difficult conditions have limited access to market. These challenges are thriving because governments invest very little of their budgets in agriculture.

“Agriculture should not been seen just as a development project – it should be seen as a business. Whether you are talking of small scale or medium size – this is very important. African farmers are living in antiquity by the material that they use, inadequacy of infrastructure and poor access to markets. This should not be,” Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria was quoted saying along with other very profile people.

Obasanjo emphasized the need to invest in technology to modernize agriculture in Africa and increasing access to affordable finance for smallholder farmers as critical to increasing productivity. He also noted that though few farmers have access to finance, the cost of it is still excessively high with interest rates ranging between 18 and 20%.

“There is no way farmers can make it at that rate of interest unless they are producing cocaine,” he said, underscoring the need to provide affordable financing to farmers.

And many more went on unanimously arguing that since the majority of Africans depend on agriculture, investing in the sector is critical to reducing inequality and creating jobs.

Watch a part of the debate where Nigerian former president Obasanjo, Nigerian agric minister Adesina, CEO of Americas Standard Bank, Shankar and others give their views on what needs to be done to unlock agric potential

The debate was really quite interesting to follow. But on the other hand, I asked myself whether there was something new from such good debates! Truth is that we’ve had enormous meetings of the kind — even at the level of catching the attention of laypeople, but with insignificant actions. Through the discussions, I could learn that, we, Africans, know very well challenges we face, possible solutions and how to go about it – which is a good trend. But again, where do our problems come from? I would argue that the problems obviously arise when it comes to implementation stage.

Role of leadership

The same argument was echoed by very influential figures on the continent including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Kenya Vice President William Ruto, African Union Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, form presidents Olsegun Obasanjo of Nageria and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Sudanese mogul Mo Ibrahim who were speaking during another session. They were all talking about the role of leadership for ‘The Africa We Want.’

Watch a small video where these prominent persons were speaking about the role of leadership for ‘The Africa We Want.’

And much more has been said; just turning around words “The Next 50 Years, The Africa We Want.”

I totally agree with the speakers and I finally remain with an optimistic view in a sense that recent experience from some African countries has proven that political will and fair implementation of policies can make things better.

For instance, reports indicate that strong political will and huge investments in agriculture sector have helped some African countries  to grow their economies and lift thousands of people out of poverty.

I really do believe that we cannot afford to waste the abundant potentials of agriculture while we look elsewhere for the solutions to end poverty and hunger. It’s really high time for everyone’s participation to ensure the declarations get turned into substantial results soon; tremendous results that cannot only catch the attention of laypeople, but also bring about betterment of their lives.

And my concluding statement is simple: if we, Africans, do not act accordingly to get ‘The Africa We Want,’ in due time, who else will do?


Rwandan students design automated egg incubator

Six students from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology (former KIST) have designed an automated solar-powered eggs incubator aimed at lowering the cost of poultry incubation in the country.

The incubator was designed by students from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology (Photo: The New Times)

The incubator was designed by students from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology (Photo: The New Times)

A students’ initiative under an association dubbed REtronics designed a solar and grid-run portable poultry eggs Incubator, which they believe will facilitate poultry production in the country.

Muramira, a member of the REtronics, said: “The incubator will be sold at Rwf150,000 to make it accessible for all local poultry farmers.

Rwanda has four incubation centres which include; Rubirizi, Gahanga, RwandaGic and Rulindo, and most of them import eggs and chicks from Europe and South Africa, which makes it expensive.

“Farmers are going to have an alternative,” said Muramira during an event organised to celebrate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day at Lemigo Hotel in Kigali last Saturday.

The Day involved innovation exhibitions where various young innovators showcased various ICT-related gadgets.

“We want to be part of the solution,” Muramira said, adding that as students of technology, it is impractical to leave school and seek employment.

All products exhibited focused on encouraging young Rwandans to come up with home-grown solutions to national development challenges.

How the project started

During a meeting held at Klab, a local technology entrepreneurship breeding centre, the six electronic engineering finalists from the College of Science and Technology, brainstormed on how they could come up with a project that would fit the local market.

“Our aim was to contribute to national development in line with Vision 2020. The egg incubator turned out to be the best idea,” Muramira said.

The egg incubation system consists of a power supply unit, an energy storage unit and the egg incubation chamber.

The incubator is capable of handling up to 42 eggs per batch of incubation. However, the designers say the capacity varies depending on the customer’s preferred size.

Source: The New Times

kLab, the next birth place of big ICT4ag solutions in Rwanda

It’s quite impressive and promising! Youth both female and male spend most of their time busy sitting in front of their computers hacking their brains silently. When you get in, the first thing that welcomes you is the soft sounds of keyboards strokes, slow ambient music playing in the background and striking, attractive interior designs.

Young developers at kLab (Photo: kLab website)

Young developers at kLab (Photo: kLab website)

If you are an ICT savvy and have been to Rwanda or…have managed to attend the last ICT4Ag conference that took place in Kigali last November, you might be able to localize the place. Hey, welcome to the Silicon Valley of Rwanda, apparently the next birth place of big innovations in the smallest East African country’s ICT sector: you’ve already come to kLab.

Located in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, somewhere in Kacyiru, kLab sits at the top of Telecom House building, 6th floor, in an open view that enables developers to work with a fresh mind, while at the same time enjoying a magnificent view of Kigali City. There’s free high-speed Internet connection. kLab is re­ally the best hangout for developers.

Being the first-ever IT community in Rwanda, kLab is an open space where IT entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, students, engineers and designers –and any oth­ers that fall under the umbrella of ICT – meet to collaboratively support each other as well as share ideas and skills.

In operation since 2012, kLab has actively attracted many young people from various backgrounds – notably fresh high school graduates who want to acquire practical skills before head­ing to university, and startup owners who need guidance and experience.

And for sure, these young people are all busy developing some ICT apps that will serve effectively the rest of the community – mostly (in our case as it’s common for the whole Africa) rural communities where majority of the people depend on farming activities.

This is really the right direction for the new generation of young Rwandans where we have to hack our brains and come up with real solutions by means of new technologies to challenges we are facing.

For instance, when this morning I was exploring what this knowledge hub is bringing to us, I found out that the youth are determined to address various challenges, such as the improvement of bi-directional information sharing and communication between farmers and extension workers. Through ICT applications, how can access to finance services be easier for farmers by using an innovative tool.

Also in most cases, key areas of interest include information sharing and advisory on soil fertility, climate information, pests and disease, access to localized farming inputs, and the ability to verify counterfeit products, and many more.

There is no surprising thing to see that youth are busy working on agric related apps; given that we are an agrarian economy – with around 80% of the population depending on farming activities and yet we face a shortage of farmlands; so the innovations will surely help us to maximize yields from our tiny farmlands.

Last, but not least, I have to say that I was really amazed this morning when I was exploring some of the achievements of the kLab and I could even see some of the videos of the past reflecting what’s happening there. Among them, I came across with some videos from the last Regional Hackathon that took place in parallel with the ICT4ag – and really decided to share them with you on this blog so that you can get sight on reality there. I believe you will enjoy!

Ambiance at kLab when young developers are hacking their brains (Video from the Hackathon)

Interview with participants to ICT4ag at kLab

Interview with Co-founder ColabHive Mr Daniel at ICT4AG

‘Rwanda wooing investors with Special Economic Zones,’ – Grow Africa report

Rwanda offers a highly conducive business environment and stable macro-economic framework for investment in agriculture; it has been captured in the Grow Africa Annual report released last Friday.

Kigali Special Economic Zone (Photo: Grow Africa 2014 annual report)

Kigali Special Economic Zone (Photo: Grow Africa 2014 annual report)

The report noted that Rwanda’s positive legal environment is further bolstered by strong governance structures, which have seen Rwanda rated as the least corrupt nation in sub-Saharan Africa, and Kigali as the safest capital in the region.

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2014 ranked Rwanda as the top global reformer, and 32nd for doing business globally out of 189 countries. Indeed, extensive regulatory reforms have reduced bureaucracy around business creation, access to finance, tax breaks and risk mitigation, the Grow Africa report points out.

“A new Investment Code, currently in the process of being finalized, is set to enhance the country’s enabling environment even further,” reads part of the report.

According to the Grow Africa annual report, integral to these efforts has been the creation by the Government of Rwanda of Special Economic Zones, which are aimed at promoting private investment as well as industry and export growth by offering quality infrastructure, streamlined business regulations and incentives to investors and businesses.

On the 74th page of document, it says that attracting particular interest among agricultural investors is the Kigali Special Economic Zone, which also offers both regulatory incentives and the necessary infrastructure for agro-processing, including roads, energy, water and ICT.

Between 2000 and 2013, the value of registered private investments in Rwandan agriculture totaled $512 million across 184 projects. As the top export commodities, tea and coffee have remained significant investment targets, though proportionately only accounting for 19% of overall investment, the document revealed.

The 91-page report says the industry is increasingly witnessing diversification into emerging sub-sectors with growth potential, including beverages, floriculture, fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, hides and skins, rice and grains, fish, honey and oils.

Through Grow Africa, the report says, Rwanda has identified specific investment projects to boost outputs, improve quality and drive up revenues for different commodities. These include expansion of the tea sector by increasing the growing area by a further 15,000 ha by 2017. Other processing facilities for Irish potato, cassava starch, animal feed and bio-fortified baby food are also under construction – all of which add value and facilitate domestic revenue generation, goals that will continue to represent the agricultural sector’s overarching priorities over the next five years.

While in some countries investors have found themselves dealing with multiple government agencies, and even basic requirements taking up to a year to resolve, the report says that, in contrast, Rwandan government is cited for its responsiveness and clarity.

The story was compiled from the Grow Africa annual report 2014 that can be seen here

‘Agriculture is important’

Finding ways on how to build on recent successes in unlocking over $7 billion worth of investment for African smallholder farmers is a top priority of the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa that is being held in Abuja, Nigeria, from 7 to 9 May 2014.

President Kagame (C) and President G. Jonathan during the WEF (Photo: Internet)

President Kagame (C) and President G. Jonathan during the WEF (Photo: Internet)

It is therefore fitting not only that the theme of this meeting is “Forging Inclusive Growth and Creating Jobs,” but also that it is taking place at an important time for the continent, the year of agriculture and food security.

It’s really very commendable that African leaders reaffirmed their commitment to transforming the agricultural sector across the continent during the Forum.

“There are huge opportunities in agriculture. This will create jobs and achieve food security,” said Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria. “The key is not just producing enough food for local consumption, but also creating jobs along the value chain.”

The Nigerian president knows well what he is saying; given that huge investment has led his country on top of the richest African countries, according to a recent report. It’s really high time for us Africans to take advantage of our abundant arable lands and human resources (given that Africa has a young population able to use their forces to transform our agriculture).

“We are not here to make agriculture important, it’s in itself important. We are focusing on it to make sure that we maximize the profits for ourselves and for our people,” pointed out Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

But what is more important, President Kagame noted, is to know what needs to be done and whether people actually do it.

Get more details from President Kagame speaking on Rwanda’s experience during the forum

One priority area that was identified for future action was the issue of gender parity. Erastus Mwencha, Deputy Chairperson, African Union, said: “We are not seeing women emerging as entrepreneurs with increased income: how can you increase production if you do not involve the 50% of women who are our farmers?”

Hopefully these African leaders took note of this question and will act on it to find sustainable solution very soon.