By Jussi Ilmari Juhola, Finland
The last of the field trips for Wednesday headed to two locations in and around Limbé. This was one of the half-day tips, so time was rather limited to start with. We did however manage to squeeze in two very different sites with altogether quite different approaches to entrepreneurship. The visits got me thinking about the huge variety of businesses that the term agripreneurship can entail. What follows are some thoughts that have gone through my head during and after the field trips, especially when considering the extensive discussions Iduring the sessions at the 7th GFRAS Annual Meeting.
The first site of the day was the Good Friends seedling nursery in Limbé. This was a rather young co-op, but one that had managed to create a name for itself amongst its’ clientele. The co-op had currently ten members, two of them women. The business focused almost solely around the sales of seedlings of different species. The birth of the enterprise had not been without its share of challenges however. They started out as a livestock co-op some time ago under a small donor grant, this venture however proved to be short-lived as through municipal order the livestock production was shut down. It was time for the co-op to regroup and figure out what to do next. This is where the founders showed some true initiative and with the aid of ICRAF founded the nursery business which is still going on today. What became very apparent in the discussions was that the business, albeit quite small, has already made a name for itself in the area to the extent that they are the one provider for local farmers when they need assistance even to the extent that the president is now travelling around the country giving lectures on building up a nursery.
Of course, one of the key topics of the annual meeting was the role of RAS in promoting the local agripreneurs. This however did not come out on this fieldtrip. Instead it became quite apparent that the local RAS providers did not matter, it has been the international donors that played a vital role in the setting up of the business. Nevertheless, I still firmly believe that this was a great example of what agripreneurship truly means. It is the unfaltering dedication to achieve a dream. It is also a show-case in what donor funding in Africa can do at its best in providing a decisive push for a sustainable business.
The second visit of the day was to a completely different setting, the Tole Tea Factory. This is a well-established relatively large scale operation with a long history and having undergone multiple phases since its inception in 1958. The enterprise has gone from foreign control to state-operated to its current form of private ownership. It is difficult to consider this operation under the term agripreneurship in the context that it is most often referred to – small to medium scale enterprises operating within the agricultural context. Rather we can talk here about industrial scale production especially since they are part of a larger group of companies called CTE and they have also opted for producing bulk instead of specializing. When looking at the production process itself, the whole production chain has been taken into account with calculated risks such as producing all the fuel (eucalyptus) for drying the tea. Finally, we come to the one issue that was lacking in the presentation given, the role of local RAS in developing the business. It seemed pretty much all the key activities and processes in the Tole Tea Factory were being handled in-house.
Reflecting on the lessons learned during the field trips and especially putting this into the context of the topics discussed over the several days at the 7th GFRAS Annual Meeting it is apparent that agripreneurship in Cameroon is very much on the topic list and an important means to achieve better livelihood. But RAS is lacking, it has no real role in promoting or enabling agripreneurship, rather it still seems that the development is very much in the hands of donor organizations. While this is of course admirable and does provide very apparent aid in the developing countries I can’t help but wondering for how long it can go on like this? Is there an exit strategy present which will leave the countries with the necessary capacities for long term operation? This is the question that seemed to loom in the background also during the discussions at the sessions of the annual meeting.