Shaping Your Ecosystem


No day is the same for the average entrepreneur in the food and agriculture landscape in Africa. Every day brings new adventures, challenges, opportunities, and risks. The entrepreneurs who can successfully ride this wave typically understand their ecosystem and have built stable support structures and enduring relationships.

This chapter highlights the complex ecosystems in which entrepreneurs in the food and agriculture landscape operate. It outlines opportunities and strategies for shaping policies, building strategic partnerships and coalitions, and navigating complicated relationships with national, state, and local governments as well as development partners, industry associations, and nonprofit organizations. Leveraging case studies, it provides practical frameworks that entrepreneurs can leverage to identify, build, and sustain valuable partnerships critical to scaling their businesses.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem

The entrepreneurial ecosystem1, as defined by Prof. Colin Mason and Dr. Ross Brown is:

a set of interconnected entrepreneurial actors (both potential and existing), entrepreneurial organizations (e.g., firms, venture capitalists, business angels, banks), institutions (universities, public sector agencies, financial bodies) and entrepreneurial processes (e.g., the business birth rate, numbers of high growth firms, levels of‘blockbuster entrepreneurship,’ number of serial entrepreneurs, degree of sellout mentality within firms and levels of entrepreneurial ambition) which formally and informally coalesce to connect, mediate and govern the performance within the local entrepreneurial environment.

Given the high level of fragmentation in the African agriculture and food landscape, as outlined in Chapter 1, there are hundreds of actors in the ecosystem. Consider the example of the key players in the ecosystem for an average agribusiness, leveraging a model developed by Daniel Isenberg, formerly a professor at the Harvard Business School, and a global authority on entrepreneurship ecosystems.

Domains of the entrepreneurs’ ecosystem

Figure 7.1 Domains of the entrepreneurs’ ecosystem.

Mapping your ecosystem

Beyond identifying the players in your ecosystem, it is imperative that you further understand how their roles could affect your business in the short, medium, and long terms. A model created by Paul N. Bloom and J. Gregory Dees2, which I utilized in my book, Social Innovation in Africa, serves as a sound basis for an assessment of key ecosystem stakeholders, with some refinement for the agribusiness and African context:

  • 1. Enablers/Drivers: These are stakeholders who contribute directly to your momentum and success by providing financial, human, technical, and technology support.
  • 2. Beneficiaries: These include the local host community, the input suppliers, the outgrowers, vendors and logistics providers who work with you, as well as customers and clients who purchase the products/ services.
  • 3. Opponents/Critics: These include groups or individuals support movements, initiatives, or products/services that directly frustrate your company’s efforts, growth, and profitability in the short-, medium-, and long-term.
  • 4. Competitors: These are other entrepreneurs or even bigger brands that serve the same markets, utilize the same resources, and/or source their raw materials from the same suppliers.
  • 5. Affected or influential bystanders: These are individuals or organizations that have no direct influence or benefits from the enterprise in the short-term but, over time, could positively or negatively influence the success of the company or could be converted to any of the other categories above.

Depending on your community, focus value chain, and role within the value chain, your operating ecosystem could vary significantly by composition, concentration, and degree of activity of the stakeholders.


Category Enablers Beneficiaries Opponents Competitors Bystanders





Human -



Identifying the key players in your ecosystem is the first step toward navigating the complexity of scaling your enterprise. The map will also provide critical insights into the potential collaboration opportunities for you to explore.

One of your key roles as a leader is to understand how best to navigate, engage, and thrive. You also need to periodically evaluate the landscape to understand the entry points, barriers, and levers required to scale your enterprise. It is also essential to recognize that your ecosystem will keep evolving. As a result, you will need to assess the dynamics every 6 months to understand what has changed and how to adjust, if required.

Engaging your ecosystem

One of the biggest misconceptions that entrepreneurs have is that they can build successful businesses without engaging with other entrepreneurs, community leaders, and the government. In reality, this is impractical in all sectors, especially in Africa’s food and agriculture landscape. There are at least five critical lenses to consider.

The regulatory environment: The regulatory environment of any business ecosystem largely determines the success of the business. This notion was reinforced by Guarav Vijayvargiya of Seba Foods in Zambia, who stated that “policy is the most important part of sustaining a business.”

Your enterprise is only as successful as the policies and regulations allow. According to Peris Bosire, the cofounder of FarmDrive, “if the government declares that only banks can lend money, FarmDrive will have to put a sizable amount of its resources towards paying for a banking license.”

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the critical role that governments and policy environments play in either helping or hurting the growth and profitability of businesses on the African Continent. For entrepreneurs operating in countries such as Morocco, where the food and agriculture sector was identified as essential from the onset of the pandemic, there were minimal disruptions to the ecosystem. In countries with clear local sourcing policies, small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) even thrived during the lockdowns. Sadly, 50% of the SMEs on the hub, operating in countries with severe lock- downs, shut down temporarily, and many were concerned about their abilities to open again.

It is essential that you actively shape the political and regulatory environment in your community, country, and region. The following questions will help you gauge the political and regulatory environment in which you operate. [1] [2]

Taxes and Tariffs

  • • What are the current taxes levied on products and services and products in your country?
  • • Are there tax holidays for specific value chain products or activities?
  • • Are there exemptions from taxes for startups?
  • • Are there products that are banned from exports or imports?
  • • Are there associated export and import duties and quotas on certain products?
  • • What agencies do you need to engage for remittance of taxes and duties and for updates on changes in taxes and levies?


  • • What is the lifespan of the current government at the state and federal level?
  • • What is the allowable compliance period for major policies and regulations?
  • • How will the end of the term of the current local, state, and federal governments affect your business?
  • • What is the validity period for tax exemptions and licenses obtained in your primary country of operations?
  • • What is the process for obtaining permits and licenses to sell products in the food and agriculture landscape?
  • • How frequently do they need to be renewed?

The competitive landscape: Assessing the competitive landscape is critical to understanding the existing and potential initiatives in the landscape that can undermine your commercial activities. According to Stiaan Wandrag of Tiger Brands, the competitive landscape is complex. It is not just between companies operating in South Africa but also includes retailers who import products from China and position them as private labels (with the brand names of the retailers), thereby bullying local manufacturers into lowering their prices.

According to a World Bank Report3 on the conditions for market-based competition, more than 70% of African countries rank in the bottom half globally. Although there are at least 32 competition laws governing countries or regional blocks in Africa, few are vigorously implemented. Other nations that have no laws or processes are stalled at various stages of approval.

One exception is South Africa’s Competition Act, which prohibits monopoly conduct, specifically if the company has at least a 45% market share. Its actions exclude other firms from the market and exercise excessive control over pricing. Violations could result in a penalty of 10% of the company’s annual turnover from the previous financial year.

This law has implicated large companies in recent years, including Tiger Brands, Pioneer Foods, and Sime Darby. According to Tembinkosi Bonakele 4, head of South Africa’s National Competition Commission, “food and agroprocessing is an important focus area for the Competition Commission, and we are determined to root out exploitation of consumers by cartels.”

It is imperative that you assess your competitive landscape every month, examining local and international players in your ecosystem.


  • • Who are your competitors in the ecosystem?
  • • What is their core product/service offering?
  • • What are their competitive advantages compared to your product or service offerings?
  • • What are their limitations compared to your offerings?
  • • What unique advantages can your enterprise leverage to establish and sustain a leadership position in the market?
  • • Will there be an influx of new competitors in the medium- to long-term?
  • • What are the policies regarding competition in your country(ies) of operation?

Geography and infrastructure: Globally, entrepreneurs flourish in ecosystems that offer distinct advantages, including feeder roads, affordable energy, data services, innovation clusters, and other support services. FATE Foundation’s 2019 entrepreneurship report, From Start-Ups to Scale-Ups,5 identified infrastructural deficits and the location or locality of businesses as the third and fourth top inhibitors to the scaling of enterprises in Nigeria.

M-Pesa revolutionized the financial inclusion in Kenya and enabled the emergence of numerous agriculture and food businesses that have leveraged this platform. M-Pesa is an integral part of FarmDrive’s business model, which it utilizes to provide financial products and services to smallholder farmers and agri-SMEs across Kenya.

Given that agricultural production activities are mostly concentrated in the rural areas on the African continent, entrepreneurs who are committed to leapfrogging must assess the landscape thoroughly and determine strategies for filling the infrastructure gaps. [3] [4]


  • • Are there new technologies that can drive the growth of your enterprise? Are they locally available?
  • • What is the cost of this technology? What is the effect of leveraging the

technology on your bottom line?

Professional networks and associations: Professional bodies and industry associations play a critical role in advocating for change in the business environment, disseminating industry information, and creating awareness for the products and services of its members. For example, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) is a nonprofit organization that engages MSMEs in the manufacture, retail, wholesale, and distribution of consumer goods. The CGCSA provides critical regulatory information that helps its members meet basic food hygiene and safety requirements and conducts advocacy projects in the sector. The activities of the CGCSA ensure that the entrepreneurs are retail-ready and help remove the sales and export barriers.

There are a growing number of associations by value chain, stage in the value chain, size of business, and focus of efforts - local, national, regional, international. There are also gender and youth-focused support groups emerging on the continent. As an entrepreneur, you will have to sift through the range of opportunities to engage and weigh the costs, benefits, and time commitments required.


Nourishing Africa is a virtual home for agriculture and food entrepreneurs committed to attracting, empowering, equipping, connecting, and celebrating over 1 million dynamic and innovative entrepreneurs driving the profitable and sustainable growth of the African agriculture and food landscapes. serves as a platform for these stakeholders to scale their businesses, connect, and celebrate their successes on the continent. The portal provides training support, access to funding and data, profiles of African cuisine and chefs, links to talent, and other resources to enable entrepreneurs to scale their businesses.

Some of the services that the hub provides to its members include:

  • • Knowledge platforms with access to training, data, and expert advice.
  • • Access and referrals to funders to scale their agriculture and food businesses.
  • • Marketplace to engage with potential customers, partners, and suppliers.
  • • Discounts on critical agricultural inputs, training programs, conferences, and services.
  • • Exclusive invitations to online and in-person training programs and access to members-only data and resources to build members’ skills.
  • • Nominations for local and global speaking opportunities, media appearances, prizes, and awards.
  • • Free advertising and opportunities to showcase members’ businesses.

In addition to these membership benefits, Nourishing Africa provides additional programs, tools, and resources for nonmembers, including “Ask an Expert,” to fill knowledge gaps, “First Thursdays” to foster networking and community building, and “Business Resilience Toolkits.”

The SUN Business Network is part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. It aims to engage and mobilize businesses at a global and national level to act and invest responsibly in improving nutrition. It provides a range of training programs, fairs, funding initiatives, and policy interventions to support businesses that produce nutritious food across Africa. [5] [6]

  • • What are the significant activities and focus of the associations? Are there membership fees?
  • • What is the strength and composition of the association’s membership?
  • • What are the association’s role in the political and regulatory environment?
  • • What is their track record of integrity and their ability to influence policy?
  • • How relevant are the associations to supporting your vision?

Culture and norms of the society: As an entrepreneur building and scaling a business on the African continent, you must be prepared to contend with cultural, religious, and social norms. As reinforced by the story of AACE Foods in Box 7.2, traditional rulers and community groups play critical leadership roles in communities and serve as champions and key influencers. Similarly, input providers and aggregators typically have to “pay homage” to community or religious leaders before engaging networks of farmers; otherwise, they may meet with immovable roadblocks at every turn.

Be prepared to conduct a rigorous assessment of your host community to understand its leadership dynamics and sensitivities related to religion, gender roles, values and norms, prohibitions, and triggers. Understanding the dynamics in each community and navigating the issues that arise with wisdom, respect, and care are critical for operational success.


In 2012, AACE Foods purchased an old factory in a new location - the Sango Ota Area of Ogun State in Nigeria. A few days into the renovation process, some young men from the community shut down the process and blocked our operations. They claimed that we had not consulted them or obtained prior permission from the community leaders before commencing the renovations. Unsure of how to react, we immediately reached out to our experienced board members, who suggested that we engage the state government. Within 24 hours, we had engaged the commissioner for Industry Trade & Investment, who was extremely responsive and introduced us to the traditional rulers within the community. We immediately visited these traditional rulers to present our company and layout our plans to source from farmers and engage the youth as workers.

Shortly after the intervention, the young men disrupting our operations had dispersed, and they have not visited the factory ever since.

This early incident was very instructive in demonstrating the importance of engaging with critical stakeholders in the ecosystem. Since this incident, AACE Foods has actively participated in annual breakfast business meetings with the governor of Ogun State, maintained cordial relationships with community leaders, and joined industry associations, such as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and the Association of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employers.

Forming strategic and sustainable partnerships

Ultimately, the purpose of mapping out key players in the ecosystem and assessing the entrepreneurial landscape is to establish strategic and sustainable partnerships with key actors in the ecosystem. Armed with the map of industry players and a critical understanding of the landscape, you must work diligently to establish relevant collaborations within and outside the sector. Indeed, this is the only way by which you build your networks, gain more recognition, and shape the ecosystem.

A critical challenge that you need to overcome when attempting to establish partnerships is the significant distrust among actors. This is particularly critical in the agriculture sector, in which the stakeholders are largely fragmented and naturally work in silos. To counter the high levels of distrust and skepticism, invest in building a strong brand name based on integrity in your local community. This will ensure that any background check that a potential collaborator is likely to conduct proves positive.

Determine how to engage with governments at the local, state, federal, and even regional level in some capacity. Governments can serve as your customers in the business-to-government models, addressed in Chapter 2, and provide financial and in-kind support. In addition, they can provide an enabling environment for your business to scale, including introducing appropriate policies and regulations, and providing financing through development banks or grant programs. Similarly, they can use their convening power to attract other partners into a value chain and foster partnerships.

If you are engaged in the provision of inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, and mechanization services, you will sometimes work closely with governments to pilot and scale your initiatives, either as suppliers for subsidy programs or partners, leveraging government extension support. When the government is stable and credible, all parties are happy, and you may be branded as an insider; however, you run the risk of getting sidelined and even destroyed if the government changes. Too often, entrepreneurs are punished by the incoming administration for their strong alliances with the previous government. As a result, you must navigate your relationships with governments carefully and stay neutral during elections.


Africa Improved Foods (AIF) is a joint venture and a public-private partnership aimed at tackling malnutrition in East Africa by producing nutritious, high-quality foods for those who need it most. Established as a joint venture between the government of Rwanda and a consortium of Royal DSM; FMO, the Dutch development bank; DFID Impact Acceleration Facility managed by CDC Group and International Finance Corporation (IFC); and the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, AIF is focused on reducing malnutrition in Africa.

Since its establishment in 2017, with an investment of $60 million from the consortium partners, AIF had exceeded supply targets for the World Food Programme and the government of Rwanda. It has also launched five new commercial products in three countries and is working with 35,000 smallholder farmers in Rwanda.

AIF recognized that to solve malnutrition and stunting in Rwanda, it needed to work closely with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, etc. According to its CEO, Amar Ali, "having the government as the company shareholder ties the knot and works for both of us ... When it comes to the actual running of the business, they don’t get involved. That’s how they would like it, and that’s how we would like it.”

AIF is shaping the ecosystem through partnerships. It is setting strict quality standards (<5ppb aflatoxin) for incoming maize and providing postharvest support to smallholder farmers, which has led farmers and other maize buyers to improve their quality management. It also expects that its postharvest work with farmers in the coming years will reduce total aflatoxin rejections to roughly 10%.

Key ecosystem changes required in the African agriculture and food landscape

Building on the constraints and promising trends shared in Chapter 1, it is imperative that entrepreneurs work with other stakeholders in the public, private, nonprofit, faith-based, and development communities to address the challenges and maximize the opportunities in this ecosystem. While all of the issues that require cross-sector stakeholder collaborations and intervention cannot be fully addressed in detail in this book, a few burning issues that urgently need attention and action are identified below.

Ensuring demand-driven research - Revamping African research institutions: In most countries in the region, agricultural research and development (R&D) remain divorced from the farmers, processors, and consumers who ultimately determine the relevance, level of adoption, and impact of that research. Unfortunately, instead of being guided by the needs of the market, research by the region’s more than 60 dedicated agricultural research institutions in West Africa alone has been influenced by researchers themselves and donor interests. This limits its relevance and curtails data-driven policymaking for agriculture, which relies on a solid base of credible research.

There is an urgent need to bridge this gap between the market, research, and policy. To change course, West African countries could benefit from the experiences of countries that have become net exporters of food such as Australia and Brazil.

In Australia, research priorities are driven by farmers and food processors who themselves help fund that research. For example, the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC)6 is primarily funded by farmers who benefit from the improved seed varieties, market intelligence, and market linkages that are generated. More specifically, Australian wheat farmers willingly pay a levy at the point of exporting improved wheat varieties developed by the AEGIC to serve the particular quality requirements of international customers, including global noodle manufacturers.

Similarly, AgriBio7, a joint initiative of the Australian government, through the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, and La Trobe University is structured as a private-public partnership. It devotes 70% of its activities to address challenges posed by the private sector. In comparison, 30% is focused on regional priorities in plant, animal, and microbial biosciences as well as biosecurity research and diagnostics.

West African research institutions should consider AgriBio and AEGIC’s approaches to private-sector engagement. By introducing export-focused levies linked to innovative research, establishing private-sector advisory boards, private-public partnerships, and challenge funds to drive demand- driven research, they can diversify their funding bases from limited government budgets or aid agencies with set agendas and ensure widespread impact.

Cote D’Ivoire is already moving in this direction. Private producers predominantly fund its National Centre for Agricultural Research (CNRA) through the Interprofessional Fund for Agricultural Research and Advice (FIRCA)8, which allocates at least 75% of the membership fees paid by producers of commodity crops to research serving that commodity. The remaining funds are allocated to a solidarity fund to serve sectors (mostly food crops) unable to raise sufficient funding through their own membership fees.

Second, West African research institutions need to be restructured to ensure that they embrace technology and performance-driven cultures. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) demonstrates the impact that research institutions can make in a country. Since its inception in 1973, Embrapa4 has played a pivotal role in transforming the formerly degraded Cerrado lands into a region that now accounts for nearly half of Brazil’s grain production. Its innovations in livestock have quadrupled the beef and pork supply and increased the chicken supply twenty-twofold, making Brazil one of the largest animal protein exporters globally.

Embrapa’s mandate in 2018, “a technological innovation enterprise focused on generating knowledge and technology for Brazilian agriculture,”10 reveals an organization that has continued to reinvent itself to remain dynamic and relevant to the needs of food producers locally and globally.

This same ethos must drive African agricultural research if it is to meet the unique needs of farmers and agribusiness stakeholders operating across the region and address the severe challenges that they face today and in the future.

Changing entrenched systems with interests protecting the status quo will not be easy. However, political will and a shared vision from governments, development partners, the private sector will ensure this catalytic ecosystem change.

Addressing malnutrition and promoting healthy diets: Research from the Institute for Health Monitoring and Metrics (IHME)11 at the University of Washington links suboptimal diets low in vegetables, nuts, and seafood, or high in processed meats and sugary drinks to a higher risk of disease and disability. Essentially, these diets cause more deaths than any other risk factors in the world, including tobacco smoking.

There are a range of public, private, and nonprofit interventions on the African continent to promote healthier diets and address malnutrition being led by organizations such as the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the SUN Business Network, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Sahel Consulting. However, changes in consumer behavior are not happening fast enough, reinforced by the high rates of stunting for children under the age of S, anemia in women, and rising rates of noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure among the adult population.

Two of the ten critical transitions identified by the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU)12 in Figure 7.2 are rooted in healthy diets characterized by a predominately plant-based diet that includes some “protective foods,” such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and a diversified protein supply as well as reduced consumption of sugar, salt, and highly processed foods. A diversified protein supply includes aquatic, plant-based, insect-based, and laboratory cultured sources. These perspectives are echoed by Prof. Walter Willett13 of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who states that

Growing better

Figure 7.2 Growing better: Ten critical transitions to transform food and land use.

transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.

While promising at face value, the challenge is to ensure the affordability and availability of nutritious food, especially for low-income populations and the most vulnerable. This will require collaborative action from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. For example, as cited by the FOLU report, African private-sector companies will have to reformulate their processed-food offerings to minimize unhealthy ingredients, including sugar. They will have to invest in producing healthier alternatives while leveraging locally sourced produce, including legumes and vegetables.

Governments will have to create incentives for companies and consumers to change behavior, leveraging taxes as incentives or disincentives. They will also have increase research and development spending on alternative protein sources for low-income populations, ensuring the broad-based commercialization of these efforts. In addition, they will need to invest in public infrastructure, including energy, storage, road, and cold chain networks, to enable private-sector efforts to minimize the high rates of postharvest losses of fruits and vegetables and minimize nutrient loss.

Nonprofits, faith-based organizations, the media, and civil society will have to hold the government and private sector accountable to ensure transparent and responsible leadership. In addition, they can play a critical role in raising consumer awareness and empowering communities to make more informed food choices.

Raising standards and eliminating food fraud: According to the United States’ Grocery Manufacturers Association14, food fraud affects approximately 10% of all commercially sold food products and costs the global food industry between $10 billion and $15 billion annually.

Data focused on the African continent is not as readily available, but what exists is alarming. A 2018 study by the Confederation of Tanzania

Industries15 estimates that more than 50% of all goods, including food, drugs, and construction materials, imported into Tanzania are fake. Anecdotal evidence suggests that rates could be between 10% and 50% depending on the food category and the country.

As an agroprocessor and cofounder of Nigeria’s AACE Foods and Sahel Consulting, I have observed first-hand the magnitude of the food fraud crises and how supermarket shelves and open-air market stalls are too often stocked with counterfeit products. In Nigeria, there is milk powder with no animal protein. In Kenya, there is vegetable oil made of recycled oil unfit for human consumption. In Ghana, the palm oil is laced with a food coloring called Sudan IV that is widely recognized as a carcinogen. In Uganda, formalin - an embalming agent - is used to keep meat and fish free from flies and seemingly fresh for days. Across Africa, there are incidences of plastic rice or nothing more than discarded rice chaff, packaged as high-grade rice, and corn powder dyed with Sudan IV, labeled as chili pepper.

Given that most of the counterfeit products in Africa are staples consumed to fulfill daily dietary needs, they are likely contributing to the rising levels of malnutrition and cancer on the continent. When parents living on just dollars a day believe they are buying their children milk, and that milk has no animal protein, the impacts on child development can be devastating. Indeed, there is no way to know to what extent food fraud is contributing to stunting, which affects 34%16 of African children under the age of 5, with life-long impacts on physical and intellectual development.

Several issues are driving the rise of food fraud in Africa. First, the increasing complexity of food systems, ingredients with long supply chains, and varying levels of scrutiny and standards makes it exceedingly difficult to trace the origins of food products. Second, local manufacturers face increased competition from cheaper imports, which often have lower standards for African destinations, and so they may use inferior or even unregulated ingredients in their products to reduce their production costs. Third, weak regulatory standards, systems, and tracking mechanisms create loopholes in which counterfeiters can thrive.

We do not yet know the full economic or health impacts of food fraud. Still, it seems inevitable that, if left unchecked, this trend will exacerbate the nutrition and health challenges facing many countries in Africa. It could derail efforts to build healthy and vibrant local food systems.

Fortunately, some African countries and companies are beginning to take action. Many have signed on to CODEX17 - a World Health Organization/ Food and Agriculture Organization initiative that sets global standards for safe food. South Africa has enforced18 extensive labeling regulations. It has prohibited Sudan I-IV as a food coloring, and regulatory agencies have removed products with this dangerous chemical from shelves. The Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Ghana Food and Drug Authority are likewise raising awareness19 among traders and retailers about the harmful effects of food fraud.

But much more needs to happen. The cost of prevention is much lower than that of inaction, and everyone has a critical role to play. Indeed, only by exercising our collective political will and commitment to the health, food security, and economic development of Africa can we halt food fraud and rebuild the public’s trust in food.

  • • African governments must set high regulatory standards for food content and labeling and track and prevent counterfeitly imported and locally produced food. Like the global war waged against counterfeit drugs, actions against food fraudsters must be bold, swift, and unrelenting.
  • • The African Union should establish a Food Fraud Network, similar to that of the European Union, to detect cross-border fraud and train food inspectors, police, customs officers, and others. The African Regional Economic Communities must sign formal trade agreements with their counterparts in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the Americas focused on food safety and food fraud standards.
  • • The media must create broad-based awareness among citizens and empower them to identify counterfeit foods.
  • • Consumers must remain vigilant, raise alarms once food fraud is detected, and demand better protection by regulatory agencies and the government.
  • • Food manufacturers and agribusinesses, both local and global, must institute and enforce high standards of integrity and accountability. In addition, industry associations must become watchdogs and invest in self-regulation and self-policing to curb bad behavior.

Transforming agribusiness education: The talent gap in the African agriculture and food landscapes is a critical issue that continues to limit the growth of agribusinesses. The outdated curriculum being utilized by agricultural universities, the focus on teaching agriculture as science courses instead of business courses with limited use of technology and innovation, and the lack of practical applications and engagement in internships limits youth participation. For example, only 4.34% of graduates from Nigerian universities study agriculture or agri-related courses, and most of these graduates admit that this was their third or fourth choice.

In addition, the agricultural extension and information delivery system is weak, with a limited knowledge transfer from extension officers to farmers, resulting in a farming workforce that is largely underskilled and struggles to adopt cutting-edge technology. There is an urgent need for the private sector to partner with the Ministries of Education and the universities commissions in our different countries to update the curricula used in agricultural universities to include recent trends, management skills, and practical work experiences in agribusinesses. In addition, private organizations and institutions should support talent development efforts by providing internship and mentorship opportunities for undergraduate students. The government should also create national capacity-building programs for policymakers to empower them with the knowledge and skills to design sustainable policies for talent development in the agriculture and food ecosystem.

Repositioning African food globally: Sparse survey results on global preferences for food, which often excludes food from African countries or gives the entire region the lowest ratings, categorized food from Africa as one type of food instead of the diversity of 54 countries. Sadly, this global perception is seeping into the continent as well, with young Africans opting for fast food from international chains such as KFC, Dominos, and even Krispy Cream, making significant inroads into major African cities.

This means the world is missing out on extraordinarily diverse and tasty cuisine from across Africa, which is highly nutritious. More importantly, it means opportunities to foster greater global awareness about the culture and rich heritage of countries in Africa and promote cross-cultural learning are being limited.

These various findings, coupled with my investment in the transformation of the African agricultural and food landscapes over more than two decades, have led me down an unusual research path to discover how to change the disparity in the global appreciation and acceptance of African food.

Primarily, it will require African entrepreneurs to invest in branding and storytelling, innovation, and partnerships to accelerate broad-based awareness of African food. In addition, African governments must create an enabling environment and foster linkages with diaspora populations to attract the support required to position our food and change mindsets.

The rise of Japanese cuisine on the global stage presents some very compelling lessons for committed stakeholders in key African countries. As is the case with Ethiopian, Senegalese, or Nigerian cuisine today, in the 1960s and 1970s, awareness and appreciation for Japanese food were limited overseas. Then, the Japanese government acted because they recognized the critical role that food played, not only in creating an appreciation for a country and its people and building cultural bridges, but also in generating employment and demand for food from the country, they acted.

In 2003, the Japanese government expanded the scope of the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO)20 to include branding, certification of restaurants and ingredients, and public relations. In addition, through strategic and deliberate interventions by the government, traditional Japanese cuisine was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2012. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare also produced studies showing the health benefits of Japanese food and the links between the cuisine and its life expectancy rates, which, at 85.7 years, is the second highest in the world.

The results of these efforts are very compelling. In 200621, there were approximately 20,000 Japanese restaurants outside Japan. By 2017, this number had increased five-fold to close to 120,000. Beyond the growth in restaurants, today, most leading supermarkets in the United States and the United Kingdom sell sushi. In addition, Japanese food attracts the highest ratings in foreign food preferences. This rapid rise of Japanese food in the global food landscape demonstrates what is possible, through strategic and coordinated efforts from critical stakeholders in the private and public sectors and what can be replicated by Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Senegal, which have unique cuisines across the different ethnic groups and regions with distinct flavors.

Ethiopian cuisine already has a head-start, as there are more than 35022 restaurants in the United States, driven by the immigration trends in the 1980s. Like Japanese food, Ethiopian food is considered extremely healthy. The injera made of teff is gluten-free and high in fiber, calcium, iron, and protein, making it very appealing to the growing global vegetarian and vegan community. This cuisine has the potential to gain widespread acceptance.

The momentum for food from other African countries is also building, with the emergence of celebrity chefs opening high-end restaurants in global cities. For instance, Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam, through his restaurant Teranga in New York City and his company Yolele Foods, is committed to sharing African culture through food and promoting fonio as an attractive substitute to quinoa. Kwame Onwuachi, a second-generation Nigerian-American chef based in Washington DC, was named on the “TIME 100 List.’’ Now is the time to build on this momentum and ensure that varied, healthy, and tasty African dishes are promoted globally.

Indeed, repositioning African food globally will not only increase the demand for food sourced from African farmers and create jobs for Africans locally and internationally, but it will also build more bridges between Africa and the rest of the world, breaking stereotypes and biases and, ultimately, enabling a deeper appreciation of our connections as humans.


Your interactions and involvement in the ecosystem in which you operate largely determine your access to critical resources, including inputs, markets, talent, funding, technology, mentorship, capacity development, data, and the knowledge needed to scale your business. Strategic partnerships expose you to new business opportunities and perspectives, provide new knowledge and technical expertise, and ensure long-term resilience and sustainability. In addition, your ability to shape the policy environment and government responses to the sector, especially the need to ensure an enabling environment for businesses like yours to thrive, is also heavily hinged on your active engagement in the ecosystem.

As you navigate this complex ecosystem, recognize the importance of building partnerships with government agencies, competitors, development partners, research and academic institutions, and industry associations. However, be extremely strategic and disciplined to ensure that this engagement does not detract from the leadership of your own company.


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10 Embrapa. (n.d.) About us [Online]. Available at: en/web/portal/about-us (Accessed: 11 August 2020).

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ods-reduce-global-burden-disease/ (Accessed: 26 August 2020).

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  • [1] WORKSHEET 7.2: ASSESSING YOUR REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT Policies • Does the government prioritize agriculture andfood? • What value chains or agricultural issues arecurrently receiving political attention? • What are the current and future policies thatdirectly or indirectly influence your industry orentreprise? • Are there intellectual property rights protectionpolicies that protect innovations? • Are the policies being implemented?
  • [2] Who are the key actors implementing thepolicies? • Who are the champions and opponents of theexisting and pipeline policies? • Which regulatory agencies govern the food andagriculture landscape?
  • [3] WORKSHEET 7.4: ASSESSING THE GEOGRAPHY AND INFRASTRUCTURE STRUCTURES IN YOUR ECOSYSTEM Telecommunications • Who are the providers of digital,mobile, and broadband communicationtechnologies/services? • What is the cost of using thecommunications technologies for eachof the providers identified above? • What is the penetration of internetservices in the region where youoperate? • How accessible and affordable are dataservices for your suppliers, distributors,and other stakeholders in your valuechain? Energy and Water • What is the current electricity/energy situation in your operatingenvironment? • Are there alternative energy sourceswithin your location? • What is the cost of using alternativesources of energy? • Are there water facilities needed todrive your business and that of yourlocal suppliers? Transport and Logistics
  • [4] What is the state of the feeder roads,airports, seaports, and railways thatlink your inputs to your factory andyour product to markets? • What is the cost of transporting yourinputs, products/services within thecountry and other regions? • Who are the major logistics providersin the industry? Are there required storage facilities foryour products?
  • [6] Are there active professional associationsin the landscape, by value chain, role inthe food ecosystem, geographic focus,gender etc. whose activities align with thefocus of your business?
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