FAO Regional Office for Africa

Peer-to-peer agribusiness learning exchange between Africa and Ireland

Study tour on building stronger agribusiness incubators and accelerators


5 December 2022, Dublin - A 27-member delegation from six African countries (Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) spent five days in Ireland learning about Irish agribusiness incubation and entrepreneurial systems.  Dr Janet Edeme, Head of Division for Rural Development at the African Union Commission, led the delegation from Africa, with Prof. Alex Ariho, CEO of the African Agribusiness Incubators Network (AAIN), representing the network of African incubators and accelerators.

The learning exchange was carried out under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and African Union Commission (AUC) collaboration on mobilizing support for a project to strengthen the capacities of agribusiness incubators and enterprise support organizations (ESOs) in Africa.  The project is co-designed with regional partners such as AAIN, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and international partners such as Sustainable Food Systems Ireland (SFSI) and Agripreneurship Alliance.

During the learning exchange, participants met with key stakeholders working on agribusiness incubation and enterprise development from the public and private sectors, including the Government of Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), the Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc) Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Food Board (Board Bia).

“The coherence, consistency and continuity of the policies, programmes and investments across the Irish government departments and agencies has created an incredibly supportive environment for both the incubators and entrepreneurs. Every institution we spoke to cross-referenced to the support and collaboration they received from other actors in the ecosystem,” Dr Edeme said.

Participants also visited a number of agribusiness incubators and accelerators, including the Food Hub Drumshanbo and the BIA Innovator Campus in Galway to learn about incubator operations and management in practice.

“The visit to the Food Hub was very inspiring. It is a story of community drive and ownership and resilience that has transformed Drumshanbo as a centre of excellence for food entrepreneurs. Today, the Food Hub contributes to approximately 20 percent of employment in their community,” Prof. Ariho said.

Why Ireland?

The agrifood sector plays a central role in Ireland’s economy and has grown substantially over the past decade. Ireland has one of the strongest entrepreneurial ecosystems in Europe. The agrifood sector accounts for nearly 7 percent of the country’s Gross National Income (GNI), and employs approximately 164,400 people representing 7.1 percent of total employment. Ireland exports almost 90 percent of the food produced in the country and the food and drink sector accounts for approximately 40 percent of all export sales by Irish-owned companies (Source: Ireland’s Food Vision 2030).

The Director of FAO’s South-South and Triangular Cooperation Division (PST), Anping Ye and Dr Edeme held bilateral meetings with the DAFM, DFA and Enterprise Ireland to discuss future collaboration with Ireland on the FAO/AUC initiative on agribusiness incubation in Africa.

“Until the 1970s, the Irish farming sector shared a lot of similarities to those of many developing countries today. The transformation of the Irish economy and its agrifood sector offers many relevant learnings for other countries. FAO is keen on mobilizing their knowledge, expertise and resources to support agrifood systems transformation in Africa,” Anping said.

The road from Kampala to Ireland and beyond

South-South and North-South learning exchanges play a key role in exposure to diverse knowledge, technologies, innovations and good practices that exist within and outside Africa.  The study tour to Ireland is a continuation of a learning journey that started in Kampala in June 2022. The agribusiness incubation workshop in Kampala brought together stakeholders from six African countries (Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) to identify key areas of support for incubators in Africa.

FAO, AUC, AAIN, RUFORUM, Agripreneurship Alliance and SFSI are working closely to co-design the project with the target countries and mobilize resources for this initiative. The proposed project addresses four main areas. Firstly, strengthening the policy and regulatory environment for agribusiness incubators. Secondly, strengthening the professionalization of agribusiness incubators, focusing on building up technical, managerial and operational capacities. Thirdly, facilitating access to finance for incubators. Fourthly, strengthening networking, co