Trade fairs in the time of Covid-19: building connections between agribusinesses in East Africa and India

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  • Since 2015, SITA has been working to connect the East African Agri sector with India and other countries – in order to maximize its profitability.
  • Since the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional ways of connecting agribusinesses have not been possible; to bridge the gap, SITA hosted AgriConnect 2021, a virtual trade fair for buyers and sellers from different points in the agro-processing value chain in East Africa and India.
  • AgriConnect was an opportunity for agribusinesses across the value chain to meet, connect and transact deals; the virtual trade fair also sought to develop knowledge and understanding on good farm practices and farming technology, hosting five thematic seminars on technologies and good agricultural practices.

We all know that fruit and vegetables are grown in a field, and that our meat comes from farmed animals, but sometimes we forget that many other products on our shelves today are made from raw materials derived from the agricultural sector. To maximize the profitability of all these supply chains, the whole sector needs to be better connected with export markets in India and elsewhere; SITA has been working on this objective since 2015.

In a plot twist, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a shock and a hindrance to traditional ways of connecting businesses: trade shows, B2B fairs, and in-person field visits have not been possible, added to which companies have had less capacity to allocate towards networking or seeking out new suppliers and technologies. To bridge this gap, SITA invited buyers and sellers from different points in the agro-processing value chain in East Africa and India to AgriConnect 2021 – a virtual trade fair.

Held from 23 to 25 March 2021, AgriConnect sought to promote India-East Africa trade, and advocated for technology upgradation and good agricultural practices; it was co-organised with SITA’s long-term partner, the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO). In terms of trade promotion, East African suppliers showcased themselves to buyers from India; plus, AgriConnect directly linked East African agribusinesses with Indian suppliers of innovative farming machinery that can help with more efficient farming.   In terms of advocacy, the event also sought to develop knowledge and understanding across key themes, with five technical seminars covering various aspects of the advances in farming technology and infrastructure.

Promoting trade

Companies engaged in land preparation, cropping, harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing and packaging presented their businesses and showcased their products and gain general exposure to market opportunities. Most of all, companies along the value chain connected through virtual B2B meetings to build their client base and transact deals. In particular, there was the opportunity for Indian farm machinery suppliers to pitch to African agricultural businesses, and for African agribusinesses to pitch to Indian agroprocessors. SITA provided a match-making service, to help companies connect based on their potentially synergistic business interests..

AgriConnect welcomed 223 active participants – 135 from Africa and 88 from India. 53 of them had their own virtual exhibitor booths, which other stakeholders could freely visit. The companies represented all sectors in the agribusiness value chain. Of the East African participants, 34% were women.

Advocacy and education

SITA also organized thematic seminars on technologies and good agricultural practices.  The overarching takeaway was that East African farmers must look towards mechanization to improve farm productivity and minimize crop loss. Participants learnt that affordable farm machinery, well suited to the challenges of East Africa’s agri sector, is available from Indian producers, such as CropIn, Sharp Garuda and Escorts. All these technical sessions were recorded and can be watched via their respective hyperlinks below.

Other than the opening ceremony, technical sessions were held to upskill delegates on:

  • transfer pricing and licensing
  • farming solutions
  • machinery and technology for efficient agriculture
  • modern farming with implements, and
  • technology and good agricultural practices.

Why Agri, why technology, why India?

SITA has a presence in five East African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, countries where agriculture employs a huge percentage of the workforce. Agricultural exports also constitute a significant share of most of these countries’ trade in goods. Therefore, supporting the Agri sector to be more competitive is crucial to improving livelihoods (SDG8), increasing household incomes and generally contributing to sustainable economic development. For this reason, SITA identified Agri as a priority sector.

East African agribusinesses are hindered by the same challenges faced by India in recent decades: a large section of the population is engaged in agricultural activities, but their corresponding share in GDP is low; productivity is low; and many agribusiness lackthe market knowledge needed to be business-savvy.  Most of all, uptake of technology is low; and, as India’s experience shows, increasing uptake is key to making agriculture more productive and efficient.

In response to these challenges, India’s agri sector developed many technological solutions, designed with a typical smallholder farmer in mind. SITA has identified Indian technological solutions as a good match for today’s East African agribusiness, especially since they are affordable. As such, SITA works to create mutually beneficial links between East African agriculturalists and Indian producers of agricultural machinery – East African farmers benefit from technology upgradation, whilst the Indian companies gain access to a new market.

The India-Africa synergies do not end there. To develop the East African sector, SITA also supports agribusinesses to move up the value chain: most farmers grow their crop, harvest the product and immediately sell the goods to an agro-processor; with the right support, these farmers can instead start doing some of the processing themselves, and can fetch a higher price for the processed goods.  Through buyback arrangements, Indian agro-processing companies are well-placed as buyers; they can cushion the risk for smallholder farmers, whilst getting access to a reliably supply of quality goods themselves.

Source: data.worldbank.org, Employment in agriculture (% of total employment) (modeled ILO estimate) – Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya

Looking ahead

As one of the ‘biggest’ sources of employment and GDP, a competitive, resilient and sustainable Agri and Agriprocessing sector is also key to reducing East Africa’s increasing youth unemployment:  If productivity and export potential are not developed, it will be difficult for it to attract East African Youth to the sector, putting more migratory pressures on low productivity urban economies. Moreover, as a significant portion of East Africa’s youth is already engaged in agriculture, increasing farm productivity is the best way for them to escape poverty. Therefore, East Africa will reap the benefits of such a sector for many years to come, as well as contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals in a direct way today. 

ENDS

Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.