Agri-ProFocus: Making Connections to Foster Farmer Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries

Written by Erica Shelley

Agri-ProFocus Uganda is all about connections. Founded in 2005, the collective is a partnership between Dutch organizations and companies, and those in the developing world.

Today, Agri-ProFocus operates in thirteen different countries: Benin, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and since the past year, Indonesia. In each country, the Agri-ProFocus network is referred to as an Agri-Hub.

The mission of Agri-ProFocus is to foster farmer entrepreneurship and food security by connecting the various players in the agriculture sector: international investors, traders, development agencies, government officials, processors, urban consumers and rural farmers.

“On our own, we can’t reach everywhere. But by working with other organizations, we manage to do more,” said Lucy Twinamasiko, national network facilitator for Agri-ProFocus Uganda.

With the support of its founding Dutch organizations including the Aeres Groep and Agriterra, Agri-ProFocus works on the local level to tackle different issues in the agribusiness sector.

“We partner with local organizations. Our operation strategy is through what we call innovation communities, which are organized by different themes. For example, one of the themes is access to market information,” explained Twinamasiko. “There are seven different themes, and each has an innovation community around it, made up of organizations that deal with that sector. All of the themes have to do with agriculture and agribusiness.”

One of the strategies Agri-ProFocus uses to bring different people in the agriculture sector together is regional marketplace events. In 2013, there were three regional marketplace events held in Uganda: one in the north (Lira district), one in the west (Kabarole district) and one in the east (Mbale district).

“We bring people together in one place. There are discussions that are structured to address issues farmers are raising. We also have what we call ‘speed dating sessions’ where interactions between farmers and financial institutions are enhanced with support from a facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to interpret what the bank is saying to the farmers in the easiest language, so that the farmers can get financial support and build their confidence,” Twinamasiko said.

The events create opportunities for farmers and other players in the sector to exhibit and sell, investors to buy, and all parties to exchange information.

“Events create many links: farmers to farmers, farmers to businesses, farmers to banks,” Twinamasiko added.

Alongside these events, one of the most exciting spaces for dialogue that the organization provides is an online forum. The site has various discussions, business directories, a Q&A section, and a marketplace where members can buy and sell.

“Each Agri-Hub has its own online platform. In Uganda, our online platform has over 2,400 members. Most members are Ugandans, but some of them are from elsewhere looking for business linkages,” Twinamasiko explained.

The Uganda platform, launched in 2009, is a space for people to dialogue, give feedback and share resources. Registration is free, and members include agri-business owners, government officials, policy-makers, teachers, investors, and farmers.

Although there is no cost involved, Agri-Hub does carefully filter all registrations before membership is granted and members are advised to subscribe to the code of conduct before they are approved.

“Our job is to moderate the discussions,” said Twinamasiko. “We make sure that we have relevant and appropriate information on the platform.”