AfricaLive talks to Walid Gaddas, Managing Director of STECIA International, a Tunisian based agribusines consultancy involved in multistakeholder partnerships across the African continent. STECIA International specialises in the analysis and development of agri-food value chains
Mr Gaddas highlights the need to drive value addition on the continent; “We work in partnership with a West African country that exports 95 per cent of its cashew nuts to India and Vietnam. Those two countries process and resell the cashews to other countries in the world.”
And the importance of multistakeholder partnerships to foster African agropreneurship; “We aim to go on and create a new generation of entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector. Our entrepreneurship endeavour is being done in conjunction with a university in Dakar, Senegal.”
One thing is clear from this discussion; pan-African partnerships to drive entrepreneurship and value addition across the continent are key to a sustainable future for African agriculture.
AfricaLive: What was the inspiration for starting STECIA International and what role do you play within the African agricultural sector?
Walid Gaddas: We are a consultancy firm that specialises in the agri-food value chain development. STECIA is involved from the input stage of the value chain to the farming, processing and the market access stage. We work in many value chains such as the fruit, vegetable, rice and essential oils value chain. Market access is one of the areas we focus on extensively to improve output as well as learning and implementing new farming techniques. Implementation of international quality standards and quality control are also vital for us to ensure we provide only the best for our growing population. Two years ago we started an entrepreneurship arm of our company upon the realisation that the youth will be a big part of the country’s agricultural agenda.
We aim to go on and create a new generation of entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector. Our entrepreneurship endeavour is being done in conjunction with a university in Dakar, Senegal (CESAG). It is a regional university that serves eight countries under the banner of the Economic and Monetary Union for West Africa. The university provides expertise as well as knowledge capital in management and finance to the students. We, on the other hand, work with our partners to fund activities that have to do with coaching and mentoring our first cohort of 40 entrepreneurs.
AfricaLive: What is your plan going forward for the company and what partners are you trying to bring on board?
Walid Gaddas: We have built partnerships extensively in different countries and are working to develop new ones. It is also important for us to keep developing our entrepreneurship programme. We are looking to develop partnerships with more African universities so that we can improve the programme progressively. Contact has been established with a few universities and they are all upbeat about the idea.
AfricaLive: Aside from your entrepreneurship efforts, what other projects are you undertaking at the moment?
Walid Gaddas: Our main partners are the major international donors such as the World Bank, The African Development Bank and the European Union. We also, however, do work with the private sector extensively. With the new African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, we see new opportunities coming through and more engagements with both the public and private sector.
There will be studies done to assess the impact of the free trade area as well as efforts to make the private sector comply with market requirements. A company that was working exclusively in the Senegalese market, for instance, will have to adapt if they are to enter the Tanzanian market for instance.
AfricaLive: What challenges do you foresee in your sector as we go into the post-free trade agreement future?
Walid Gaddas: I foresee challenges in power supply that can negatively impact the production of processed food. African countries trade in fresh fruit and vegetables primarily, and a lot of food perishes during transit, so we need to improve our manufacturing capabilities, to add value to the food, and increase our earning potential through exportation. We work in partnership with a West African country that exports 95 per cent of its cashew nuts to India and Vietnam. Those two countries process and resell the cashews to other countries in the world. Our studies have shown that there is a very steady market for cashew kernels even in the countries where the raw materials come from. If we industrialise, therefore, we will be able to close in on this market and keep the money in the country.
AfricaLive: Do you believe Africa will soon see increased industrialisation that will enable value addition and beneficiation of local produce?
Walid Gaddas: I am sure it will happen soon just out of necessity. The market here is ready; we just need to work on policy. Once we have common-sense policies in place, we will start to see a boom in industrialisation. There are some initiatives in place to help see to it that the continent achieves its objectives. One of the initiatives is known as High 5 which is a program that puts industrialisation at the core of its message. The African Development Bank is doing great work to help fund and facilitate this initiative. If we can increase our manufacturing capabilities during these times of the free trade agreement, we will see a boom in exports within the continent.
AfricaLive: As we have discussions about industrialisation and manufacturing, we must talk about sustainability. What are your plans when it comes to environmental preservation as well as fair trade?
Walid Gaddas: Creating the right policies comes in handy here yet again. We must encourage the creation of cooperatives that will ensure fair trade practises are in place. Fairtrade practises make things fair for everyone and increase the wealth of the farmers. When it comes to sustainability, we have to think about the coming generations and do our best to protect our soil and our water resources. We can do this by using good agricultural practices and reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible by developing a smart agriculture integrating agritech.
AfricaLive: What are some of the interesting innovations you are bringing to the industry at this point and time?
Walid Gaddas: Our brand of entrepreneurship integrates sustainability. We want the new generation of entrepreneurs to be thinking about the market, the technological aspect and the environmental aspects.
We are encouraging students from several fields such as marketing, finance, and other fields to come and participate in our programme. Our programme pushes the students to explore not only agriculture but also food processing. Foodtech innovations can be explored on the food processing projects.
AfricaLive: If you were to bring all the Tunisian stakeholders together in a roundtable, what issue would you urge them to unite and stand behind?
Walid Gaddas: I would bring up the need to support the youth. On the continent, we have ten to twelve million young people that come to the job market every year. Jobs have to be created for these people so that they become useful to their country. We have to believe in our youth and put special attention into developing special programmes for them.
AfricaLive: As you go on with your outreach at STECIA International, what jurisdictions interest you at the moment?
Walid Gaddas: We are looking at spreading our wings throughout Africa, as well as looking at places like Rome, Geneva, Vienna, and Washington where the headquarters of big international donors are located. We have the expertise to solve problems faced by the agricultural sector in Africa and we could use the help of big partners to alleviate poverty and suffering.
AfricaLive: How do you choose partners to work with when it comes to developing new technologies?
Walid Gaddas: We are good at monitoring what is happening and what is working for other people. Our eyes are fixed on not just Africa but also the US, India and other places. We use the Agritech-Tunisia platform on social media to showcase our country’s efforts towards improving the agricultural scene.