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HomeInterview"Tunisian agri-tech as a vector of South-South development

“Tunisian agri-tech as a vector of South-South development

The “Agri-tech Tunisia” project promotes the slogan “Together for a winning Africa” by supporting a South-South development through the internationalization of Tunisian high-tech startups that meet the needs of farmers in West Africa.

This win-win sub-regional integration project allows the Tunisian side, now established in the agri-tech sector, to make available to agricultural stakeholders its innovative and adapted solutions to face the problems of production, resilience to climate change, or sanitary standards and traceability to international markets. Senegal will be the first stop in the West African journey of “Agri-tech Tunisia”.

Walid Gaddas, project leader and CEO of STECIA International, talks about the potential of this win-win partnership. The “Agri-Tech Tunisia” project is supported by the Innov’i program, which is funded by the European Union and implemented by Expertise France.

A.M. – Agri-tech is a niche of innovation and represents a future sector for the African continent. Tell us about the strategic contribution of this project.

W.G – Indeed, in this field the watchwords are “innovation”, “future” and “strategic”. Therefore, if I had to summarize in 3 essential components, I would say first that Tunisia, country of the “Start-up Act” where the entrepreneurial ecosystem is abundant, is a source of high quality agri-tech solutions and a partner country for a winning Africa in this perspective of South-South development. It is in this context that the internationalization of Tunisian innovations to meet the needs of African farmers and businesses in the field of agriculture in general, represents a constructive and complementary collaboration. On the one hand, start-ups export their know-how and adapted technological solutions, and on the other hand, West African producers improve their competitiveness on the local and international markets by increasing their production and improving the quality of their products, while reducing their costs and preserving natural resources.

The second essential contribution of this project is Tunisia’s positioning in this sector which is considered strategic according to various studies of the FAO [1] or the OECD [2]. Take for example the latest report of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on “The future of agriculture in Senegal: 2030-2063”, since it is the first country targeted by our project. In this country, where the population will double by 2050 and quadruple by 2100, one of the main challenges for agriculture is the almost-linear growth of the population’s need for agricultural products, while the agricultural land is not expandable. This means that if agricultural yields remain at their current level, production will no longer be able to meet needs. It is therefore necessary, according to the report, to increase investment in the agricultural sector (development, infrastructure, research, advice and training, and especially to develop technological innovations). We find this pattern in almost every country on the continent.

Finally, if we position ourselves at a more macro level, not only does the “Agri-Tech Tunisia” project meet the needs of food security, or adaptation to climate change with innovative solutions, and I stress, not necessarily expensive, but it also fits perfectly into a perspective of contribution to economic growth whether national, or sub-regional initially. On the Tunisian side, the point is essentially to create jobs with very high added value for a young population that has an excellent level of education and is very dynamic. We are, of course, talking about strategic issues for Tunisia by offering a development space for these young people who will no longer seek to flee the national territory given the accessibility of markets and therefore the opportunities for emancipation and professional sustainability.

If we remain with the example of Senegal, boosting production will contribute to a dynamic trade, from Tunisia to Senegal but also from Senegal to its neighboring countries in West Africa and North, Europe, the Americas and so on. The growth phenomenon can only follow with a “win-win” approach.

A.M. – Projects designed to support the entrepreneurial environment are now numerous in Tunisia. How will you proceed, what makes you stand out?

W.G. – In the agricultural sector, we talk about the entire value chain “from farm to fork”, the project “Agri-Tech Tunisia” follows the same principle “from solution to contract”. We propose a concrete result for an effective impact with the signing of a contract at the end of the process. One of our indicators of results with our partners but also according to our own standards, is the number of contracts signed, and not just the number of meetings made.

Therefore, from the moment a Tunisian start-up has developed an innovative solution that is already operational and marketable, we support it, in terms of training and coaching, and put it in contact with potential partners and then accompany it until the signing of the sales contract as part of the export market of its solution. 

But to reach the contract, there is a lot of work that is done upstream in the project, both on the Tunisian and Senegalese sides. We are currently in the middle of a registration campaign for Tunisian start-ups, which will run until July 28. At the same time, we have begun to develop a study of the Senegalese agri-tech market, to help us make an informed selection of the future 5 beneficiaries most likely to meet the needs of farmers in Senegal. Of course, this study will also serve as a source of information for start-ups so that they can be more aware of local constraints, expectations to consider and necessary adaptations to integrate into their high-tech offerings.

Beyond the study, and in the second phase of the project, we collaborate with Senegalese partners, through a vast communication campaign, to identify a hundred agricultural and agribusiness companies, of which forty will be selected, based on their interest in acquiring Tunisian solutions.  To conclude, the third phase of the project consists of a major event to be held in Dakar, March 22, 2022. We will travel there with our start-ups for targeted B2B and B2C meetings and to seal partnerships between institutions and commercial agreements between different economic actors.

A.M. – You start with Senegal, with clear advantages of political stability, economic growth with a particular interest in the development of the agricultural sector, not to mention the closeness by air or the common use of the French language. What about other countries in the sub-region and beyond?

This is true indeed for this start in Senegal. And I would like to add that beyond the figures, we have privileged relations with the country of Senghor since the time of Bourguiba. Moreover, another reason for our commitment to our Senegalese friends is the reputation of Tunisia and the common appreciation between the peoples of our two nations. Therefore, for all these good reasons, we intend to integrate the West African market starting with Senegal, then an expansion of our activities to French-speaking countries and then English-speaking. In this sense, we have launched a small survey on our LinkedIn page to ask our target audience which countries would interest them the most for their internationalization. In the meantime, we are also listening and actively engaging in partnerships that would expand the geographic development potential of the project.

But going back to the studies of the agricultural sector for our continent, we see, according to the FAO for example, that the increase in the African population will reach 2 billion people by 2050. To feed this population, food production will have to increase by 70%. The digitalization of agriculture through agri-tech is one of the most effective solutions to meet this challenge. Many African governments are developing strategies to expand the use of these technologies, with the support of international donors. It is therefore the right time for Tunisian start-ups to position themselves on these booming markets.

Agri-tech is certainly a niche, but it has a very strong potential for development to boost growth at the continental level. According to the latest joint study by the FAO and the OECD on “Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029” for sub-Saharan Africa, an improvement in intra-regional trade is crucial, particularly with the entry into force of the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area). Tariffs will be reduced to 0 for 97% of products originating in the signatory countries by 2030 and according to estimates by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, this agreement will increase intra-African trade in the agri-food and agriculture sector by 20 to 35%, or an equivalent of USD 10 to 17 billion. “Agri-Tech Tunisia” is a project that is totally in line with the present and future needs of the continent and can be adapted to the specific needs of different contexts.

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