The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) recently launched a new initiative called UniBRAIN (Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation), which aims to improve agricultural research and university-level agribusiness education in Africa. By linking actors from the agribusiness, education and research sectors, the initiative hopes to drive innovation. Its objectives are:
1. To develop and implement collaborative programmes fostering innovation among universities, research institutions and the private sector.
2. To strengthen African agricultural innovation systems, which are expected to deliver the new and improved technologies that are required to improve agricultural productivity.
3. To develop and implement improved and better contextualised undergraduate and postgraduate agribusiness teaching and learning.
4. To facilitate exchange of experiences and sharing of resources and knowledge.
It is pursuing these objectives through the development of UniBRAIN Agribusiness Innovation Incubators, centres that provide training, research and advice to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), both new and existing, as well as business development services. Their value chain approach means they act to support innovation at every step of the agricultural chain from farmers and producer organisations to input suppliers, marketers and processors. Specific services offered include mentoring and training programmes, access to agricultural research, technology packaging and dissemination, advice on customer, product and business model development and networking between businesses.
UniBRAIN aims to address the lack of human and institutional capacity for agricultural innovation across Africa. On the one hand businesses may lack people who can drive innovation while on the other university courses are failing to provide education relevant to industry needs. The UniBRAIN Incubators will contribute to improving tertiary education, making it relevant to the agribusiness sector and demand driven.
The initiative is supported by the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Danida) and is facilitated by seven partners (FARA hosting the secretariat):
- Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA)
- West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD)
- Centre for Coordinating Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa (CCARDESA)
- African Network for Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE)
- Pan African Agribusiness and Agro Industry Consortium (PanAAC)
- Agri-Business Incubator of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ABI-ICRISAT)
UniBRAIN supports six pilot agribusiness innovation incubator consortia (AIIC), which work in different African agricultural value chains:
- The Consortium for Enhancing University Responsiveness to Agribusiness Development (UniBRAIN-CURAD) focuses on plantation cash crops. Specific value chain: coffee
- Afri Banana Products Limited (UniBRAIN-ABP Ltd) focuses on staple food andcash crops. Specific value chain: banana
- The Sorghum Value Chain Development Consortium (UniBRAIN-SVCDC) focuses on smallholder dry land food grains. Specific value chain: sorghum
- The Creating Competitive Livestock Entrepreneurs in Agribusiness (UniBRAIN-CCLEAr) focuses on smallholder livestock. Specific value chain: livestock
- The West African Agribusiness Resource Incubator (UniBRAIN-WAARI) focuses on agro-forestry products. Specific value chains: non-timber forestry products, cereals and fruits
- The Agribusiness Incubation Trust (UniBRAIN-AgBIT) focuses on tropical fruit. Specific value chain: tropical fruit and vegetables
The most recent of these, WAARI, was established in January 2014. One of the main activities of UniBRAIN is to establish an African Agribusiness Incubator Network (AAIN), which will help foster linkages between incubators and help share experiences. As this network expands and grows in strength, the hope is that it will be able to engage in policymaking across the continent and with other centres of innovation across the world.