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OPINION: Covid-19 has Exposed Private Sector Investment Opportunities in Agribusiness



By Nathan Were

The Covid-19 pandemic has destroyed livelihoods and scattered millions of jobs around the world. The International Labor Organization estimates that nearly 1.6 billion people’s livelihoods are now threatened with the greatest impact being felt by those in the informal sector.

However, the pandemic has also brought to the fore numerous opportunities in agribusiness that the private sector – which has long argued that they’re no profitable opportunities in agriculture – can now harness.

Investment in cold chain solutions

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that about 40pc of the food in the sub-Saharan Africa perishes before it reaches the consumer.

In Uganda, there’s a growing production of fruits and vegetables but most of it is going to waste due to the absence of storage facilities.  Due to a lack of cold chain solutions in Uganda, most crops are only seasonally available with price variations between peak harvest and low season reaching up to 400pc.

Investment in cold storage will require temperature-controlled cold storage warehouses and transportation services for which affordable long-term debt financing and private equity will be critical for those without ready capital.

Investment in marketplace applications

The pandemic has eroded the traditional marketing systems and it may take years before we return to the practices, we have all been accustomed to.

However, farmers and buyers need to quickly connect for trading to happen. This is what is going to drive the popularity of marketplace applications. Market place platforms are going to slowly replace the traditional market systems and we could see many digitally literate young farmers adopting and using them.

A Consultative Group to Assist the Poor Survey in 2016, indicated that about 5pc of smallholder farmers in Uganda have a smart-phone and this number has been growing with young farmers that are tech-savvy joining the sector.

This could be a good place to start as we think about low hanging fruits that will drive adoption and use of these platforms.

Investment in distribution

During the lock-down, boda-boda and small cargo trucks have helped many people access supplies including foodstuffs.

Even though these have played a great role, they remain informal, disorganized, and less professional. There’s a great opportunity in building distribution leveraging the already existing infrastructure of boda bodas.

Although companies like safe boda and uber have invested heavily in this area, there’s still a huge opportunity especially outside of Kampala.

Urban farming

The lockdown disrupted movements and cut off supply chains for fresh vegetables and fruits among other products. Many people turned their backyards into gardens for leafy vegetables and fruits to meet the growing demand in the urban and peri-urban areas.

With cities expanding and population growing, urban gardens are going to become more popular.

Investment in this area will require customized greenhouses to fit in small urban garden spaces, bundled seeds, and crop protection products for small urban gardens and sophisticated technologies to help urban farmers optimize space and grow more foodstuffs including on the ground and in space.

Sorting and cleaning solutions

At the height of the lock-down, the government distributed food to urban families especially in Kampala. However, there was a lot of outcry from the public over ‘dirty’ and poorly sorted beans. This did not only start with the pandemic but for many years most foodstuffs such as beans, maize, rice have been poorly sorted.

In fact, in a Kilogram of beans, you buy in a retail shop, about 3-5% will be stones and sand partly due to poor post-harvest handling.

Investment in this area will require services that enable agri-business traders to clean produce, sort, and package. Even for smallholder farmers, these services can be offered at an aggregate level.

The Agricultural sector is full of opportunities throughout the value chain of various enterprises, private sector players need to be strategic is spotting and harnessing these opportunities.

Nathan Were is access to finance Specialist at the World Bank Group


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Opposition sidelined as Benin votes in presidential election | Elections News




With most rivals in exile or sidelined, Benin’s President Patrice Talon looks set to win a second term in office.

Voters in Benin are set to cast their ballots in a presidential election on Sunday, days after deadly protests against President Patrice Talon, who is heavily favoured to win a second term.

Talon, a cotton magnate first elected in 2016, faces off against two little-known rivals, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.

Opponents accuse the 62-year-old Talon of undermining Benin’s vibrant multi-party democracy by sidelining most of his main opponents.

Protests in several cities last week turned violent. At least two people died in the central city of Save when troops on Thursday fired tear gas and live rounds to break up protesters who had blocked a major highway. Five others were wounded.

In the commercial capital Cotonou, several people said they feared violence on election day.

“The events of these last days scare me,” said Christophe Dossou, a student. “I prefer to remain cautious.”

Benin’s President Patrice Talon denies targeting his opponents [File: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Among the protesters’ complaints are Talon’s U-turn on a pledge he made as a candidate in 2016 to serve only one term, and changes he pushed through to election laws that he said were aimed at streamlining unwieldy government institutions. In practice, those reforms resulted in total control of parliament by Talon’s supporters and the exclusion of leading opponents from the presidential race.

One opposition leader Reckya Madougou was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the election, a charge her lawyer says is fabricated.

A judge from a special economic crimes court created by Talon also fled the country last week after denouncing political pressure to make rulings against the president’s critics, including the decision to detain Madougou.

Meanwhile, businessman Sebastien Ajavon, who came third in the 2016 presidential poll, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while another potential rival, ex-finance minister Komi Koutche, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. Ajavon lives in exile in France, while Koutche lives in Washington, DC.

Talon denies targeting his opponents.

He has campaigned on his economic record, which includes improvements to key infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies.

Soldiers stand in line to block supporters of the incumbent president during an electoral campaign rally at Abomey-Calavi, on April 9, 2021 [Pius Utomi Ekpei/ AFP]

Benin, a country of about 12 million people, became Africa’s top cotton exporter in 2018 and recorded average annual gross domestic product growth of over 5 percent before the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we did was not easy,” Talon said at one of his final campaign rallies on Friday. “We are strong and we know how to get it done.”

He said he expects a “knock-out victory” for which there would be no need for a runoff vote.

The United States, German, French and Dutch embassies as well as the European Union delegation in Benin all called on Friday for calm and for the vote to go ahead in a free and transparent manner.

“We urge all parties to express their perspectives peacefully,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We urge the electoral institutions and courts overseeing these processes and verifying these results to ensure these elections are conducted freely, fairly, and transparently.”

Results are expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday.

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Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort




Government of Southern Sudan has agreed to provide full military security and safety to all road users including Ugandan cargo truck drivers plying Juba – Nimule highway starting this week.

This was reached during a meeting between South Sudan government and Ugandan authorities on Friday at Elegu One-stop Border point in Amuru district, Northern Uganda.

High level security officials from both countries met to deliberate on the deteriorating security along major highways in South Sudan in which eight Ugandan truck drivers have been shot dead by armed men in the past weeks.

The Sudanese high-level delegation was led by the country’s Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Johnson Juma, Inspector General of Police, Gen. Majak Akech, and Director-General of Internal Security, Gen. Akol Khor.

The Deputy Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority, Hon. Africano Mande was also present and four East African Ambassadors.

On the other side, Uganda’s delegation was led by Police Operations Director AIGP Edward Ochom, Director Crime Intelligence Col. Damulira among others high ranking officers.

“We have successively concluded our two days meetings with Ugandan authorities including the drivers who later agreed to resume the normal operation,” said South Sudan authorities.

“And as government, we assure them of full security on the major highways in the Republic of South Sudan and removal of the illegal road blocks and check-points for easy movement of trucks to Juba and others towns within the country.”

Last week, truck drivers from across the East African region protested the increasing insecurity in South Sudan, illegal taxes and also demanded for compensation of their deceased colleagues.

They parked their trucks at Elegu border and demanded for both governments to intervene before the situation deteriorates further.

In regards to compensation, Sudanese authorities agreed to pay for the victims but said that the process will be discussed through the foreign ministries of the two countries.

Although traders had also requested Ugandan authorities and in this case the UPDF to escort their goods to South Sudan, Lt.Col Deo Akiki said that “this can’t be a decision of UPDF. South Sudan is a sovereign State, therefore anything done on its territory at the moment has to be a bilateral matter beyond the two forces. It’s a government to government affair.”

ChimpReports understands that some trucks on Saturday left Elegu border for Juba under full security escort.

The post Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort first appeared on ChimpReports.

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21 workers trapped in flooded mine in China’s Xinjiang | China News




CCTV says rescuers have located 12 of the 21 trapped miners.

Eight miners have been rescued and 21 remain trapped in a coal mine in China’s Xinjiang region after flooding cut power underground and disrupted communications, according to state media.

The accident happened in Fengyuan coal mine in Hutubi County on Saturday evening, when staff were upgrading the site, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Rescuers had located 12 of the 21 trapped miners, broadcaster CCTV said, but it was unclear if they were all together.

Rescue personnel were trying to pump water from the flooded shaft and have been piping air into the mine.

Pipes were being laid but the pumping operation was going to be challenging, CCTV said.

Mining accidents are common in China, where the industry has a poor safety record and enforcement of regulations is often lax.

In January, 22 workers were trapped in a mine in east China’s Shandong province after an explosion damaged the entrance, leaving workers stuck underground for about two weeks.

Eleven men were pulled out alive, 10 died and one miner remained unaccounted for.

In December, 23 miners died after being trapped underground in the southwest city of Chongqing – just months after 16 others died from carbon monoxide poisoning at another coal mine in the city.

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