Seed Money Projects for innovation by agrofood sector companies
Inspirational cases from the Dutch agrofood sector were recently presented in a meeting at Wageningen campus, co-hosted by the Dutch TopSectors Agri & Food respectively Horticulture & Starting Materials. It concerned the 15 Seed Money Projects (SMPs) assigned by these TopSectors in 2018, through which Small and Medium-sized Enterprises from the agri and food sector are supported to form an international innovative partnership with a view to solving an international problem or exploiting opportunities. This article summarizes the presentations and discussions about four projects carried out in Africa.
Highlights from the general discussion about the Africa based SMP projects
- The expectation of the Seed Money Projects is that these generate the basis for further partnerships to develop a business, and that in the next phases more investment and a bigger scale can be achieved. Have these projects moved from the seed money phase to a next phase of more serious exploration or investment? The project Insects of Africa has developed a second step, i.e. an additional research about the substrate for insect production. The fuel briquettes project in Ethiopia generated clear leads for further work. The other two projects did not generate plans for next steps yet. The suggestion was to use this meeting to present to the SMEs instruments and support available for the next step.
- When developing new markets, the medium-sized business is an important category to work with.
- Ideas for innovative solutions need to be discussed with local stakeholders in an early stage. It is important to collaborate with Dutch stakeholders who know a country or region well, to start with, e.g. WUR for the East Africa livestock sector.
- Based on the experiences with SMPs in Africa it seems offering Dutch knowledge has currently a more promising business model than selling hardware. A participant: “You need a platform to bring Dutch and local knowledge together”. Participants confirmed it would be good to share the outcomes and lessons from these SMPs widely and have conversations with others about what helps bringing projects to next phase; existing platforms may be used for that (see bottom of this page).
- Several projects work with students from universities or higher education. Working with the Borderless network is also a good opportunity to take projects to the next stage.
Presentations of four SMPs in Africa
Insects of Africa: Developing business opportunities for insects in animal feed in East Africa
Presentation by Adriaan Vernooij (WUR); for more information see the WUR project page.
In this project, WUR collaborated with ICIPE in Kenya, the world’s leading insect science institute, involved in research as well as in small-scale initiatives. In addition, they worked with a medium-sized insect producing company, as well as with the Kenyan poultry industry (Kenchic) which provided chicken manure as basic ingredient for insect production. The feasibility of developing the insect-based animal feed sector in East Africa was explored. It was clear that the need for Kenya to look for alternative feed options is higher than in Tanzania and Uganda, given the limited national feed production growth in Kenya. Various opportunities were seen, e.g. the company Lathyflora tests the use of insects to combat pests and diseases in horticulture, while the flower production residues could be used as production material for insects. The latter links to a key knowledge question identified in this project: what agricultural residue materials are most appropriate as a basis for insect production?
The project is planning to continue, as there is a clear interest to further explore the potential of insects as ingredient for animal feed including from Dutch companies active in Kenya, such as Nutreco. The plan is to use existing technology, build capacity in Kenya gradually and thereafter scale. The most prominent challenge is the need for a steady supply. Currently, the experience is still limited, and there is a lack of knowledge about the management of insect production, the type of substrate, and the type of insects.
The consortium sees investment opportunities at various scales, as the insect production sector includes small-, medium-, and large-scale companies. From the Dutch viewpoint, a leap forward in East Africa would be to focus on medium-sized companies. This is where the consortium intends to continue its work. Bigger companies such as Protix are more interested in cases with larger scale investment opportunities.
Fish feeding demo trials to strengthen aquaculture sector in Benin
Presentation by Roel Bosma (WUR) & Peter Meijer (Spark); for more information see the WUR project page.
In this project, a new approach to feeding fish was tested by tilapia fish farmers in Benin. The so-called Feed calculator was expanded with a Tilapia module and used to optimize the composition of self-mixed fish feed. The Wageningen expertise was used to compare fish production results of commercial feed and self-mixed Feed calculator recipe feed.
It took some time to motivate local farmers to use this app, and local dealers and voucher cards were key in this. Challenges in the test phase were partly of a very practical nature, e.g. predator birds eating the fish in the ponds, coating the self-mixed feed for floating quality and how to monitor results. The test results were not yet available at the time of the debriefing. Partly these challenges were more institutional: how to foster local fish feed production? The project generated more insight into key success factors in local fish feeding: having the right feed mixing machines and using those properly; and checking the quality of ingredients used for feed mixing.
Fuel briquettes from rose residue in Ethiopia
Presentation by Wolter Elbersen (WUR FBR)
In this project, the transformation of waste material from rose production and from some other crops into fuel briquettes was tested by a consortium including Soil & More Ethiopia, HAS Den Bosch, and WUR Food & Biobased Research. They explored the use of for example rose, bamboo, sawdust, bagasse and coffee waste material. The potential has certainly been confirmed by the pilot: the technology to produce briquettes is not too complex, though some innovations are needed to prevent air pollution during production of charcoal-based briquettes. And there is a clear consumer demand for briquettes, as these are used for cooking as alternative to fuelwood. For consumers the size of the briquettes is an important factor. In addition, using briquettes instead of fuelwood has a positive impact on climate and the environment (air quality).
The project faced difficulties when they were no longer allowed to access the plot on which the rose residues would have been tested, and had to do the tests in the Netherlands.
For further work on this business opportunity, possible new cooperation partners are from the floriculture sector, the medium-sized charcoal producers, as well as charcoal producers situated near refugee camps. For cooperation partners from the floriculture sector, selling their waste material for briquette production can be profitable, also as alternative to selling it for compost production.
Biobased business case in Mozambique: fibres and bioplastics from Miscanthus
Presentation by Jan-Govert van Gilst (NNRGY); for more information see the WUR project page.
This project explored the opportunities to intensify the production of Elephant grass (Miscanthus) in Mozambique, together with a range of partners in Mozambique. Elephant grass produces a fibre that can be used as basis for different goods such as packaging, tableware and building materials, replacing plastic and bitumen. The grass stores four times as much carbon as trees, needs few nutrients and can grow on poor grounds. Hence, it is an environmentally friendly solution.
The project showed that under the present circumstances in Mozambique, investing in this crop is not yet feasible for the company. Many different actors are involved and interested, but it needs further capacity development of local entrepreneurs to develop this sector.
Results of all 15 Seed Money Projects 2018
The project result information of all 15 Seed Money Projects 2018 can be found through this link scrolling to the section “projecten 2018”. Projects cover various geographical areas including Asia, Latin-America and Europe. Under each project, the basic information such as lead partner, other partners, and main theme can be found, as well as in some cases “Eindpresentatie” i.e. the PowerPoint presenting results and findings.
New call for Seed Money Projects 2019
The new call was recently published by Topsector Agri & Food and TopSector Horticulture & Starting Materials:
Other key references
- Website TopSector Agri & Food
- Website TopSector Horticulture & Starting Materials (in Dutch)
- Website AgriProFocus: multi-stakeholder network in Africa, Asia, the Netherlands. This interactive website can be used to find interesting partners by country, by sector, and lessons from earlier experiences in different sectors. Interested companies could also contact our coordination offices per country with specific ideas or questions.
- Website Food & Business Knowledge Platform: facilitates knowledge sharing in order to boost impact of work of Dutch agrofood actors and their partners.