Interview: Abdelmajid Touzani
In what ways can the government and the private sector further promote raw materials processing?
ABDELMAJID TOUZANI: Upon Côte d’Ivoire’s independence, President Félix Houphouët-Boigny invested a lot of financial resources in to making agriculture the base of the Ivorian economy. Currently, the agriculture sector employs almost 70% of the total workforce and provides 20% of GDP, as well as accounting for 40% of the country’s exports. However, the quantity of processed raw materials in the country lags far behind. For example, Côte d’Ivoire is well known as the world largest exporter of cocoa beans, yet figures show that only 30% of these beans are processed in the country, while the rest is processed abroad and transformed into chocolate products. This shows the significant potential for the country to add greater value to its cocoa beans. Startups can play a major role in this regard. The industry could explore many more possibilities by developing and expanding small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to transform raw materials into finished and semi-finished products. This is exactly where public and private players should combine their efforts. Entrepreneurs and start-ups need incubator programmes and exchange platforms through which to promote innovation and help to transform local opportunities into solid business solutions for the agri-food industry.
How can digitalisation boost agri-business?
TOUZANI: Currently, the internet of things and digitalisation are opening new opportunities for the food-processing industry. Digitalisation unlocks the potential to save energy, reduce waste and optimise the agri-food value chain. In Côte d’Ivoire, digitalisation is at a relatively good level of development compared to other countries in the region, but it is not yet where it could be. Most of the economic operators in the industry have placed digitalisation on their agenda. For instance, many clients are acquiring equipment with advanced features which allows them to take full advantage of digital solutions. However, there are also old production sites and factories that are unable to upgrade their current machinery, either due to investment constraints or because the average age of their equipment does not allow for an upgrade.
Ivorian companies are facing changing global requirements from customers as well as suppliers, which means that embracing digitalisation is mandatory. Traceability is a good example because companies that are buying agri-food products from the Ivorian market are becoming increasingly strict about tracing their products back through various steps in the food value chain. For these companies, ensuring traceability is vital to providing transparency and building consumer trust in the content, quality and sustainability of the endto-end agri-food supply chain. New technologies, such as blockchain and satellite imaging could strengthen traceability programmes and lead to greater transparency and value across the supply chain.
What are the main challenges to be overcome in the agri-business sector in the medium term?
TOUZANI: One important challenge is access to financing. SMEs need support to break into the agri-business sector. In several domains, the entry barriers are quite high due to the monopoly by a small number of large multinationals that have long dominated the industry. Financing entities can thus play a key role helping new actors enter the sector. A certain share of sales contracts should also be secured for local SMEs.
Some financial institutions have started to offer support programmes, but demand is greater than what they can offer. Another important challenge is the availability of qualified and specialised personnel. There are talented Ivorian technicians and engineers, but they are hard to find and some of them are overseas. Universities and engineering schools should align their programmes with the requirements of the industry to equip students with the right skills and competences.
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