Towards an entrepreneurial innovation system for small-holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa
Growing population pressure, climate change and urbanization necessitate the increase of agricultural production and innovation. Horticulture by means of protected cultivation primarily for vegetables production seems promising by creating a controlled environment for light, temperature and moisture and against diseases. But there is a gap between the high-tech precision horticulture as practiced for instance in the Netherlands and the context and capacities of African smallholder farmers. On the one side high-tech large-scale greenhouse cultivation is introduced by foreign companies, management and capital, while on the other side many smallholders grapple with lack of quality inputs, lack of funding, lack of frugal small-scale technical solutions (greenhouses, irrigation systems, water provision, disease and residue treatment, monitoring soil fertility etc.), lack of infrastructure and lack of capacity. Over and above an analysis of the situation the paper proposes a way forward consisting of three elements: entrepreneurship and capacity training (1), a strategy of gradual growth (2), and finally a comprehensive business innovation system (3). The research is based on long-term student involvement by internships and master thesis studies from the Delft University of Technology and includes the experiences of a Dutch consortium of entrepreneurs and researchers (greenhouse constructors, seed companies, pest control, financial institutions, entrepreneurship). This consortium tries to raise the capacities of smallholder farmers and take them to a higher level. Findings show that in principle there is a business case for introducing existing smallholder farmers and young entrepreneurs to protected cultivation under the leadership of more experienced farmers, supported by a network of stakeholders (retailers, banks, Dutch and African companies, academic partners, NGOs, government agencies). Cooperation of many stakeholders, the creation of an enabling environment and training of capacity appear to be crucial conditions for success.
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