€4 billion EU pledge for small business

By Gitonga Njeru in Abidjan

The European Union, has pledged more than €4 billion for small business startups for young people. The Union will work closely with many African governments to implement its grant program.

The grant program to run annually and will prioritize agriculture, science and technology innovations that promote economic growth and job creation. Most grants will be given under these three categories.

Over 200 young people across have so far received average grants of €5,000 Euro that focus on Climate innovation technologies in the last year.

Speaking during the 6th European Union Africa Business Summit held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast Vice-President Daniel Kablan Duncan said that Africa has come of age.

“Ivory Coast and indeed Africa have very strong relations and the bond keeps growing. Since, 2011, our economy has been rated by the World Bank as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

“This grants will come hand in hand with a National Youth Policy Draft paper of 2011
implemented the same year. We as a government encouraged young people to move into rural areas and venture into Agribusiness. With an annual loan kitty from the European Union of different amounts, we have been offering them grants ranging about $5,000 a person via various government agencies”, said the Vice-President.

The EU has been giving governments’ money which in turn, the governments disburse the kitties to different individuals with strong ideas of business startups.

The Union has strongly encouraged digital technology innovations and agribusiness.  The conference brought over 5,000 delegates from across Europe and Africa, most of the successful business people in different disciplines.

“France has helped build highways and bridges. They have built many highways that connect Abidjan to several rural towns. $5.1 billion worth of road network is the best in this region after Senegal”, said the Vice-President who many Ivorians hope to elect President someday.

Also according to the government draft paper, about 63% of the total population of 23,740,424 is comprised of people aged below 35 years.

World Bank statistics show that Ivory Coast still exports about 1.79 million metric tonnes of cocoa per year representing 35 % of total global exports. But there have been rapid declines as young people turn to horticulture and climate innovation initiatives in Agriculture.

Declines according to the World Bank have been averaging eight percent per annum. Many young people are turning to horticulture exports. They are destined to Europe, where demand is high.

The country through it scientific Research institutions has has developed new hybrid pineapple, and banana varieties that are being consumed all across Europe, particularly France and Belgium.

“I love fruit farming because it is a major multi-billion dollar industry in Europe. Europeans are conscious of their health and so they love tasty fruits such as mangoes and Pineapples”, says Phillipe Adanja aged 31, a millionaire fruit exporter who has received different grants, some of them from the EU to expand his business.

“Finding a way of reducing urban migration and deal with rural poverty head to head is a good effort in tackling many social and economic issues affecting Africa. You simply just create opportunities to reduce rural urban migration”, says Alison Zumpano, from GOPA Worldwide Consultants based in Germany.

Pascal Gagbo aged 26 is one of the young millionaires whose fruit export business is taking shape.
He got a grant from the government in 2011 to start his fruit business.

“I own an 11 acre farm not far from Abidjan. About three hours drive. I did not have any income in 2011. I did not know what to do and I had more questions than answers.

“It is then I wrote a business proposal for a grant and I was awarded $5,000. With this money, i have provided over 12,000 jobs and increased my revenue to $1.2 million in six years. I grow and export bananas, pawpaw, Mangoes, tomatoes and watermelons. 89 percent of my produce is exported. Proper financial planning has helped as half of my produce is value added.

“Value addition such as turning my mango into Mango Juice which is helping expand my business. I then package and export to different destinations including France and China”, he says.

According to statistics from the World Bank, Ivory Coast is the 75th largest export economy in the world in 2016. Also the Bretton Woods Institution has rated West Africa’s third largest economy standing at $36.1billion as one of the top ten growing economies in the world.

Total fruit exports mostly bananas, Mangoes and Tomatoes stand at $890 million. This is according to statistics from the University of Abidjan presented at the forum.

“Over 135,000 Hectares of land in Ivory Coast are under fruit cultivation of over 400 types of fruits are grown. So now you can see the opportunities agribusiness offers in this country and why young people are earnest and eager”, says says Francòs Toure, a senior agronomist with the Ivorian Ministry of Agriculture.

“The Ivorian road network spreads to about 87,000 kilometers and with one of world’s longest bridges set to be built by China, will link Abidjan to Yamoussoukro. More trade and Commerce will increase. China is the biggest financier of the construction”, he added. 80 percent of the road network is in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan.

Sekou Toure aged 25 received a grant from the Ivorian government five years ago. His revenue now stands at $600,000 after getting about €10,000 Euro in 2012.

His business is in the fruit industry where he exports mostly to Europe. He exports mostly bananas and Mangoes to Paris. He has employed about 7,232 staff and the number is set to grow as revenue increases.

Analysts compare the road infrastructure of Abidjan similar to that of Paris or Cairo.  “The country has four International Airports with the largest being Port Bouet Airport located 16 Kilometers south of Abidjan. Weekly cargo flights are available to all parts of the world”, says Johana Adama a travel agent.

“There are many young people who are talented and bright but miss out on opportunities. Further increasing the poverty trap”, he said.

The EU through its program aims to give grants to as many young people as possible before the end of this year.  As the EU continues to give grants for business startups, it will also issue grants to African scientists to develop climate friendly hybrid crops in the coming years.

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