Morogoro, Tanzania – On Friday, July 22, 2016, Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in partnership with the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) launched the Tech Talent initiative at the SUA main campus. iAGRI is a USAID-funded project under the Feed the Future initiative aimed at strengthening training and collaborative research with the goal of improving food security and agricultural productivity in Tanzania. The event featured an Innovation Fair and Launch Program officially opening the designated Tech Talent space designed exclusively for creative problem solving around agriculture-centered challenges.
Tech Talent is the latest activity spearheaded by the iAGRI Innovative Portfolio to turn innovative ideas from the SUA community including students and graduates into agribusiness opportunities. The initiative links established entrepreneurs and leaders in agricultural enterprises with students and graduates to mentor them and shape their ideas into opportunities for commercialization that meet the needs of smallholder farmers, supply the agribusiness community with innovative solutions, and tap into Tanzania’s expanding agricultural industry.
The launch featured an Innovation Fair where agribusiness prototypes, products, and models were exhibited and presented. The event began with a tour of the exhibited innovations allowing judges to assess each of the stalls. Students and graduates were awarded with cash prizes for the most innovative solutions that match the needs of the Tanzanian agribusiness market. The launch event continued with speeches from agripreneurs, SUA leadership, and Tech Talent mentors and marked the official opening of the Tech Talent space. Bukhary Kibonajoro, winner of the 2016 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation served as the event’s keynote speaker.
Mentors for the Tech Talent initiative include Peadar Casey, a UK-based agribusiness entrepreneur with 20 years of experience providing research and ICT tools to farmers. Casey delivered a moving address encouraging Tech Talent innovators. Mentors also included local agribusiness professionals from Tanzania such as Chris Nikitas, a large-scale farmer and successful dairy business entrepreneur as well as social innovation expert and SUA lecturer Innocent Babili. Daniel Materu, a Principal Consultant at Deloitte Tanzania, spoke with exhibitors about public-private sector linkages and design processes. Speakers Prof. Susan N. Msolla, SUA Principal of the College of Agriculture and Prof. Peter Gillah, SUA Deputy Vice Chancellor-Academic closed the official launch event. A select group of stakeholders gathered following the program in order to provide guidance and input into the future implementation of Tech Talent initiatives.
The Tech Talent initiative space is designed to enable young innovators so that their ideas and products reach consumers and markets rather than stalling at the research or design stage of the innovation process. “Tanzania is set to become the 3rd most populated country in Africa by the year 2025. With rising youth unemployment, we can’t wait for agribusiness jobs to open. These talented, young innovators are capable of creating jobs themselves by meeting market demands for new solutions to old problems,” stated Innovation Portfolio Manager, Dr. Maria Mullei.
Through Tech Talent, iAGRI and its partners aim to ensure that young, talented innovators are supported from start to finish. The organizers of Tech Talent envision the space to become an innovation and idea incubation hub to spur economic growth and development in the region.
The Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), is a Feed the Future project funded by USAID. It aims to prepare the next generation of agricultural leaders in the public and private sectors to strengthen the core institutions of agricultural research and education in Tanzania. Ohio State University (OSU) is the managing entity for a consortium of six U.S. universities including Michigan State University, Virginia Tech, Tuskegee University, University of Florida and Iowa State University. Key partners in Tanzania include Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF). The project prepares teachers, researchers, extension practitioners, and students in Tanzania to cooperatively and effectively address the needs of smallholder farmers and the agribusiness sector.