The African Development Bank, AfDB, says it has approved a 70 million dollar loan for a road project in Ebonyi. The bank said on its website on Friday that it would provide $40 million, while its co-financier, the Africa Growing Together Fund (AGTF), would contribute $30 million for the project.

The co-founder of Releaf, Ikenna Nzewi; the Chief Executive Officer of Food locker, Femi Aiki; and, founder, Mhogo Foods, Elizabeth Gikebe, have won the top cash prizes in the African Development Bank’s(AfDB’s) $120,000 AgriPitch competition, which held Tuesday.

This was disclosed in a report published on AfDB’s webpage on Friday.

According to the report, the AgriPitch competition offered young entrepreneurs in Africa’s agricultural sector the opportunity to pitch their agribusiness proposals to a panel of experts and investors who selected winners from categories —“early start-up,” “mature start-up” and “women-empowered businesses” categories.

The AfDB, in collaboration with partners, such as the UN Women, African Leaders for Nutrition and the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative (AFAWA), said this year’s African Youth Agripreneurs Forum (AYAF) and AgriPitch competition awarded the winner and runner–up of the mature start-up category with a cash prize of $40,000 and $20,000 respectively.

The winner and runner-up in the Women-empowerment Business category will go home with $20,000 and $10,000 cash prizes. Also, the winner in the Early start-up category is awarded a $20,000 cash prize, while the runner-up gets a cash prize of $10,000.

The gala, which was held virtually, saw more than 2,500 applications and 605 proposals from 30 countries. This was shortlisted down to 25 finalists from 12 countries.

The selected finalists then qualified for a two-week business development boot camp, and then a select top 9 AgriPitch competitors made their final pitches to an online panel of judges and investors.

In addition to receiving the seed funding prizes and post-competition mentoring, AgriPitch winners will be invited to the AYAF online DealRoom, which connects expansion-ready, youth-led African businesses with global investors.

Elated Mr Nzewi, the early start-up category winner representing the Releaf, said to be chosen from such a qualified list of businesses is always exciting.

The Releaf, a novel food processing technology start-up company, was kick-started by the Nigerian-American graduates from MIT, Yale, and Duke universities, who set up a shop in Uyo, Nigeria, and plan to save the $20,000 competition prize for future investment.

“We are very confident about the work that we are doing to catalyze industrialization in food processing. It is excellent to see the African Development Bank with its High 5s focus – one of them being industrialization – to also be supporting us,” Nzewi was quoted to have said.

In a similar manner, Mr Aiki, the winner of the $40,000 mature business category prize, said the seed funding provides “a lot of fuel for the road” for his business.

Foodlocker is a smallholder farmer food procurement company in Nigeria supports smallholder farmers with technologies for the production of foods such as tomatoes and chicken.

Mr Aiki said one of the major areas where Foodlocker needs support is working capital. “Now we can afford to buy more inputs, he said.” We can now afford to bring on board more experts in those value chains who can support smallholder farmers more remotely,”

“That money (won cash prize), will support the company to get results,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ms Gikebe, who won the women-empowered businesses category $20,000 prize, said she was so excited when she heard her name called.

She said she was glad she did not give up, because she had entered Mhogo Foods into the competition in 2018 and again in 2019 without success.

“With a lot of persistence, you can get what you are looking for. It showed me that everything has its time,” Ms Gikebe said.

Mhogo Foods is a company that adds value to cassava production by processing the tubers into gluten-free flour, cassava snacks and animal feeds.

The Runner-ups for the three categories (Mature Start-ups, Women-empowered Businesses and Early Start-ups) are Noel N’guessan, Lono, Côte d’Ivoire ($20,000), Oluwaseun Sangoleye, Baby Grubz, Nigeria ($10,000) and David Matsiko, Bringo Fresh, Uganda ($10,000) respectively.

The organisers said AgriPitch competition was part of the Bank’s fourth African Youth Agripreneurs Forum (AYAF), described as one of the continent’s most exciting platforms for African youth in the agriculture start-up scene which kicked off on 3 November with weekly webinars and ended with the AgriPitch winners’ ceremony.

The Coordinator of the Bank’s Enable Youth Program, Edson Mpyisi, responsible for the event, said “The Bank’s Enable Youth Program aims to empower youth at each stage of the agribusiness value chain by harnessing new and innovative skills, technologies and financing approaches, so that the youth can establish viable and profitable small and medium-sized enterprises.”

The organisers said in Africa, small and medium-sized enterprises accounted for 90 per cent of all businesses, create 70 per cent of all the jobs and are the drivers of economic growth and long-term sustainability.

“Through the AgriPitch competition, the Bank is committed to supporting youth who are ambitious, creative, technology-savvy, and who have an entrepreneurial spirit to establish profitable small and medium-sized enterprises for a prosperous and inclusive Africa,” he added.

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