ICIS Director Karen Blincoe has just returned from the latest Consortium meeting on the establishment of The Innovative Centre for Agro-Forestry (CAF) agri-business incubator project. Awaiting confirmation of funding from the Danish organisation UniBRAIN, the Consortium is preparing the Action Plan to develop CAF. The purpose of UniBRAIN agribusiness incubators is to support individual entrepreneurs, SMEs and businesses to start new enterprises, expand or diversify existing ones and solve business problems. The challenges faced by small agro-based businesses and entrepreneurs is hampered by factors such as lack of business knowledge, technical know-how, and inability to access adequate market and finance support services. CAF is an important venture aimed at helping small agro-based businesses to succeed through providing the business-research connections, access to innovation, support and education in key agri-business skills.
CAF is also about creating sustainable development in Mali through generating better income for rural communities as well as providing vocational learning. The High-level Panel on Sustainable Development (see previous post) recognises that poverty eradication, education and employment are critical components of sustainable development. And that education is crucial in empowering change: “Investing in education and training provides a direct channel to advancing the sustainable development agenda. It is widely recognized as a tremendously efficient means to promote individual empowerment and lift generations out of poverty, and it yields important development benefits for young people, particularly women”. Mali is one of the world's poorest countries, ranking 178th out of 182 countries in the United Nations Development Programme's 2009 Human Development Index. Some 80% of the labour force is engaged in farming and fishing, and in rural areas up to 90% of the population is directly engaged in some form of agricultural activity (IER 2008). CAF could change the livelihoods of many living on the poverty line as well as provide women with a means to use their skills for greater economic gain.