An ecosystem in commerce is about the interconnectedness and linkages in the business of the exchange of goods and services. In business language, the currency of an economic ecosystem is value, which is the focus of every activity in that commercial ecosystem.
With its roots in biology, the traditional definition of an ecosystem is a community of living organism in conjunction with the non-living components of their environment such as water, soil, minerals and air interacting as a system. The essence of an ecosystem is the interconnectedness and relationships between and among the components in that space and the implied interdependencies therein.
How robust an ecosystem is, happens to be a function of the strength of the components or entities in the community and strength of the bonds of their interrelationships and connectedness
Buzz word in business is the value ecosystem; for the simple reason that any business and indeed any entity exists for the single purpose of creating and offering value; even dysfunctional entities like organised crime syndicates such as those that betray their countries and sell football matches to Nigerians for the greed and love of money, they do so with the misguided belief that they are creating value for themselves and their cronies. Value creation and the making available of value is the essence of every human endeavor.
Our conversation today focuses on value ecosystems in the agriculture sector in Malawi and how they can be strengthened to become the engine of Malawi’s economic growth. For the past year or so, I have been privileged to have conversations with an institution called Global Communities, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic)-sponsored development agency that is seeking to strengthen agribusiness value chains and ecosystems by doing the following; increasing access to finance for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the agribusiness sector, provide opportunities for capacity building for them and create opportunities for increased access to markets by enhancing seller and buyer linkages facilitations.
I was initially slightly pessimistic with their area of focused intervention which clearly excludes agriculture production, which to me in at the very basic and bottom of the food chain as it were, but they have moved on to focus on SMEs that are involved in processing, packaging, logistics and marketing of agro commodities and not the primary growing of commodities.
On deeper thoughts and reflection about Agribusiness Investment for Market Stimulation (Aims), a very exciting acronym as most social mobilisation initiatives are, and relating to the sluggish if not non-existent growth in the agriculture sector over the past decades worsened by the overdependence of Malawi on a unimodal agribusiness structure that is largely dependent on mainly tobacco as a cash crop and maize as a food crop.
Such overdependence on single crops to anchor both the cash and food crops has been the major reason why Malawi as a society and economy has failed to develop because we are held hostage to the idiosyncrasies of these two crops that in themselves are inherently problematic.
Aims sounds a clever and viable intervention because from my assessment, the programmes goes to deal with the fundamental weaknesses that have bedeviled the agribusiness in Malawi that of largely putting all eggs in one basket (the maize and tobacco basket) and the failure to seriously exploit opportunities of diversifying the agriculture sector and have other high-value crops such as legumes, pulses, horticulture, animal husbandry, including apiary and aquaculture become vibrant agribusiness value ecosystems.
The result has been that Malawi has largely been held hostage to the vestiges and ills of tobacco and maize to such an extent that a bad maize harvest for whatever reasons spells a food disaster and a politically poisoned tobacco marketing season fraught with prices and all other attendant disagreements spells doom for the Malawi kwacha stability and then economy inherently. n