EVENT REPORT: Freetown Pitch Night 2024 (FPN)

DATE: February 14, 2024

VENUE: Limkokwing University, Hill Station

THEME:  REDUCING POST-HARVEST LOSS

INTRODUCTION:

The first edition of the 2024 Freetown Pitch Night event is dedicated to addressing post-harvest loss in Sierra Leone. The February edition was hosted at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Hill Station, Freetown, on the 14th of February 2024, themed: REDUCING POST HARVEST LOSSES. The theme was chosen as a way to address global challenges and how to ensure food security for a world-growing population whilst ensuring long-term sustainable development for Sierra Leoneans.

As an entrepreneurship support-led organisation, Innovation SL is geared towards nurturing the entrepreneurial ecosystem to accelerate growth, disruptive and value-creating start-ups by creating a strong and efficient ecosystem that sows viable seeds for Sierra Leone innovators and businesses.

The host Ms Francis Beresford Renner started the event by welcoming the audience to the first edition of the Freetown Pitch Night 2024 and gave a synoptical background on post-harvest loss.

Mr. Francis Stevens George, MD/CEO of Innovation SL, delivered a heartily welcome speech that created a sense of purpose. He stated that the theme was chosen as a result of the feasibility studies on vegetable cold chains that Innovation SL conducted. Innovation SL was selected by ILO to conduct the research. From the findings, 51% of women who engage in agriculture are the most affected people and post-harvest loss is affecting every Sierra Leonean.

According to the African Post Harvest Institute report 2022, 17% of the grain we harvest in Sierra Leone is lost, and 12% of the total rice production which is approximately 890 tone, 110,000 tone bags is lost.  15% of vegetables are lost. In a developed country the loss rate is about 20%, in a developing country like Sierra Leone it is about 40% loss.

Statistically, the agriculture sector is made up of 65% of our GDP employment but the level of productivity is so low.

As an ESO our modus operandi is partnership. We have the honour to partner with WFP and

Our focus this year is to bring more entrepreneurs into the ecosystem whose ideas will help to address this problem. “Every small solution is a solution, it doesn’t mean to be big,”  said Mr Francis Stevens George.

The event was attended by the Irish Ambassador, H.E Aidan Fitzpatrick and his wife Niamh Fitzpatrick and various dignitaries such as Madam Yvonne, head of the World Food Programme and Ahmed Nanoh of SL Chamber of Agriculture Development. 

Madam Yvonne, head of the World Food Programme said that the WFP is committed to fighting hunger in Sierra Leone and for that reason, they are happy to partner with Innovation SL to host the post-harvest loss pitch night. According to her, the fact of the matter is that we must consume what we produce, and not only about production. She promised to work with young people, especially entrepreneurs to revamp the business sector.  

Ms Francess Beresford-Renner informed the panel of judges to introduce themselves. The panel consisted of three judges whose names are:

Kadijah  Isata. Jalloh(UN Women), William Hopkins(WFP) and Papa Njai(Milton Margai) 

At this point, pitchers were informed to utilize five minutes to pitch their business idea and two minutes for both judges and pitchers to ask questions and to respond to questions being asked.

PITCH COMPETITION 

The first pitcher Foday Ibrahim Kamara from Fortelleum is the CEO and founder of Fortelleum Agric. Fortelleum Agric is an organisation that is committed to tackling post-harvest loss for fruit and vegetables by using solar photovoltaic technology. Solar photovoltaic technology(solarized cooling box) is an innovative cooling system that is designed to extend the shelf life of vegetables especially lettuce, carrots and tomatoes that is sustainable and environmentally friendly; reducing the need for traditional cooling methods. The Fortelleum solarized cooling box can consume the least energy, and least operational cost and has a temperature and humidity control system making their products unique and different from their competitors.

As an organisation, they have been working closely with farmers to ensure that there is enough fruit and vegetables during post-harvest. In a bid to solve the frustration faced by farmers, the organisation has been solving problems like expensive cooling options, lack of good storage facilities, pest and disease infestation and high loan interest.

Due to the huge market demand, they have decided to innovate the first-in-kind mobile affordable and accessible design for cooling that is suitable for off-grid and remote areas and can be easily adapted among target and users.

The judges asked how the technology can be accessed in terms of cost. In his response, the technology cost $155.

Another judge asked if this technology is being used what will be the shell life of the product and the capacity in terms of volume?

He responded by saying that the product would last for 4 weeks and it could have a volume capacity of 10-15kg.

He was advised to review his statistic figure since the one he presented is not up-to-date

Abubakarr Fofanah the second pitcher explained that his business, Agro Links aims to solve the problem of Post-harvest loss for Vegetables (Cucumber, Pepper, Tomato & Cabbage) for local farmers in rural communities due to inadequate storage facilities and transportation means for goods by providing transportation and storage facilities for local farmers.

In his presentation, Mr Abubakarr elucidated the business model, market validation and marketing plan.

During the Question & Answer session, the judges asked how is he going to find the vehicle and how is he going to address the issue of petrol price.  He responded by saying for a start he would use a tricycle in the placement of the vehicle and as time elapsed he would venture to use the vehicle. As a way to tackle the petrol issue, he will go to his identified customers to prevent him from wasting fuel in search of a client. 

He was advised by one of the judges to consider the farmers as his key partner and how there would be a win-win intervention and not to be too mindful about making a profit. Since post-harvest starts from the harvest he should have captured how the process will be done, and his method of arrangement with the farmer should also be considered.

Another judge asked how he was going to scale up his business. He responded by saying they would start little and the more farmers we have the bigger we become.

The third pitcher for the night, Kumba Sandi and Alice Marian Gbondo, the CEO of EcoFresh, is a young dynamic female entrepreneur who over the years has developed a strong passion for agriculture. EcoFresh is a 24/7 solar-powered walk-in cold room for storage for the preservation of perishable foods. They also create a market link for farmers and potential buyers. In that regard, Ecofresh has been playing a vital role in minimising post-harvest losses by providing preservation facilities that have helped promote sustainable income for smallholder farmers.

As young entrepreneurs, they have developed a strong vision of promoting the FEED SALONE initiative to mitigate the problem of vegetable and fruit wastage by Sierra Leoneans. For that reason, they are working assiduously to see every Sierra Leonean have access to proper square meals. 

The EcoFresh business can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve environmental resources. Economically, farmers can maximize profit while promoting secured fresh food and creating employment opportunities for women and youths.

One of the judges asked where EcoFresh is now and where it is planning to go. She responded by saying that they are presently expanding their reach 

Another asked about the rationale behind the $10000. They want to promote their business to other districts.

Are you going to rely on EDSA or not and what the cost said one of the judges? NO, we rely heavily on solar panels to produce electricity that will power our cold room. The cost for cooling is le10 per crate.

The fourth pitcher, Michael Nabieu, founder of Forum for Agriculture, Innovation and Empowerment of Children and Youths-Sierra Leone(FAIECY-SL) goal is to construct and design a state-of-the-art Solar Energy Dryer in Sierra Leone. This facility will cater specifically to the needs of local farmers, providing them with an ideal environment for preserving perishable crops. In his pitch, Mr Michael emphasised that the drying process is completed in the most hygienic and eco-friendly way. He further discussed how solar energy works, his business model, marketing plan and tractions/ financials, and how the business will generate income

The judges asked Michael Nabieu what his contribution was to the project. According to him, he will be educating farmers on the need to use the Solar Energy Dryer and the benefits that follow. Conversely discourages them from using the traditional method of preservation.

He was advised by one of the judges to incorporate people who have backgrounds in hygiene, engineering and food science since he is trying to offer a hygienic and eco-friendly facility

The penultimate pitcher, Kunba Florence co-founder of Eden Agro business is an experienced and passionate entrepreneur who has been working with a team of three members: Mary Dundas, David J.M Bangura and Jenerene Koroma pitch on behalf of Eden Agro.

Eden Agro is an organisation whose vision is to see Sierra Leoneans achieve food sustainability through the dehydration of perishable crops and fruit. They envisage alleviating seasonal fruit and vegetable wastages by adding nutritional preservation to make the fruits and vegetables have an exceptional taste and texture and have a long shelf life. It ushers economic sustainability by creating jobs that yield revenue for sustainable development

Kumba Florence was advised by one of the judges to find an alternative for the coal as the use it is not environmentally friendly, which can lead to massive deforestation. Further, she should consider the structure of her team as it should comprise people who are knowledgeable in terms of hygiene and more.

In the area of certification, our products are certified by the standard bureau said Kunba Florence

The final pitcher, Ibrahim Papanie Mboma is the executive director of Mamawa Muyengay Agric Business Enterprise with years of experience in agribusiness

This business has been in operation since 2021; having five members and has established a customer base in Kenema and Kailahun.

According to Mr. Mboma, the company has been manufacturing a variety of food from cassava plants such: as cassava flour,  garri milk and sugar, animal feed for small ruminant animals and cassava leaf powder. 

As a result of this innovation, there are job opportunities especially for young people by engaging themselves in tailoring work and the network of bag selling. 

According to the panel of judges, the product is attractive but not environmentally friendly and he should be consistent on the packing information. He was advised to try and register all his variety of produce at the standard bureau for the European market and not only Sierra Leone, depicted as having been certified by Local Content. He should try to consider another alternative for plastic for his product to be environmentally friendly. 

THE RESEARCH PORTFOLIO

The research portfolio has an incredible potential to drive a positive change within the realms of innovation and entrepreneurship in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. According to the research lead, Madam Millicent Iye Koiwa said that they have designed, managed and implemented high-calibre projects on entrepreneurship development in Sierra Leone that focused on unlocking valuable insights. These insights have helped connect the right support program and resources to foster collaboration. The team is made up of experts who have developed several businesses, supply chain optimization and have analysed data. The portfolio has partnered with several international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, Village Capital and the Africa Development Bank.

GUEST SPEAKERS’ REMARK

Joseph Boxall, the founder of Bamboo2, said he developed a love for bamboo2 as a result of its strength. Bamboo2 in other parts of the world is being used as an alternative to iron rods because it cannot easily break, this is a direct substitute. Bamboo2 has three main areas of focus: education, food security and climate change. For food security, it served as a nitrogen fixer and food for livestock. Farmers could integrate bamboo cultivation into their forage system to enhance feed sufficiency and diversity and improve animal productivity, as well as food security. They could use it to irrigate their farmlands. Educationally, bamboo could be used as an artisanal craft,  to make house furniture, musical instruments, paper, bicycles and biodegradable diapers. 

JUDGES FEEDBACKS AND COMMENTS 

The judges expressed their appreciation to all the pitchers for their outstanding performance in pitching their business idea as they are all winners in which three pitchers will qualify for the incubation process. They were encouraged to accept the feedback and work very hard to improve their grey areas. According to the judges they were looking out for a business idea that is sustainable and can address climate change. However, three of them succeeded in convincing the bench and they emerged as the winners.  

CONCLUSION 

Conclusively, certificates were presented to the respective participants, starting from the rear. The judges unanimously agreed and declared  Michael Nabieu, founder of Forum for Agriculture, Innovation and Empowerment of Children and Youths-Sierra Leone as the winner, while Foday Ibrahim Kamara from Fortelleum and Kumba Florence co-founder of Eden Agro business. All three of them qualified for the incubation programme at Innovation SL.

Finally, Mr. Francis Steven-George expressed his thanks and appreciation to both the judges and the pitchers for their amazing work. He informed the pitchers that they are now part of Innovation SL’s 2024 strategy, the incubation, to see that these ideas thrive. 

Madam Yvonne, head of the World Food Programme said that dry vegetables can be used especially for school feeding programmes in Sierra Leone. Teaching cooks how to use both fresh and dry vegetables and to see how solar pilots can be developed. She encouraged pitchers to fine-tune their business model and the tech should be affordable. Mr. Steven-George emphasised that they should fall in love with the people whose problems they want to solve. This can be achieved by using the “low tech” as the ecosystem in Sierra Leone is flourishing because young people are thinking of the problem they want to solve.

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