Alvaro Sobrinho: helping agriculture in Africa thrive


The philanthropist and educator Alvaro Sobrinho is an expert in African policy, business and education. His work is very much focused on formulating strategies for a more sustainable Africa.

He argues that a holistic approach is needed: education, business and agriculture all need to advance hand in hand. Sustainable agriculture in Africa is, following Alvaro Sobrinho’s work, definitely achievable. Home to the majority of unfarmed arable land in the world, Africa has huge potential to be a global power in the agricultural sector.

From ‘a way of life’ to a business

Sobrinho has shown that a significant conceptual shift needs to take place regarding agriculture in Africa. Rather than simply seeing agriculture as a ‘way of life’ that farmers often follow in a manner that is often unprofitable and overly arduous, agriculture should be thought of as a business. Conceptualising agriculture as a business enables farmers to make it more profitable and more sustainable.

Even the mere fact of changing the terminology and speaking of ‘the business of agriculture’ will empower farmers to make sustainable and cost efficient changes to what was previously thought more passively to be a way of life.

The great potential of Africa in the agricultural sector

As has already been mentioned, Africa already has huge potential in the form of its untapped arable land. In addition, it is likely that Africa is witnessing a significant rise in ‘agri-preneurs’ – business leaders who are focused on improving agriculture.

One key example of an agri-preneur is Heritiaina Randriamananatahina from Madagascar. Randriamananatahina created a business called Fiombonana. This agri-processing business only uses Malagasay raw materials, something which is very promising given that Africa currently relies on several hundred billion dollars worth of imports for its food supply.

Randriamananatahina won the Anzisha Prize in 2016 for this business, and more such entrepreneurs are needed to help reduce Africa’s costly import culture, to utilise Africa’s untapped resources, and to make the continent’s agricultural economy more sustainable.

What is needed to improve African agriculture?

Sobrinho has noted that Africa has been put at a disadvantage due to two decades of underfunded education. Sobrinho’s articles on the importance of improving doctoral level educational opportunities in Africa suggest that good education is necessary if the business sector as a whole is to flourish.

Money should also be plumbed in to the agricultural sector (as Brazil did, to great success) in order to provide new opportunities for African farmers. It was a combination of funding, creative thinking and good business education that enabled Randriamananatahina to create his award winning enterprise.

There is no doubt that there are tens of thousands of other potential agri-preneurs out there in Africa, ready to tap in to the continent’s hitherto neglected potential. All that they need is for the governments of their countries to take agriculture seriously, and to provide both excellent education and more funding both farmers and entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector.