The winning proposals lay out a clear plan for commercial and export-oriented agriculture initiatives that facilitate private sector investment, provide technical assistance, strengthen farmer producer organizations and promote smallholder–agribusiness partnerships.
The goal is to increase their competiveness, business orientation and market position in order to make them more attractive business partners in the value chain. It’s an ambitious task, but Sri Lanka’s agri-entrepreneurs have risen to the challenge.
Matching grants scheme supports agribusiness
The matching grants scheme, implemented by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Primary Industries comes under the Agriculture Sector Modernization Project. Supported by the World Bank, with additional funding from the European Union, the project is implemented through the Ministry of Primary Industries, the Ministry of Agriculture, and five participating provinces including the Northern, Eastern, Central, North-Central and Uva Provinces.
A rigorous and transparent selection process was used to create a shortlist. Successful applicants would be offered up to 50 percent of the investment required through the scheme, matched by their own funds or raised from commercial loans.
These small enterprises need the boost. Today, beside a few major agriculture companies, most operators in Sri Lanka are small-scale cultivators who face problems related to low productivity and lack of diversification, absence of market linkages, non-availability of inputs and limited access to credit facilities. Farmers are not organised and tend to focus on low value crops that limit income generation.
Recently, an undergraduate engineering student from Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET) in Bangladesh showed me his mobile app that helps a blind person navigate while enabling family and friends to track their whereabouts. I was impressed with his capacity to apply electronics, geographic information system, and programming knowledge to develop a real-life solution.
Like this student, the ability to innovate harnessing existing talent and infrastructure already exist in Bangladesh. Leading universities, like Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), KUET, Bangladesh Agricultural University, and University of Dhaka already have analog fabrication labs for molding, casting, wood and metal workshops and robotics. The BUET even has a 3D printer, although it is an early version. What is missing is a transformation from analog to digital to improve precision, design, and speed of fabrication and prototyping, a market-oriented product development, and multi-disciplinary teaching, learning, research, and entrepreneurship to advance innovation.
A local innovation ecosystem has also been emerging. Last year, the first hardware startup competition called “Make-a-thon” (website and video) connected young entrepreneurs, industries, and professors to jointly make solutions. BRAC has also organized a 36-hour hackathon event called “Bracathon” to provide a platform for the youth to make mobile applications for social innovation.
To foster innovation and university-industry partnership, the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Program (HEQEP), have been supporting Universities with an Academic Innovation Fund (AIF). To accelerate this effort, the project team organized a workshop on the digital fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) potential to introduce Fab Lab concept.
Let me tell you when magic happens. It transpires when few brilliant minds, optimistic hearts, energetic young people, and a fantastic facilitator meet. The Ideashop: Coding your way to opportunity organized by the World Bank in partnership with the Bangladesh StartUp Cup on June 14th at its Dhaka Office showed us glimpses of such magic. And it is only the beginning of our journey together.
Confident that the solutions to many of the challenges facing youth can come from within themselves, the World Bank and Microsoft has launched a regional grant competition in four South Asia countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The regional grant competition titled Coding your way to opportunity invites innovative ideas from youth led organizations and NGOs that will expand coding knowledge amongst youth and help them secure gainful employment.
The doors to the largest depository of development data in the world were just thrown open. Starting today, all our statistics are available online free of charge for all. The Open Data Access builds on the success of Data.Gov adopted by the US and UK and lets the global community create new applications and solutions to help poor people in the developing world.
Data, until now available through subscriptions only, is now accessible at data.worldbank.org. This is an important milestone for the World Bank, which complements the Access to Information reform. For many data is power. It is more than just numbers as it creates the space for dialogue based on facts and helps to foster new ideas.