An Overview of the Agri-Food Entrepreneurship and Start-ups in Palestine

An Overview of the Agri-Food Entrepreneurship and Start-ups in Palestine

25 January, 2021

Youth comprise over one-third of the Palestinian population, an equivalent of 1.37 million individuals ranging between the ages of 15 and 29. Fifty-two percent of these young people reside in rural areas of the West Bank, where few jobs are created and where agriculture is not only an integral part of the socio-economic and cultural fabric but also a potential driver of economic development and an unexplored arena of opportunities for young people. Agriculture has an unharnessed potential to provide decent employment opportunities for these youth, not only through farming but also through various other related businesses such as processing, packaging, transportation, distribution, marketing, and financial services.

Palestinian Youth are facing a range of social and economic challenges resulting in high unemployment rates going from 35.3 percent in 2007 to 40.1 percent in 2019. In Gaza, the rate of unemployment increased from 39.8% in  2007 to 69% in 2018. Youth involvement in the agricultural sector would substantially enhance its productivity and profitability, allowing it to realize its potential as a driver for rural development in Palestine. Moreover, young agri-entrepreneurs are crucial to introducing and harnessing the much-needed innovations and technological advances in Palestine’s agricultural value chains. However, even when young Palestinians perceive that agricultural activities are a route to entrepreneurship and economic independence, they still face multiple challenges and barriers to entry that include difficulty in accessing land and capital for starting their businesses, limited information, and various market constraints.

The MoA (Ministry of Agriculture) finalized the research strategies in agriculture for the years 2017-2021, with a focus on the creation of startups to develop the agrifood sector. “The startup Palestine” initiative provides a good example on how access to finance and training could be adapted to benefit women entrepreneurs. 

Many institutions and enterprises such as the NGOs and Palestinian National Authority (PNA) institutions may be identified as potentially active actors for innovation and safeguarding food security for all subsectors in agriculture. Such institutions have implemented donor-supported programmes for creating or accelerating startups in the agricultural sector. However, the Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence (HCIE), which is intended to function as an Innovation Support Organization (ISO), is the only body that provides limited financial support to develop new ideas for prototypes and startups in all sectors, instead, the work of the HCIE is not designed to enable research.

Nathalia Feinberg, the Representative of Denmark to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) since 2017, published an article in This week in Palestine Magazine and explore that Denmark, Netherlands, European Union, Switzerland, and Spain, through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, are offering new opportunities for youth entrepreneurship along agricultural value chains through a Multi-donor Agribusiness Programme (MAP) that supports young agri-entrepreneurs to establish, run, and sustain agri-food investments. This program puts special attention on assuring equal opportunities to all, promoting competitiveness within a gender-sensitive, open, and transparent framework. Support will range from investment development to provision of financial assistance. 

According to Ciro Fiorillo, head of the FAO office in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the agri-food sector provides an untapped employment opportunity to these young women and men who are disproportionately unemployed, «The agri-food sector presents a sustainable avenue of employment and entrepreneurship for young people, through the introduction of green innovations in farming and the value addition by innovative agri-businesses in production, processing and distribution of food» — he said. The investment support under the MAP will provide a unique opportunity to groom young entrepreneurs and promote agri-business growth. He explains, «By addressing specific barriers to market entry, the MAP provides a pro-youth, private-sector-led approach to capturing agri-food business opportunities and stimulate value-chain development».

Through MAP and many other initiatives that promote investment support, policy assistance, technical capacity building, and awareness raising, Palestinian and European partners are seeking to develop a strong enabling environment in which young people can thrive and seize decent current and future employment opportunities in agricultural value chains.

The International labor organization (ILO) stressed to tackle the entrepreneurship for young people through a comprehensive approach that promotes decent work and integrates young women and men in the labour market. One of the means used to do so is equipping them with the entrepreneurial education and skills required to choose self-employment as a potential career option and venture into business start-up. By working on fostering entrepreneurship awareness among youth enrolled in technical colleges and facilitating business start-up for young graduates.

According to the Mediterranean Innovation Partnership MIP report 2020,  In Palestine the National Ministry of Economy is responsible for the improvement of business environment. The Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence (HCIE) is responsible for the coordination with the Ministries of Education and Higher Education to develop policies and regulations as well as stimulate supportive programmes for innovation and excellence, especially at the level of primary education and higher education, and strengthen the structure of the innovative system in the various sectors. Moreover, the MoA conducted several programmes with the FAO to support and create small enterprises in the agrifood sector to grow an environment for sharing and developing the needed knowledge and skills to support the future of new generations of innovative agrifood entrepreneurs in Palestine.

The Number of Innovation Support Organizations ISOs supporting creative entrepreneurs increased from 6 in 2017 to 44 in 2018, and according to MIP Report, Palestine has registered the highest increase of 86% compared to 2017, remarkable that lots of ISOs are housed in Universities.

Out of the total number of ISOs, 50% cover the general category (different sectors without being specialized in a defined one) while 38% of ISOs are specialized in ICT and 22% in the agrifood sector.

Worthy to mention that the highest number of ISOs in Palestine connected to international networks where 38% are members in Networks. This may be explained by the necessity of Palestine to be connected abroad to overcome the internal obstacles, and more than 10 international networks and some national networks are active in the MENA region, such as Entrepreneurs and Startups Networking in Palestine. 

Among them 72% are public , 22% are public registered as NGOs. All activities of the ISOs are financed by the donor’s communities and their activities depend on the funds received from donors in the form of specific projects proposed by the donors in many cases. Agribusiness Accelerator is the only private ISO identified, and it offers training, workshop, fund raising and consultancy to support young entrepreneurs by creating new products/new markets or better products/better markets. They are mainly targeting seeds and startups.

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