Mapping the agri-food ecosystem in MENA Region
An Introduction To Food, Agriculture and Water Ecosystem in The Middle East and North Africa
Part I – Bahrain
As Kök Projekt, we are passionate about food, agriculture, and water. We conduct researches, prepare reports, and create databases to understand the world of food and agriculture. To understand which stakeholders exist in the Turkish agriculture ecosystem, we published several maps last year. As we are working locally and globally, we decided to extend our researches for the MENA Region and create its food and agriculture ecosystem maps.
MENA Region has great potential for entrepreneurship. The young and tech-savvy population is very eager to take advantage of the digital world. According to a McKinsey report, an average of 88% of the MENA region population is online daily, and 94% of the population owns a smartphone(1). The young and the digital population come with innovative ideas. Public and private investors support and enable the growth of the region’s flourishing startup ecosystem. Endeavor insights claim that entrepreneurship in the area has a multiplier effect; for every ten new successful enterprises, over 1.4 billion USD in new valuations and over 2,500 new jobs are created (2).
In our first map for the MENA Region, we’ve chosed Bahrain and worked on its ecosystem. Ecosystems are complex, multiplayer structures in which many actors interact to enable entrepreneurial growth, thus with this map, we aim to understand this complex world and gain greater visibility of the Bahraini ecosystem.
Bahrain Entrepreneurship Ecosystem:
Geography & Demographics
The word “Bahrain” means ‘two seas’ in Arabic. Bahrain was a hot spot for trade throughout history. Today, Bahrain still provides market access to growing Gulf economies and the Middle East with its geographic location. Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) and the rest of the Middle East is easily accessible through Bahrain’s logistic channels.
Bahrain has a tech-savvy, young, educated, and bilingual population. In the MENA region, Bahrain ranks 1st for test scores and years of schooling. 90% of Bahrain’s ICT workforce is fluent in English and Arabic, the two most commonly spoken languages in Bahrain. In language skills, the country has the first stage among other MENA countries (3).
Business Friendly Ecosystem
Bahrain’s government works closely with businesses and regulators to create an enabling, innovative ecosystem and nurture optimum commercial conditions. Many governmental organizations work for a better entrepreneur ecosystem, such as Economic Development Board (EDB) that supports guidance for people who wants to open a business in Bahrain; EDB launched Startup Bahrain, an initiative to promote startup culture. EDB has been awarded the best investment promotion agency in the world in 2019 (4).
Bahrain Investment Market is an equity market designed to enable fast-growing companies in the Kingdom of Bahrain. For startups and SMEs, Tamkeen is the public authority that offers financing, training, mentoring, and more to individuals and enterprises. Then, Export Bahrain helps entrepreneurs to go global in the GCC and broader MENA Region. Furthermore, Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism aims to enhance Bahrain’s business environment (5). You can find all the organizations and other governmental organizations featured our map.
Moreover, national reforms and regulations were implemented to thrive the ecosystem. Bahrain has allowed 100% foreign ownership for most activities, reduced minimum capital requirements, offered business-friendly tax laws, and created an online business registration platform Sijilat, which reduced registration times (6).
Building The Map
We started our research to understand which governmental organizations are involved in the sector. Bahrain’s government is very active in creating an enabling ecosystem for entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurship ecosystem can have an economic impact, produce job opportunities, and Bahrain’s government works hard to be the perfect environment for start-ups in the region. Bahrain Economic Vision 2030 aims to create sustainable growth and offering new businesses opportunities to support this vision.
Startups: A Promising Ecosystem
As Kök Projekt, we are an agri-food startup accelerator. We follow startups from all over the world.
To create our map, we used our database and searched for developments in Bahrain’s startup world. Thanks to a business-friendly environment, Bahrain supports the success of startups. Many startups work, especially in the food and beverage sector, which aligns with its tourism sector. Especially delivery and online grocery shopping startups lead the way.
In the MENA Region, lack of water resources and harsh climate are the leading causes of low agricultural output. GCC Countries import 90% of food needs on average in 2018 (7). Horticulture drives the agriculture entrepreneurship ecosystem with low water requirements—several start-ups working on smart agriculture applications. Hydroponic farming is on the rise, as it is seen as a solution for growing plants in water-scarce and having limited arable land regions (8).
Corporates: Engaging In Entrepreneurship
As Kök Projekt, we are an innovation partner for the food, agriculture, and water sector companies. We follow them carefully. In recent years, private corporate firms have also become active supporters of the startup ecosystem. They organize and sponsor events and acceleration programs. The pandemic accelerated this trend by showing businesses that they cannot exist without technology, infrastructure. Digital transformation has become a necessity. Meanwhile, big companies also realized the value of working with start-ups. In our map, we gave place corporate firms of Bahrain.
With its entrepreneur-friendly environment and agile ecosystem, Bahrain attracts more and more VC’s to the country. Generally, capital is the number one concern of most startups. That is why investors are critical players in the ecosystem. The government or private sector backs many investment funds. BDB, Tamkeen and Temnou, Al Waha Fund of Funds, and 500 Startup are very active players in Bahrain’s start-up ecosystem. The 100 million USD Al Waha Fund of Funds, launched in 2018, is a government-led initiative that seeks to invest in Venture Capital Funds that will invest directly in the MENA region.
Incubators & Accelerators
With innovation and entrepreneurship flourishing, incubators and accelerators are growing to empower entrepreneurs to launch and scale their start-ups. More than 30 accelerators, incubators, co-working space, and government entities in Startup Bahrain support the entrepreneurship journey. There are many government initiatives as well as private enterprises. For example, Rowad Programme, launched by Bahrain Development Bank in 2015, is designed to assist entrepreneurs in starting their businesses with coaching, training, incubation, and funding. Rowad also hosts several incubators, such as the Bahrain Business Incubator Center (BBIC) and Bahrain Women Incubator Center (9).
This is not a full-scale map of the Bahrain Agri-Food Ecosystem.
You can reach our 2021 Bahrain Agri-Food Ecosystem Map here.