For a long time, agriculture has been the mainstay of the African economy. It is a source of employment and livelihood for its people. About 60 per cent of the sub-Saharan population are smallholder farmers, and 23 per cent of the sub-Saharan GDP comes from just agriculture.
Even with these figures, the sector’s potential has not been maximized. Productivity remains a problem for the sector; many farmers lack access to arable lands, good-quality seedlings, fertilizers, and best farming practices.
To bridge the continent’s productivity deficit and meet the needs of its burgeoning population, many agritech companies have emerged across Africa. In 2020, agri-tech startups across Africa raised $59,990,000, representing 8.6 per cent of the total funding secured by tech startups in the year in review.
These startups use cutting-edge technologies like drones, automated irrigation, and soil sensors. They also set up digital systems to help farmers access markets, inputs, insurance, financing, and knowledge. All to one end – increased productivity.
Here are some mission-driven agri-tech companies in Africa you should know about:
AgriProtein (Johannesburg, South Africa)
Jason Drew founded Agriprotein in South Africa in 2016. The company diverts 100 tonnes of organic waste from landfills daily and produce over 2,000 tonnes of MagMeal annually. The company uses insects and technology to convert organic waste into valuable products such as alternative protein for use in livestock and aquaculture feed, natural oil for use in animal feed, and an organic soil enhancer.
Waste collected from landfills is processed and crushed into a paste. Black soldier flies are then brought together in climate-optimized cages to mate on the paste. Usually, the female flies lay about 500 eggs which hatch after about five days, and larvae become scattered over the organic waste. As the larvae increases in weight, the organic nutrients converts into protein. After final processing, MagMeal – a natural organic animal feed with 55 per cent protein – is the end product and is sold for fish aquaculture.
The fat extracted during processing is converted into MagOil, which serves as a health supplement for animals and as biofuel. The organic material left is also transformed into MagSoil, a nutrient-rich compost.
AgriPredict (Lusaka, Zambia)
AgriPredict was founded in 2016 by Cassandra Mtine-Makumbi and Mwila Kangwa. Many farmers on the continent struggle with a lack of timely agricultural information, and this affects their yields. AgriPredict provides farmers with access to information that will help them identify diseases, predict pest infestations and weather conditions. The startup also provides weather predictions to help farmers plan better.
AgriPredict alerts users when a disease or pest infestation is detected in a given area. The mobile application is available for download on the Android platform or via a USSD platform. A farmer can take a photo of a suspected diseased plant and have AgriPredict give a diagnosis, treatment options, and the location of the closest agro-dealer in the area. Marketing is one of the major problems affecting small-scale farmers in Zambia, so AgriPredict connects farmers with markets for fair trade of their commodities.
Aerobotic (Cape Town, South Africa)
Founded in 2014 by James Paterson (CEO) and Benji Meltzer (CTO), Aerobotic is a data analytics company using aerial imagery and machine learning algorithms to optimize crop performance for farmers globally. To use Aerobotics’ tech, farm owners sign up on Aeroview, its cloud-based pest and disease management application. After downloading and signing up, farmers can inspect threats on the ground and view farm analytics data on a machine-learning-enabled platform. Farmers use the data to grow fruits and trees and identify healthy and unhealthy plants. Their service is active in 18 countries across Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Twiga Foods (Nairobi, Kenya)
Twiga Foods is a B2B food distribution company co-founded by Peter Njojo and Grant Brooke in 2014. The company leverages technology, modern distribution and logistics to modernize African retail. It connects farmers with vendors, allowing food to be sourced and delivered throughout Kenya.
The company has reduced typical post-harvest losses in Kenya from 30 per cent to four per cent for produce marketed on the Twiga network. The company has also integrated a fintech product that offers vendors credit to build their businesses. Since its launch in 2014, Twiga Foods has helped over 17,000 fresh food producers by ensuring an average delivery of thrice a week on average to 8,000 retailers.
Hello Tractor (Nairobi, Kenya)
Hello Tractor is a tractor-sharing platform established by Jehiel Oliver in 2014. The startup’s application collects tractor service requests to assist farmers with limited access to resources in obtaining convenient and affordable tractor services while also providing additional income and enhanced security for tractor owners.
For tractor owners, the platform provides the remote tracking of assets, prevents fraud, and machine misuse through virtual tractor monitoring. Tractor owners on the platform set prices for their services based on average market rates. They get paid a deposit to deploy their tractors and then receive their balance payment following the completion of the service. They earn 90 per cent of the revenue from all services provided. The remaining 10 per cent goes to the booking agent who requested the booking on behalf of the farmer.
AgroCenta was founded by Francis Obirikorang and Michael K. Ocansey in 2016. AgroCenta connects stakeholders in the staple food value chain from smallholder farmers to buyers under one platform for effective trading. The platform also provides market information, storage and delivery solutions, and financial services to smallholder farmers in Ghana.
The startup operates two integrated digital platforms – CropChain and LendIt, to help address challenges related to smallholder farmers’ access to markets and financial services. Farmers use the platform to advertise their products, while large buyers of selected cereals use it to make purchases or enter long-term offtake purchase contracts with AgroCenta. LendIt allows smallholder farmers to access financial services, such as mobile payments, microloans, crop insurance, and pensions from partnering financial institutions.
Agrimatic (Cairo, Egypt)
With a surging global population, limited arable land, ripple effects of climate change, and lagging agricultural development, food insecurity poses a threat to human existence now more than ever before. The need for an alternative approach to the traditional model of food cultivation is urgent.
Agrimatic is an aquaponic agriculture company founded by Mohammed El Naggar in 2014. The company focuses on providing clean agricultural produce by growing fish and plants together in a closed system that mimics nature, where plants get their nutrition from the treated waste of the fish. Agrimatic rears various fish species and grows a variety of leafy products like lettuce, basil, and arugula. The company hopes to shape a hunger-free world through higher productivity, soil-less technology to ensure food security and sustainability.
Releaf (Akwa Ibom, Nigeria)
Founded by Ikenna Nzewi and Uzoma Ayogu in 2017, Releaf focuses on driving development in Nigeria and Africa’s food system using technology. At various times, the company piloted technologies in trade finance, business finance, commodity linkage between buyers and sellers.
Its current business model is centred on the oil palm industry. The startup buys nuts from farmers, crack the nuts with its proprietary technology called the Kraken, and sell to large food processors. The Kraken technology is modelled to operate at 100 tonnes per day which is 200 times faster than a smallholder farmer with a rock.
Releaf’s mandate is to set up factories near smallholder farmers. This reduces logistics costs and post-harvest losses while increasing processing yields and farmers’ finances.
Agrixtech (Yaounde, Cameroon)
In 2018, Adamou Nchange Kouotou established Agrixtech to tackle crop pests and diseases that hamper agricultural productivity. With Agrixtech’s app, farmers are equipped with the technical know-how to help them adopt a better crop disease management strategy on their farms. The app uses text and voice recognition technology in several local languages to reach farmers with low literacy levels. The app also helps farmers through the agricultural production cycle through advice and task reminders.
ColdHubs (Owerri, Nigeria)
Many smallholder farmers farming fresh produce in Africa cannot access electricity or afford cooling technology. This makes them record increased post-harvest losses. In 2015, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu established ColdHubs to help such farmers prevent post-harvest losses.
ColdHubs is a solar-powered walk-in cold room for smallholder farmers in farm clusters and outdoor markets to store and preserve fresh produce 24 hours a day, seven days a week, extending their shelf life from two days to more than 21 days. The solar panels on each hub are linked to a battery storage system, allowing the coolers to operate off the grid all day.
ColdHubs is available in 38 locations across 22 states in Nigeria and will soon expand its technology and service to East Africa, Southern African, and some western and Francophone-African countries.
Written by Adekunle Agbetiloye