AgriCareers: This techie connects farmers to markets

Julian Kanjere, software developer and founder of FoodPrint, uses blockchain technology to help farmers explore new opportunities and markets. This is how it works and how it helps

Julian Kanjere's FoodPrint uses blockchain technology to connect farmers to market opportunities. Photos: Lerato Maduna/ Food For Mzansi

In June 2021, the “farm-to-fork” start-up FoodPrint won the inaugural Inqola Prize for Innovation. Julian Kanjere, software developer and one of the founding members of the company, hopes to expand the application to help smallholder farmers across the country.

Kanjere, a software developer from Cape Town, has been working on the FoodPrint project for the last three years. His journey started in 2019, when he went back to university as a master’s student, studying data science of financial technology.

It was at university where he met the other three founders of the start-up: Natasha Oates, Thandeka Chehore and Deirdre van den Heever.

“We had an ideation session, where we were discussing the potential uses of blockchain technology. Most of the use cases were financial in nature, but one of them was that we can actually use blockchain to help all the farmers track their operations, etc. This is where the origin of FoodPrint started,” he explains.

Julian Kanjere has put out a call for more smallholders to join FoodPrint. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

At the end of that year, Kanjere and his colleagues went on to pilot the project at the Oranjezicht City Farm Market (OCFM). They connected with Sheryl Ozinsky, one of the market founders, where the pilot ran up until early 2020.

“She allowed us to come into the market, interact with farmers, interact with consumers and find out how they interact with the farmers. And from there we started to develop the initial group of projects for FoodPrint.”

Benefits for farmers and consumers

“Tech for good”. This is how the creators of FoodPrint describe the start-up. Currently, Kanjere says their focus is on getting more smallholder farmers and agri-hubs onto the app.

“The core value at the end of the day is for the farmer, that we help them digitise their operation. We help them to get credibility, and help them to access the market and services.”

Software developer and founder of FoodPrint, Julian Kanjere

The basic function of the app is to connect smallholders directly to new markets. Kanjere explains that farmers are able to list their pending harvests and available produce on the app. Entitities interested in purchasing can then scroll through the app to easily find the produce they are looking for.

“If I’m an intermediary, like a farmers market or an agri-hub, I can log onto the platform and see that ‘OK for today or for this week, these are the people in my area who’ve got the produce that I want’. I can reach out directly to them, which is especially useful if there’s a shortage or something.”

With the FoodPrint technology, farmers and intermediaries have a central platform to interact and expand. Photo: Gary Butterfield/Unsplash

The app also helps the farmer keep comprehensive record of their harvesting information, their yields, sales etc.

Kanjere explains that switching from paper to digital record keeping is much easier and lends credibility to the farmer in times when they need to make financing applications or business proposals.

“When a farmer hands over [produce] to the agri-hub, they log that they handed it over that specific agri-hub and the agri-hub confirms that they’ve received [it]. And what that does for the farmer is that, over 12 months or over 18 months, if [they] want to take out a loan to expand on the operations, they can show what they’ve harvested in the last 18 months, who they’ve sold to, [with confirmation from the buyer]. On paper, it doesn’t have that credibility.”

Kanjere also says eventually the platform will connect directly to consumers as well.

“The kind of consumer we’re looking at is the conscious consumer who wants to eat well, and they want to have a reasonable assurance that [their food] is being grown in a somewhat healthy manner. So, it doesn’t necessarily have to be organic, but they want to know that you know ‘is it pesticide-free?’ And so forth.

“And we also want to support local farmers and local economies. So if they’re buying produce that is associated with FoodPrint, they can scan a code to actually see where this produce is coming from.”

Enrolling smallholder farmers and intermediaries

One of their biggest challenges, Kanjere finds, is connecting with smallholder farmers and proving the value of the platform to them. Kanjere says that many of the smallholder farmers they interact with require an immediate value or pay off and are not really looking at the long-term opportunities the platform could provide for them.

“The hardest thing [is] just to prove the value to smallholders farmers and to the intermediaries. At the core of what we are doing is digitising the supply chain, so we’re creating digital records of what’s in harvest, what has just been sold here.

“[The application] unlocks new opportunities, but because the new opportunities are not immediately visible or obvious, it’s a bit of a hard sell to say that, moving from writing your operations on paper to a digital platform will benefit you in the long run.”

Kanjere has put out an open call for more smallholder farmers and intermediaries to join programme. FoodPrint is contactable via their website, here.

Using technology to make a difference

Helping farmers is the core of what Kanjere wants to do with FoodPrint. Of the original founding team, he is the only member still working on the start-up. “My background is technology.

“And I’ve seen first-hand how a lot of technology projects are only undertaken when there are commercial benefits, when there’s something in it for the technology team and [that benefit] is clear. So, what that means is that trying to create social impact [is] second or third down the list [of priorities].

“But I find myself in a space where we we’ve got a bit of time and the resources to try and figure out the social impact first, and then [look] into commercial viability afterwards. And with a technology background, I feel like I can make a massive difference in this space.”

ALSO READ: ‘Farm-to-fork start-up’ scoops FEED innovation prize

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