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

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

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

FoodPrint, a tech start-up from the Western Cape, won the inaugural Inqola FEED Innovation Prize. The start-up uses block chain technology to connect smallholder farmers to market opportunities.

As climate change deepens and food systems around the globe become more unequal, organisations around the world are looking towards technology and how it can be used to create a more equal food playing field.

Through the Inqola FEED Innovation Prize, hosted by Food Equity, Equality and Democracy (FEED), tech start-ups had the opportunity to showcase their internet-based solutions to food inequality. The start-ups were judged on a variety of thematic areas, including urban agriculture, farmer enablement and agri-entrepreneurship.

Earlier this week, FoodPrint, a “technology for good start-up” company, won first prize for their farm-to-fork supply chain platform which, according to their website, simplifies “production and harvests data collection for smallholder farmers, and connects them to market opportunities.”

A graduation gift

Julian Kanjere (31), a member of FoodPrint’s founding team, was elated to hear that their company won the prize.

The first FoodPrint pilot took places at Oranjezicht City Food Market in Cape Town. Photo: Unsplash/Food For Mzansi

He tells Food For Mzansi, “It was the best news to start the week. I was literally jumping up and down in my office. Funny story is I graduated with my Master’s last week, which is where the FoodPrint idea started, so this felt like a graduation gift in some way.”

Kanjere, a software developer based in Cape Town, started working with blockchain technology around 2018. His decision to go back to university in 2019 is what led him to meeting Natasha Oates, Thandeka Chehore, and Deirdre van den Heever, all of whom formed the initial FoodPrint founding team.

Kanjere started his Master’s degree in Financial Technology at the University of Cape Town, which includes the study of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

“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.

After the ideation session, the students started connecting to various food ecosystems in the Mother City.

“We started to test the Oranjezicht City Farm Market, and we reached out to one of the founders there, Sheryl Ozinsky.

“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.”

The students eventually started running their pilot at the same farmers’ market from December 2019 to early 2020, in order to determine whether the technology they developed at FoodPrint will add value to the farmers.

The market provided FoodPrint with some valuable learnings, learnings that they will be using to simplify and improve their product.

“We want to try and roll out a follow-on pilot of our FoodPrint chatbot, hopefully before the end of the year. The winnings will help us to get a few more resources to aid with some of the development and the operations of the company,” says Kanjere.

Meaningful impact on food system

FEED co-founder Kevin Naidoo. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Meanwhile, FEED co-founder Kevin Naidoo says, initially, about 150 start-ups showed interest in the competition with 30 submissions received.

He says, “It bodes well for the country that we are seeing tremendous interest from technology teams looking to make a significant difference in the food system in South Africa.”

The prize was created to highlight ideas and solutions that have the potential to create meaningful impact in the food system in Mzansi. This is even more urgent given the severe stresses placed on the food system as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the inaugural round, the prize focused specifically on internet-based solutions that would have the ability to scale rapidly.

The winning entries were selected based on five overarching thematic areas: local economies, circularity, supply chains, agroecology, and capacity building. Entries were broken down into evaluation areas covering strategy, innovation, systems thinking, collaboration, inclusivity, and impact.

GreenFingers Mobile, which deploys food parcels and vouchers amid the pandemic, was announced as the runner-up. FoodPrint and GreenFingers Mobile walks away with R100 000 and R50 000 in prize money, respectively.

Nicola Coundourakis, FEED co-founder. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“The prize process has shown just how many innovative ideas are out there. This energy must be harnessed for food system change,” says Nicola Coundourakis, FEED co-founder.

The prize was launched in partnership with the Simanye Trust, Southern Africa Food Lab, iZindaba Zokudla, Seriti Institute, UJ-PEETS and Food For Mzansi, who have all come together with the belief that the solutions to issues with the food system in South Africa exist within the country. 

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