Agriculture in South Africa is mostly known as a space for older people. Still, young people in the country are contributing to the sector in a multitude of ways, including through technology. This Youth Month, we look at three innovative young people within Mzansi’s agritech industry.
Farming is a risky business, and with issues like climate change and food security becoming more prevalent, having effective agritech solutions becomes more important. The potential of agritech to empower farmers and other stakeholders is almost undeniable, and though Mzansi’s agritech industry is still small, it continues to show positive growth.
With agritech, young people have the opportunity to establish non-traditional careers within the sector that still contributes to its improvement and growth. In keeping with the Youth Month theme, we highlight three agritech businesses founded and run by young people.
Empowering the informal market
Informal traders in Mzansi offer a very important service but face a high amount of risk given how unprotected the informal market is. This was something Lunga Momoza, a student at Stellenbosch University, witnessed first-hand during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns when his aunt struggled to maintain her informal trading.
“It was a very difficult situation. The tough [lockdown] regulations meant that only a handful of traders could stock-up on fresh produce. This caused a major backlog for farmers, who had to quickly find a new way of selling their goods before they perished,” says Momoza.
To resolve the problem, Momoza was part of a team that founded Basket, a chat-based app connecting producers and retailers directly. The app, which is operational in the Western Cape for now, caters for farmers and traders who may not really have access to computers and stable internet, but like most South Africans, are adept at mobile phone technology.
To Momoza, South Africa’s many challenges are not necessarily blockers for progress.
“I see it as endless opportunities for innovation. As the next generation of leaders, we are faced with issues such as the high unemployment rate, which need us – the youth – to start thinking differently about how we solve them.”
You can read the rest of Momoza’s story here.
Pushing innovation at Khula!
2021 was an incredible year for agritech start-up, Khula. Stylised as Khula!, the company made headlines last year when they secured R20 million rand in funding to expand their operations.
At only 27 years old, Karidas Tshintsholo heads the company as CEO. He also co-founded the company, along with Matthew Piper and Jackson Dyora.
Access to funding, infrastructure, and market are three of the biggest barriers smallholder farmers face in Mzansi. This is why the Khula! the platform offers three functionalities that address these issues.
The first functionality offered through the Khula! Inputs App, allows farmers to access approved inputs with local and international suppliers. With the Khula! Fresh Produce Marketplace, farmers can access their market directly by selling to bulk buyers. Finally, with the Khula! Funder Dashboard, farmers can connect with potential investors.
Read more about Khula! here.
A “farm-to-fork” innovation
Julian Kanjere’s agritech journey started in 2019, while he was studying for his Master’s degree in data science of financial technology in Cape Town. His app called FoodPrint, was born as a university project, where he and the other app founders put their heads together to figure out 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.
By the end of 2019, Kanjere and his colleagues were testing their app in Oranjezicht City Farm Market (OCFM), where they piloted the project well into 2020. The founder of the market, Sheryl Ozinsky, opened the door to the market for them.
“She allowed us to come into the market, interact with farmers and consumers and find out how they interact with the farmers. And from there, we started to develop the initial group of projects for FoodPrint.”
Kanjere emphasises that the app was created primarily for the benefit of smallholders.
With FoodPrint, smallholders, who usually struggle with access to markets, are able to interact with agrihubs and retailers directly. The app allows them to list their pending harvests and available produce, and it also allows them to keep much better records.
For Kanjere, making a social difference is one of his biggest motivators. He says that he has seen how technology projects are generally undertaken just for commercial success. With FoodPrint, he says, the social impact is the primary driver.
“I find myself in a space where 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.”
Read more about FoodPrint here.