Impact through Investment in African Agritech

Homegrown agritech solutions with incredible potential are fuelling investor confidence in the future of African agriculture. Investment in Africa agritech has grown from US$19 million between 2016-2018 to almost US$60 million in 2020 and a whopping US$95 million in 2021. Although this is not an indication of the on-the-ground implementation of agritech as of yet, it is certainly an indication of where things are going.  

Pitch AgriHack contestants with impressive business models have consistently shown that great innovations will be rewarded with investment. Rural Farmers Hub, a 2021 winner of Pitch AgriHack, has received capital investment and competition winnings from a long list of accelerators, incubators, grant funders, contests, and investors, including the Africa Startup Initiative, *seedstars, and the Africa AgTech and Inclusive Insurance Challenge, along with cash grants as an Impact Award winner in the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize. Similarly, J-Palm Liberia has been the recipient of funding from USAID and the elea Center for Ethics in Globalization, with many award wins including the African Entrepreneurship Award and the Africa Business Heroes Awards.

What makes some businesses more likely to receive attention from investors? 

The answer is impact. 

Of the twelve previous Pitch AgriHack finalists, every business has a direct positive impact on farming communities. 

SayeTech reduces the time it takes to thresh one acre of cereal crops from two weeks to two hours with a with their multi-crop thresher. MyFugo improves cow health and dairy production with data from smart cow collars that informs their financial investment choices. Ngwala Inventions make biopesticides and fertilizers available to isolated rural farmers with an automated dispensing system linked to USSD mobile money payments.   

Ventures like Farm Kiosk and GiGs by The Golazo Project are focussed using web platforms to link youth to opportunities. Farm Kiosk connects young people to available land and the agri-value chain actors they will need to be successful farmers, while Golazo’s platform links farmers searching for workers with youth looking for jobs. 

Previous Pitch AgriHack winners, like GrowAgric and FarmCrowdy, are focussed on providing finance and insurance to small and medium scale farmers. They protect their investments and get long-term results by using agronomic data and modern best practises to train their farmers. Ensuring success, they also provide the inputs farmers require and find buyers for their produce. 

For businesses that show the potential for real impact that improves the lives of people in local communities, investment channels are likely to increase in the future. This is especially true for agritech ventures that help farmers to build climate resilience and improve local food security.

Long-term improvements through investment

Agricultural technologies, better data, and far more sustainable farming practices are unlocking the potential of the African food system. With local communities and local entrepreneurs taking initiative, the pervasive problems of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty are slowly being addressed.  

In March 2022, Nigerian agritech company ThriveAgric and Kenyan Apollo Agriculture raised almost $100 million in financing to grow their businesses. Importantly, like GrowAgric and FarmCrowdy, these two companies in turn provide financing solutions to Africa’s numerous smallholder farmers. 

As AgFunder reports, with almost “60% of the continent’s population” working as smallholder farmers, agricultural technology companies focussed on provision of finance, insurance, agronomic support services, and training for smallholders are at the forefront of the battle against poverty and hunger. Conversely, investing in these agritech companies have a far greater positive and sustainable impact than short-term solutions like food aid.     

Although food aid has saved the lives of countless millions of people across Africa, it has also been used to keep wars going while never putting in place the basic infrastructures for local production. 

Without robust local production, people on the continent are harshly affected by global events. The current war in the Ukraine, for instance, is interrupting food aid to Somalia and South Sudan, placing hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation.

Although food aid is still a desperately necessary and immediate solution, many international development funds are choosing to invest in agritech companies that, in turn, invest in the people they serve. It is not an overnight fix to the problems of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, but it represents the best chance for long-term, permanent results.

For investors, positive impact has become as important as profit potential. Ventures that improve the lives of rural communities, draw investor attention. This is especially true for companies that upskill farmers with valuable training, provide running finance and access to time-saving technologies, and supply built-in markets for their produce.

Tech Investment in Africa is Increasing

As Business Insider Africa reports, Kenya is currently the “top destination for agritech investments in Africa”, driven by its agriculture-centric economy and, specifically, a need to solve their food security problem once and for all. Agritech and its ability to reach smallholders plays such an important role in Kenya’s strategy to achieve food security that the Central Bank of Kenya launched MobiGrow in 2018. With the express purpose of reaching smallholder famers, it uses a backwards-compatible USSD system to give farmers access to mobile-based bank accounts. 

Investment in the agriculture space is not just up to governments and venture capitalists. Timbuktoo, a new tech innovation financing facility by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is set to be built in Rwanda. The announcement is stirring excitement for a technology boom on the continent. “The initiative aims to invest millions of dollars in catalytic and commercial capital over the next 10 years in order to build a distributed innovation network of eight pan-African hubs located in key ecosystems,” according to The New Times.

With specific hubs focussing on specific industry verticals, including fintech, agritech, and logistics, agrifood innovators across the continent will soon get access to more critical early-stage finance than ever before.

African solutions to first-world problems

Africa can learn from the mistakes made elsewhere. We now have better long-term data and accurate climate research, and the results are conclusive. Of the nine planetary boundaries we have crossed SIX. Agriculture and the food system has been a major contributor to all six, with climate change, a loss of biosphere/biodiversity integrity, land-systems change, the phosphorous and nitrogen cycle in the biogeochemical flow, freshwater use, and “novel entities” or chemical pollution from synthetic sources, all heavily impacted by the agrifood industry. 

The decimation that occurred in the US and EU as a result of unfettered overuse of pesticides, fertilizer, and repeated monoculture has seriously undermined the health of their soil, their pollinating insects, and biodiversity as a whole. On top of that, as FoodTank reports, the European farming system is only alive because the EU “spends roughly 60 billion Euros every year keeping its farmers in business. This massive annual subsidy is three times as much as Europe spends annually on development aid to all of Africa.”

Building on the wealth of knowledge from the mistakes of others, agripreneurs in Africa have a chance to do it better. And that is where agricultural technology companies come in. 

With locally focussed business models that address knowledge gaps and provide farmers with better training and support, agritech entrepreneurs are empowering smallholder farmers and their families. 

Going into the future all the business choices and technological strides we make must be sustainable, nature-positive, higher-yielding with far less resources, and resilient to climate catastrophes.      

In short… agritech entrepreneurs in Africa have a monumental task. If they can design solutions that empower the people on continent, eliminating poverty and hunger while advancing the health of our natural environment, it will be a model to the rest of the planet.

African Agritech is Shaping a Healthier Planet

Food and technology have been intricately linked since the dawn of agriculture. Every tool designed to work the soil and produce food, from a simple hoe to a high-tech self-driving harvester with an integrated vegetable packaging facility, is agritech. And our reliance on more advanced agricultural technologies to feed the world will only grow.

“If you want to feed the world in 2050, then the next 40 years, we need to produce the same amount of food as we did over the last 8000 years. And that gives a bit of an indication of the pressure on the food system,” says Prof Ernst van den Ende, of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. In the past, more food meant simply to add more farmland into the equation. But that is no longer an option.  

“We’ve already cleared an area roughly the size of South America to grow crops. To raise livestock, we’ve taken over even more land, an area roughly the size of Africa. Agriculture’s footprint has caused the loss of whole ecosystems around the globe […]” relates Jonathan Foley in National Geographic. With 40% of the land surface of the entire planet already converted to farmland, and a very strong possibility that overfishing will cause the irreparable collapse of the global fishing industry, the need to leverage technology and nature-positive food production practices is more urgent than ever.

Change of the current system is inevitable, and agritech will be a determining factor in the battle for a healthier planet. 

Agritech boosts production on already-farmed lands

Leapfrogging the environmental damage caused by the intensification of agriculture in developed countries, Africa has an opportunity to increase the yields on existing farmland without further destruction of natural habitat. As a recent research study on The future of farming: Who will produce our food?, notes, by combining “principles of agroecology, organic agriculture and (increasingly) regenerative agriculture” with high-precision, agricultural technologies farmers can maximise yield on less land, using fewer resources, while protecting and increasing biodiversity.

Rural Farmers Hub, one of the winners of Pitch AgriHack in 2021, helps farmers in Nigeria to understand their soil and maximise their yields. They consolidate agronomic data, including climate and satellite data, to generate personalised recommendations for their farmers that guide them to improved soil and crop health. Their data-driven agritech service helps farmers to make optimal farming decision, leading to yield increases of up to 55%.  

Agritech increases efficiency with less resources

A major deterrent keeping many rural young people from participating in agriculture is the time-intensive and labour-intensive nature of legacy agriculture practises. In short, the more time and resources it takes to complete farming processes, like planting and harvest, the less profit you make for every hour you spend working. 

Ghanaian agricultural equipment manufacturer SAYeTECH, saw the impact of manual farm labour on school children who were kept out of class during harvest season to help their families with the threshing of their crops. It inspired them to design a multi-crop thresher that knocks cereals off their stalks. It may seem like a simple task but threshing a one-acre harvest takes two weeks of manual labour. With a SAYeTECH automated thresher, the task is completed in less than two hours. 

Although this example is about human resources, agritech has the potential to reduce the resources used at every step of the farming process. Drip irrigation wastes far less water. Data-driven precision fertiliser and pesticide application reduces the amount of chemicals damaging the environment. And share-economy technology, like AYuTe Winner Hello Tractor, means farm equipment can benefit entire communities instead of just single owners.  

Agricultural technologies can make time-consuming processes effortless, giving farmers more time to diversify or streamline their farming operations. And, more importantly, it gives their children time to focus on their own education, growing a capable generation of future farmers who are serious about protecting the environment.

Agritech minimises food waste

Food waste is one of the biggest barriers to feeding the planet. In Foley’s five step plan to feed 9 billion people he says, “An estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed.” Fixing this one problem will have the single biggest impact on food availability. 

Across Africa, post-harvest losses are a massive problem. Poor infrastructure like damaged roads, lack of transport, and few cold storage solutions to keep food fresh in the sweltering heat, means yields are lost before they even reach the marketplace. 

Pitch AgriHack winner Fresh-in-a-Box in Zimbabwe overcomes this specific problem by rethinking the logistics of traditional agriculture. They ask, why can’t fresh food simply go straight from the farm to the consumer? Through their e-commerce platform and direct delivery service, they offer farmers and consumers a waste-free solution, with guaranteed freshness and no middlemen to inflate the prices.      

Agritech overcomes finance barriers

Finance and investment for agricultural endeavours is a sensitive topic, especially for smallholders. Finance institutions require farmers to provide collateral for loans, and interest rates are often too high for agricultural operations that have a long-term profit horizon. Digital financing and investment platforms, designed specifically with farmers in mind, are reducing this barrier-to-entry fast.

FarmCrowdy in Nigeria and GrowAgric in Kenya, both previous Pitch AgriHack winners, are platforms that provide an end-to-end value chain service to secure their investment in small farms. But they don’t just give farmers money to get their operations going. They also provide training on best practises, supply quality inputs to help their farmers increase yields, and guarantee a market for the crops. To protect against a worst-case scenario, they also provide insurance on the harvest. 

Holistic value-chain services that leverage agritech helps to maximise yields on existing farmland, and by empowering smallholders to make real profits from their hard work, they increase the prosperity of rural communities. Transferring the latest best-practises in nature-positive food production is helping these farmers to be better stewards of their environment.

Do you have climate-smart agritech solution that will help to build a better food system and a healthier planet? Then Pitch AgriHack 2022 is for you! African founders or co-founders, aged 18-40, of technology-based and digital services businesses in the agriculture sector are eligible to enter. Applications for Pitch AgriHack are open from 20 June 2022 to 29 July 2022 at

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