The Pioneers Revolutionizing African Agriculture | Evolve The Pioneers Revolutionizing African Agriculture | Evolve

The Pioneers Revolutionizing African Agriculture

Why agtech is
the key to
Africa's potential

Nearly two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africans are smallholder farmers. And yet, the continent remains a net importer of food.

Despite hosting a quarter of the world’s arable land, sub-Saharan Africa produces only 10% of global agricultural output. These low yields force many Africans into farming for subsistence, unable to pursue other ambitions. And they keep food prices high.

But a new generation of innovators are changing that. Four African agtech ventures are trailblazing an agricultural revolution. With bold solutions rooted in tech and connectivity, they are creating networks and opportunities for future farming generations both in Africa and around the world.

It’s a revolution that promises not only to connect farmers in Africa into international markets, but to provide the agricultural solutions needed to feed a growing global population.

Water ‘at the push of a button’
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“96% of sub-Saharan farmers rely on rain for water, or they spend 3-4 hours a day lowering a bucket into a hand dug well for 20 liters of water.”

Samir Ibrahim | Evolve
Samir Ibrahim
CEO of SunCulture

“96% of sub-Saharan farmers rely on rain for water,” says Samir Ibrahim, CEO and Co-Founder of SunCulture. “Or they spend 3-4 hours a day lowering a bucket into a hand-dug well for 20 liters of water.”

Ibrahim’s company is working to free those labor-intensive hours. SunCulture is the first and largest company in sub-Saharan Africa to develop and commercialize solar-powered irrigation. Using its systems, farmers can access both water and electricity at the push of a button. Liberated from the vagaries of weather, and back-breaking work at the well, “They can grow whatever they want. They can take control of their lives,” says Ibrahim.

And by having such easy access to water, SunCulture’s customers don’t just reclaim time, their yields improve as well. The company says farmers have grown five times more produce with the system, multiplying incomes ten-fold.

Crucially, SunCulture has gone to great lengths to make the system affordable, offering a range of credit plans so customers can repay over two or three years, funded by energy savings and higher incomes. It’s an essential step in a market where farmers often struggle to access even basic inputs like seeds and fertilizer.

Making the leap to market
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“These farmers might be seen as poor, but they’re very rich in land.”

Benjamin Njenga | Evolve
Benjamin Njenga
Co-Founder of Apollo Agriculture

“Farmcrowdy clients increase their income by as much as 60%. It makes a real difference to their lives.”

Akindele Philips | Evolve
Akindele Philips
CEO and Co-founder of Farmcrowdy

“These farmers might be seen as poor,” says Apollo Agriculture Co-Founder and Director of Operations, Benjamin Njenga, “but they’re very rich in land.” But without the financial records required to access traditional finance, they’re unable to farm that land to its full potential.

To date, Apollo has partnered with over 100,000 farmers to bridge that gap. The company uses satellite imagery and machine learning (ML) to evaluate the land, and therefore the farmer’s creditworthiness. Rather than loaning cash, Apollo offers farmers a pre-optimized package of seeds and fertilizer, to be re-paid when they sell at harvest; helped by connection to the company’s network of over 350 distribution partners. The impact is enormous. 89% of Apollo customers have reported productivity increases. 84% say their quality of life has improved as a result.

Farmcrowdy operates on a similar philosophy. Its one-stop-shop platform connects actors across the entire food value chain: Farmers, suppliers, financiers, state governments.

“Farmcrowdy clients increase their income by as much as 60%. It makes a real difference to their lives.”

Akindele Philips | Evolve
Akindele Philips
CEO and Co-founder of Farmcrowdy

Over 425,000 registered farmers gain access to inputs – seeds, fertilizer – along with data tools to ensure they get exactly what they need. But they can also access finance, marketing, and “paths to superior markets” says CEO and Co-Founder Akindele Phillips. Farmers can sell directly to consumers with its FC Foods service or join the FC Aggregation network to contribute their produce to Farmcrowdy’s aggregation centers, for sale in bulk.

By cutting out a multitude of intermediaries, Farmcrowdy farmers aren’t just exposed to broader, often international markets, they also retain a higher share of sales. Phillips says Farmcrowdy clients increase their income “by as much as 60%. It makes a real difference to their lives.”

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Scaling up

“We’re empowering people to create jobs, become captains of industry. We’re just getting started.”

Benji Meltzer | Evolve
Benji Meltzer
Co-Founder of Aerobotics

While small farms struggle to access inputs and markets, larger farms face other yield-constraining issues. “Large-scale farms are massive. It can be really difficult to detect problems early and manage them in a precise way,” says Benji Meltzer, Co-Founder and CTO of Aerobotics.

The company uses drones to give farmers a real-time perspective on what’s happening on their land. The aerial imagery is fed into image recognition AI and advanced agronomic analytics, which can help farmers use data to improve land management, such as detecting irrigation deficiencies at the tree-by-tree level, early enough to decide on corrective action.

The approach has helped Aerobotics grow to a team of over 90, and establish itself as a leader in its category across 18 territories worldwide – including Australia, California, and the company’s native South Africa.

But while success is welcome, ultimately, says CEO and Co-Founder James Paterson, the goal is to help farmers everywhere produce more with less. “If you can produce a crop with less input, producing more food or more fruit, that is a big win for food production, as well as the farmers’ revenue and profit margins.”

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Africa’s agriculture revolution

For a continent as rooted in agriculture as Africa, the potential impact of these innovative companies cannot be overstated. As they scale up, so too will their effect: on the farmers themselves, but also on every business in the agriculture ecosystem. Growing farmers need more seeds, fertilizers, equipment.

And by making the most of Africa’s swathes of underexploited arable land, the continent could well become the world’s breadbasket, feeding a growing population just as climate change puts food security high on international agendas.

Between them, these four companies are helping Africa’s farmers realize the full potential of their land – in terms of yield and income both. But they are also enacting an agricultural revolution that promises to transform farming far beyond the continent.

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