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Agritech is the next frontier in enhancing food security

By Efayomi Carr, Principal, Flourish Ventures

Agritech is a small but fast-growing segment of the startup universe that’s aiming to improve or disrupt the global food and agriculture industry.

Over the past five years, funding in agritech start-ups across the African continent has been rising consistently, according to data from Disrupt Africa, with hot spots emerging in Kenya and South Africa. While African agritechs raised more than Ksh 6.4 billion in 2020, up 23.7% from the previous year, they still represent 8.6% of all startups across the continent. Kenya has led the way mainly because of deals in the last two years including the $85 million raised by GRO Intelligence, and other big deals involving Twiga Foods and Apollo Agriculture (a firm supported by Flourish Ventures).

These investments in African agritech are quite timely as agriculture and food security in Africa has been under the pressure of many challenges such as low productivity, lack of knowledge and exposure to new farming techniques, and limited financial support —  especially for the small-scale farmers. Add to that, Africa’s weather is unpredictable, its  population is exploding, and current farming practices deplete the farm soil and exacerbate deforestation and water scarcity. Farmers often lack technical expertise and young people are migrating away from rural areas and into cities. Furthermore, African farmers will need to increase their productivity in order to provide food and economic growth to support its growing population.

Poor digital literacy and unwavering respect for traditional ways of working still persist. Africa remains the most food-insecure region in the world and a net importer of food. Finally, we are also in the very early days on the continent of understanding what funding models are going to work. And we can’t forget the existential threat of the climate change crisis that looms large over our planet – Africa being the continent that will be most severely impacted.

These challenges are prompting investments in newer technologies to enhance productivity through smart agriculture techniques. Lately, there has been an increased use of various technologies in agriculture in Africa, such as Internet of Things (IoT), open-source software, cloud computing, artificial Intelligence, drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and big data analytics. Many tech start-ups have developed solutions targeting various aspects of agriculture, including finance, supply chain, retailing, and even delivering information related to crops and weeds. These solutions are accessible to farmers through front-end devices such as smartphones and tablets, or even SMS.

Some agritech start-ups in Africa have come up with solutions that have led to an increase in productivity of the farms. Drones are a breakthrough technology, helping farmers oversee their crops, and manage their farms effectively. They use highly focused cameras to capture pictures of crops, soil or weeds. This, in addition to big data analytics and AI, provides insights to farmers, saving their time and energy, while also helping them find potential issues which could impact the productivity of their farms.

There are various agritech start-ups that rent or lease drones to farmers to analyse their crops and farms. Other technologies enable smart farm management through the use of networked sensors that could provide the farmer with granular details of the crops, soil, farming equipment or livestock.

In addition to agritech equipment, there are also new financial services for farmers. Apollo Agriculture provides solutions related to credit, farm inputs, advice insurance and market access through the use of agronomic machine learning, remote sensing, and mobile technology using satellite data and cloud computing. Farmdrive, a Kenyan startup also plays within the finance space where it connects farmers to loans and financial management tools, all through their mobile phone.

The overall impact that these startups are having on the Kenyan agricultural sector is bound to be of great benefit to the economy seeing as the agriculture sector is a large contributor to Kenya’s national GDP. It is imperative that these startups are provided with an enabling environment to spur their growth and widespread adoption across the region to the benefit of the citizens of Kenya and Africa at large.

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