Data science and artificial intelligence have improved processes and helped optimize results in several industries. Building on the opportunities they present, some Nigerian tech entrepreneurs decided to put them at the service of agriculture and online commerce.

Zowasel is a digital solution developed by a Nigerian startup. It enables smallholder farmers to use technology to improve their productivity, sustainability, and profitability across the value chain. The Lagos-based agritech startup that launched the solution was founded in 2019 by Jerry Oche and Oghenekome Umuerri. It aims to leverage data science and artificial intelligence to validate and secure the agricultural value chains, from farm to market.

To achieve that goal, it developed an Android app, which enables farmers to access its network of agronomy experts who evaluate productivity and strive to improve crop quality to attract good buyers.

Zowasel also checks buyers’ information such as their creditworthiness before connecting them to farmers. "We match buyers and sellers of the same commodity. [...] You decide on pricing and terms together, Zowasel enforces smart contracts and ensures that all transactions are shipped and payments are made after delivery without any issues," the platform indicates.

In 2021, the agritech startup claimed it was working with more than 1.5 million smallholder farmers in northern Nigeria. That same year, it secured $100,000 in funding from Guinness and Prosimador at the Zero Hunger Sprint 2021, an event held in Lagos and supported by the World Food Programme. Although it has launched operations in the Niger Delta to support smallholder farmers there, expansion outside Nigeria is not yet on its agenda.

Adoni Conrad Quenum

Published in Solutions

He is a talented and determined innovator who is applying his engineering and scientific expertise to solving the agricultural challenges faced by farmers in developing countries.

Youssef Benkirane (photo) is a Moroccan entrepreneur who graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne with a master's degree in engineering, management, and entrepreneurship. He also holds a master's degree in general science and strategic management from CentraleSupélec. In 2022, he co-founded the agritech startup Terraa, which he oversees as the CEO.

The startup leverages innovative technologies to source fresh produce from farmers and deliver it to retailers within hours, connecting farmers with retailers, restaurants, and service providers. Its technology platform enables farmers to earn higher incomes and ensures consistent demand for their products while providing retailers with high-quality goods at competitive prices.

It also reduces food waste and decreases greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater use, and land use, contributing to a more environmentally friendly food supply chain.

In a round led by FoodLabs, a European venture capitalist and food, sustainability, and health research studio, Terraa raised US$1.5 million in pre-seed funding on February 14, 2023. Other investors in the round included UM6P Ventures, Outlierz Ventures, Musha Ventures, and DFS Lab.

"In the next few months, we will build some collection centers in all the major agricultural cities of Morocco. We will use them to store the produce collected from the farmers for distribution to the end customers," Youssef Benkirane told TechCrunch after the funding round.

Since 2021, the tech entrepreneur is an advisor for the decentralized autonomous organization MakerDAO. His professional career started in 2014 when he joined Rolex as an industrial engineer. Concurrently, he was a software engineer for luxury goods retailer Richemont.

In 2015, he was hired by the food and beverage company Try The World as a growth and data manager. Two years later, he joined Argon & Co, a Paris-based management consulting firm, as a senior consultant. In January 2019, he was named a senior partner at the consulting firm Bain & Company, and in December of the same year, he became a consultant at the firm. From 2021 to the creation of Terraa, he was the general manager of Zapp, a grocery retail company.

Melchior Koba

Published in TECH STARS

He is a visionary entrepreneur who focuses on quality and innovation to improve local food systems and provide healthy and affordable food to the population. He founded two start-ups that serve his goal of developing the agricultural sector in Africa.

Shikama Dioscore (photo) is a Rwandan entrepreneur who graduated from the National University of Rwanda with a bachelor's degree in plant biology and conservation in 2012. He is also the founder and CEO of the food distribution startup Food Bundles.

His startup, founded in 2020, wants to optimize the fresh distribution chain in urban areas while creating a resilient and sustainable marketplace for small-scale farmers. Its digital platform specifically connects farmers with buyers in urban areas.

In 2011, he founded AgriGo, another agritech company that helps farmers improve yields.

With an AgriGo account, farmers can access information on virtually any topic that directly affects their day-to-day business. The startup also provides a management platform for agricultural cooperatives that have to manage thousands of farmers. Using its platform, financial institutions can also inform farmers of financing opportunities. 

Shikama is one of the founding members of Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF), a forum that aims at "promoting and advocating the business of youth who are involved in farming." From 2016 to 2022, he headed the forum's Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture (ICT4Ag) cluster. As such, his work included " engaging the right partners to stimulate the use of ICT4Ag, and develop the youth who are creating technology solutions to boost farming and the agriculture value chain in general."

The Alibaba eFunders fellow (2017) was one of the founding members of the Rwanda Young ICT Entrepreneurs Association, which aimed to inspire "tech Entrepreneurship among young Rwandans, develop strong business and interpersonal skills, and thus facilitate the creation of jobs in Rwanda’s Technology space." He remained a member of the association from 2012 to 2021. Between 2011 and 2012, he was a reporter and Kinyarwanda translator for the Rwandan multimedia company IGIHE.

Melchior Koba

Published in TECH STARS

On January 5, 2023, Algerian team SevenG won the second prize in the finals of the global competition organized by Huawei. It won the prize thanks to its AI tool that automates farming. At a time when food insecurity is hanging over millions of people all over the world, the seven students who launched the tool believe that it is an efficient and less restrictive solution to make farming more profitable. In an interview with We Are Tech, they present their ambitious project.

What inspired you to launch FarmAI?

We were inspired by the food insecurity affecting Algeria and several countries in the world. We decided to develop an IT system, combined with other tools, which would help create a smart farm, monitor crops, identify pests, build a smart irrigation system, and monitor weather changes. The main idea is to quickly detect and efficiently respond to diseases affecting farms.

How does your solution work?

The early wheat rust disease detection system combines artificial intelligence and drones to monitor wheat fields. The drone flies around the field every 4 days, capturing images of the plants with its camera. This data is then transferred to a deep neural network that performs image classification and analysis to identify possible infections. If a set of data points at a high infection probability, the system will alert the farmer through a mobile app and backend system, allowing the farmer to take the necessary actions to preserve crops and avoid financial losses.  

We already have audiences with the Ministries of Economy and Agriculture. They will help us either partner with local drone manufacturers or purchase our drones. In both cases, the great support offered by the President of the Republic to agritech and startups is a real opportunity.  

Why did you choose artificial intelligence to power your solution?

We didn't choose to use artificial intelligence (AI) because it's a trendy technology or something like that, but our problem requires a lot of effort, time, and money. So, as we all know, AI improves the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of human actions. Those are the reasons we chose AI for our FarmAI project. At this stage, we are using AI in two key functions which are computer vision and the automation of drones that monitor farms, process images and classify them.

Given the potential of artificial intelligence, why limit the solution to the identification of wheat rust only?

At the beginning of the Tech4good competition, our idea was to develop a system that would help reduce losses in farms and ensure food security in our country. But, as we were time-limited and our project was focused on a specific feature, which is the detection of rust disease, even before the competition, our mentors advised us to pursue this feature. Nevertheless, we plan to add other features, including pest detection and the detection of other diseases. We plan to deploy our solution in more farms.

Our focus on wheat rust stems from the position of wheat in the Algerian economy. Algerians consume more than 100 kilograms of wheat yearly. The country produces and exports the commodity, which is a great source of income for households and the whole country. Our solution helps address food and economic issues not only in Algeria but also in the whole world.

What are SevenG's plans for FarmAi after Tech4Good?

The next step is to test our solution. We have already spoken with farmers and most of them are interested. The solution has been developed in such a way that it is easy to use even for non -tech-savvy individuals. Since most farmers are already using smartphones, they only have to check the reports since everything that has to do with drone calibration, launch, and data analysis is automated.

Once we are done with the testing phase, we will offer free trials to farmers to convince them of the usefulness of our solution. Then, we will seek investors to quickly develop our business and get more clients.

Published in Solutions

She is a passionate entrepreneur who wants to give back control over the entire food value chain to significantly reduce crop losses in Egypt. With her brother, she developed a tech solution for that purpose.

Farah Emara (photo) is the CEO of Egyptian agritech startup Freshsource, which she launched with her brother Omar Emara.

Her startup leverages data and tech tools to transform the lives of producers, businesses, and consumers by creating sustainable food systems. It was launched after its two co-founders realized that in Egypt, food security is jeopardized because close to 30% of crops are lost due to poor post-harvest, storage, and transportation conditions. They also noticed that the high number of intermediaries in the supply chain and the lack of transparency generate an about 80% income shortfall for farmers. 

Therefore, with over 80 employees, the startup launched in Cairo, in 2018, manages the entire fresh food value chain, including transportation, storage, and packaging in cold storage and appropriate facilities. It buys from farmers at consistent prices and sells the products at reduced rates. Nowadays, it serves clients in 11 cities in Egypt, with the aim of becoming the leading agricultural supply chain platform in the Middle East and North Africa region and changing the way fresh produce is bought, transported, and sold. It has already transported more than 10,000 tons of produce and claims over 1,000 deliveries weekly.

"FreshSource is disrupting the Egyptian agriculture industry by streamlining the value chain through technology. We are the region’s first B2B platform for fresh fruits and vegetables, connecting producers to businesses by leveraging data and technology and providing last-mile solutions," Farah Emara said in 2022.

 Before founding FreshSource, between 2012 and 2016, she worked for Endeavour, a global community of high-impact entrepreneurs, as an entrepreneur selection and growth analyst and then as an entrepreneur selection and growth manager. In March 2016, she joined the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble where she worked as a Strategic Business Manager for the Middle East until 2018.

Let's note that her startup is among the 14 businesses selected for the 2023 Africa Tech Summit (February 15-16).  In 2022, she received the Digital Agriculture Award of the year, issued by the World Bank and the IFC. 

Melchior Koba

Published in TECH STARS

The solution aims to help farmers and fresh produce farmers quickly sell their products while ensuring farm traceability. 

Mahaseel Masr is a digital solution that connects farm owners with buyers looking for fresh products. According to Mohamed Abdel Rahman, founder of the startup behind the app, "demand for first-rate fruits and vegetables at competitive prices is showing strong growth, driven by a global rapid population increase and raised digital awareness, in addition to a demanding need for global supply chain stability." Therefore, the solution wants to facilitate secure and reliable transactions while ensuring farm traceability.

Through its Android app, the solution allows buyers and sellers to create their accounts and carry out business transactions. Buyers must type the product they need into the search bar and choose the farms offering such products depending on the location.

Mahaseel Masr claims more than 28,000 member farms and more than a million tons of crops harvested and sold. On Play Store, its Android app has been downloaded more than a hundred times.

Adoni Conrad Quenum

Published in Solutions

Agriculture is the main sector in most African countries. Tech entrepreneurs are stepping in to improve living conditions in this vital sector of the concerned economies.

Iwolonet is a digital solution developed by a Cameroonian startup. It is a business space where farmers can showcase their products online to attract buyers.  

Via its Android app, farmers can register to access its services. They can also do so via its web platforms.

With their account, they can post their products, see the products posted by other users and connect with buyers and suppliers.

On Playstore, the app has been donloaded more than 10,000 times. Users present on the platform inlcude international companies, cooperatives and associations.

Adoni Conrad Quenum

Published in Solutions

She got her agritech business idea during an academic internship. With some of her classmates, she developed a system to reduce the post-harvest losses incurred by smallholder farmers in her country. Thanks to her system, she has earned several awards and recognitions. 

Sara Benlafqih (photo) is a Moroccan industrial management engineer. She is also the CEO and one of the co-founders of agritech startup BMTA&C which develops innovative solutions to challenges like access to energy and food insecurity. 

Through BMTA&C, she created a storage unit to help farmers extend the shelf life of their crops from 2 to 20 days. The unit uses a solar cooling system to help smallholder farmers in remote areas reduce crop losses in Morocco and the sub-region. 

The said unit was inspired by a discovery Sara made during an academic internship. Indeed, she found out that farmers used to lose almost one-third of their harvest yearly just because they had no storage facility. The storage unit she created can now store up to six tons of fruit and vegetables without using coolants, which are harmful to the environment. 

By giving access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy, our technology promotes food security, fights climate change, and improves farmers’ livelihoods,” Sara told Forbes in early 2022. 

Before launching BMTA&C, the CEO who holds an MSc in industrial management engineering interned at various companies and organizations. In June 2017, she was a blue-collar intern at OCP SA, a mineral exploration firm. The following month, she spent a two-week summer internship at Cardiff Metropolitan University. In April 2018, she took on a 1-month shadowing internship at the mining firm Group Managem. 

From June to August 2018, she was an engineering intern at the Portuguese group Águas de Portugal (AdP). Her last internship was in 2019 with an end-of-studies internship at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, where she got her MSc in industrial management engineering. 

In 2017, she was a speaker at the Dean’s Forum held at MINES ParisTech. The following year, she was also a speaker at the Economy Days, in Lyon, Paris, where the discussions revolve around the growth of the digital sector in Africa. 

Nominated for the Aviram Awards - Tech for Humanity launched by the Aviram Family Foundation and Forbes to celebrate the most impactful startups in the Middle East and North Africa in 2022, Sara Benlafqih's startup participated in the four-month accelerator program, MassChallenge Switzerland 2022. In 2021, it was in third place in the EDF Pulse Africa 2021 innovation competition and was the Grand Prize winner of the Global Food Challenge.

Melchior Koba

Published in Solutions

In African countries, small-scale farmers contribute a significant portion of the food supply. They are nevertheless affected by several problems including lack of funding, post-harvest, and yield losses. In Ethiopia, a tech entrepreneur has decided to tackle the issue of yield loss by leveraging digital technologies.

Lersha is a digital solution developed by an Ethiopian eponymous startup. It allows access to agricultural inputs for farmers and helps them hire mechanization services and request dynamic agro-climatic advice.

Smallholder farmers can access its services via its mobile app and call center. Once farmers download its app, they need to register their accounts by providing some personal information. The startup has also dispatched agents to familiarize farmers with the tools and services it offers. Via those agents, the farmers can also access its services.

Currently, Lersha has identified more than 44,160 farmers. It has deployed over 88 agents to manage those farmers and added more than 172 mechanization service providers to its database. Its Android app has been downloaded more than 500 times according to stats shown by PlayStore, the official Android Appstore.

In 2022, Lersha was among the eight startups selected for the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) Innovation Fund which aims to support solutions that boost low-income and vulnerable communities’ capacity to adapt to, anticipate or absorb climate-related shocks or stresses.

Adoni Conrad Quenum

Published in Solutions

The trained accountant chose to venture into the agritech sector by developing an e-commerce platform that sells fresh fruits and vegetables. The venture has already earned him local and international recognition.

Elia Timotheo (photo) is a Certified Professional Accountant who graduated from the Tanzanian National Board of Accountants and Auditors (NBAA) in 2018. He is also the founder and CEO of East Africa (EA) Fruits Co. a food distribution company that aims mission to improve the lives of tens of thousands of Tanzanian farmers and small businesses.

EA Fruits, which was launched in 2013,  wants to reduce post-harvest losses by collecting, processing, storing -thanks to cold chain technologies when needed- and distributing agricultural products.  On its online platform, the company markets all types of food, from cereals to fresh fruits and vegetables...

Roughly half of what farmers produce never reaches the market, and this loss is spread out across the farm-to-market value chain. First, farmers may lack the knowledge and training to properly care for their farms, produce and harvests, resulting in 20 to 25 percent of losses. Second, farmers sell produce to brokers who use inappropriate vehicles to transport perishable produce, leading to another 10 percent of losses. Lastly, in the market, it’s very difficult to sell all the produce in one day or even two, yet there are no storage facilities for a truckload of produce that just spent days travelling hundreds of miles in inadequate conditions. All this results in severe losses for farmers who fail to reap the fruits of their hard work,” Elias said in 2020 while explaining the rationale behind the creation of EA Fruits.

To change this, East Africa Fruits establishes a relationship with smallholder farmers and provides training, food processing, storage and market access using cold-storage transportation. This process extends the shelf-life of produce and reduces post-harvest losses,” he added.

Since 2008, the trained accountant is a member of the advisory board of Changbay Sonic Hotels in Tanzania. In 2013, he co-founded the processing and distribution company AMEJ Investment Limited. Three years earlier, he had co-founded 7 Stars Computers Limited, an “affordable” computer marketing firm when he “realized that computers and laptops had vital importance to college students and they would not afford to buy by then.”  

The serial entrepreneur kicked off his professional career, in 2010, by joining the foreign exchange bureau Kibo Palace Group as an exchange manager, sales assistant, and customer relations officier. In December 2011, he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Cooperatives as a field representative. Some 12 months later, he joined the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs as a junior accountant.

Thanks to EA Fruits, he has received several awards and recognitions, including the African Entrepreneurship and the SEED Africa Awards in 2015. This year he was also one of the 50 finalists of Africa’s Business Heroes.

Melchior Koba

Published in TECH STARS
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