Investing in African agri-tech
Agri-Tech Start Ups
It was in 2014 when Microsoft 4Afrika made its first investment into agri-tech, working alongside local East African start-up, AGIN, to connect more unbanked farmers to financial services. Since then, 4Afrika has continued to support partners, organisations and start-ups that are using technology to boost farmer productivity. Most recently, we partnered with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to enable data-driven, precision farming in 11 countries on the continent.
Agriculture is a significant part of African economies, exports and employment – making it a critical area of investment. In Ethiopia alone, agriculture accounts for 45 percent of GDP, almost 90 percent of exports and 85 percent of employment.
Despite all this activity, however, agriculture still faces significant challenges, from underdeveloped infrastructure to water shortages and limited financial inclusion for farmers. To combat this, there’s incredible innovation taking place in the agriculture space, from digital solutions that link rural farmers to supply chains, to connected devices that optimise irrigation. According to the 2019 Digitilisation of African Agriculture Report, there are currently 390 registered agri-tech solutons in Africa – and still room for so much more. In fact, 90% of the market for digital services that support African smallholders remains untapped.
Here are just a few of the agri-tech solutions Microsoft has helped to support.
Based in Kenya, Twiga Foods is a mobile-based business-to-business food supply platform. Founded in 2014, it links smallholder farmers in rural Kenya to informal retail vendors in cities. With Twiga’s mobile platform, vendors can order fresh produce from farmers across Kenya at competitive prices.
Twiga Foods reached a point where they needed to link to a growing number of farmers, collect data from them, update stakeholders and run supply chain operations at the same time. To do this, they needed highly scalable services that would allow them the freedom of capturing the data they needed, while keeping in touch with the various stakeholders in their business.
With the help of 4Afrika, the team adopted Microsoft Kaizala, a workforce communications and management application, and Microsoft 365. With these tools, Twiga Foods has modernised their IT help desk and human resources functions, and re-shaped their reporting to provide unique, contextualized views for each stakeholder. Twiga Foods is also experimenting with IoT sensors and machine learning to automate storage facilities, and build credit scoring algorithms into their value chain.
Tulaa is a mobile commerce platform for rural consumers and producers in Africa. Their solution uses mobile technology and mobile money to enable farmers to save and borrow, purchase inputs, access agricultural advice and market crops at harvest time.
Tulaa recently took part in 4Afrika’s AI PopUp Lab initiative, getting a crash course in artificial intelligence and cognitive services. During their time at the lab, 4Afrika assisted them with integrating machine learning into their model to more quickly assess credit worthiness. While the team had already been working on this solution, the lab helped to save them significant research and development time.
Virtual City does exactly what their name suggests – provide a digital ecosystem that links farmers, financial service providers, retailers, distributors, manufacturers and service providers together to unlock supply chain value.
4Afrika has worked closely with Virtual City on developing their go-to-market strategy and building their solution in the cloud. Volunteers through the MySkills4Afrika programme also worked with Virtual City on creating a sensor that can help to monitor the quality of produce from farm to table, by measuring the temperature and humidity levels in warehouses and distribution trucks.
“Support from 4Afrika saved us 11 months of development time,” says Brian Ndunda, Chief Technology Officer at Virtual City. “We had been whiteboarding the possibilities over the last six months, however we’ve been able to implement the solutions in three and a half days with 4Afrika.”
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