The African Development Bank’s virtual African Youth Agripreneur Forum and AgriPitch competition (AYAF / AgriPitch 2020) – currently underway – coincides with the African Union Africa Youth Month. Both celebrate the positive impact that youth-led innovation has on Africa’s development.
AYAF / AgriPitch 2020 kicked off on November 3 with the first of three weekly webinars, and will run until November 17 when it closes the AgriPitch competition winning ceremony. The competition rewards young farmers with a combined prize of $ 120,000, investment opportunities and mentorship and post-competition training.
The event is being pulled by hundreds of youth farmers, government agencies, development partners, private sector leaders and potential investors from across the continent to help young entrepreneurs in the agricultural and agribusiness sector grow their businesses.
The founder of the horticultural industry, Paul Sheppard from South Africa, and the Ugandan agritech entrepreneur Joseph Ogwal were among others the winners of $ 74,000 prizes in last year’s AgriPitch competition.
We asked Sheppard and Ogwai about how their new businesses have developed since AYAF in Cape Town, South Africa. Questions and answers were provided for clarity.
Q: How did you apply the AgriPitch prize money to your business?
Future farms co-founder Paul Sheppard, who won $ 10,000 in AgriPitch’s early start-up category: the money facilitated our cash flow so we could buy stock in larger volumes and our in-house [hydroponics] farm in Johannesburg. We have added more growth units and growth systems, and this has increased our ability to produce more crops. This has increased our investment in our food systems, leading to a 15-20% increase in Future Farms production.
Agro offer co-founder Joseph Ogwal, who finished third in the early start-up category, took home $ 6,000: that money came at the right time – we were able to hire a full-time sales and marketing person. Fundraising and marketing were the parts we struggled with before AYAF, I did it alone. With the rental and marketing, we have doubled the number of small farmers using our mobile app’s doubling [pay in installments] system up to 10,000.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your operations?
Sheppard: After we won the AgriPitch award, we got a lot of publicity which led to many companies approaching us to invest in Future Farms. We were actually at one point with a company that signed the promise to invest except … then COVID-19 struck and it hampered the money to move. Because the company has interrupted investments, our transaction will only proceed after we have gone through this pandemic. We will survive, but COVID-19 is going to slow down our growth.
Ogwal: Farmers using our mobile put away system go to a local store or agent to buy a scratch card and then use it to add money to their account [to purchase seeds, fertilizers, etc.]. When the coronavirus started, there was a lot of social distance, so we had to innovate our operations to conform to social norms. That’s why we’ve included a mobile money platform that allows farmers to add out-of-pocket funds directly without the store or agent. We have implemented individual appointments for picking seeds, fertilizers and chemicals [pesticides] from our distribution centers to the reduction of the crowd. We even started using motorcycles to deliver small packages to every small farmer who paid off deposits.
How has your business model changed as a result of the AYAF award?
Sheppard: Through the AYAF business training sessions, we realized we needed to create a deeper case study, deeper examples of how we [hydroponic agriculture] systems work and why it is feasible. Now we know that if you go to an investor, a potential client or a partner, and they ask, ‘Where is the evidence?’ – you have provided your proof and you have data to prove it. It was a bit of a learning curve for us.
Ogwal: We have learned to change the operation, to focus more on the way we market ourselves and our concept of a lay-off system for farmers who were used to taking out loans. We want farmers to understand how important it is to use their own money to invest in agriculture rather than taking out loans from financial institutions. The AgriPitch prize money also helped us pay for a radio marketing campaign that reached more than 20,000 smallholder farmers in Uganda – and it was really great.
To learn more about AgriPitch, register for AYAF webinars and participate in the AgriPitch Winners Ceremony, log on to: https://www.afdb.org/en/african-youth-agripreneurs-forum/ayaf-2020