Two tech innovations providing solutions to smallholder farmers on the African continent have won the inaugural US$1.5 million Heifer International AYuTe Africa Challenge.
Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Founder and CEO of ColdHubs, a Nigerian business that provides solar-powered, walk-in coolers for smallholder vegetable farmers, and Jehiel Oliver, Founder and CEO of Hello Tractor, a Kenyan company that has become known across Africa as the “Uber of tractors,” were selected on Wednesday as the winners of the challenge.
The winners, known as the 2021 AYuTe Africa Champions and chosen from an impressive field of young agritech innovators from across the continent, were announced on Wednesday at the 2021 African Green Revolution Forum Summit.
This was contained in a statement issued on Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya by Heifer International and copied to the Ghana News Agency.
The statement quoted Adesuwa Ifedi, Senior Vice President of Africa Programmes at Heifer International as saying, “Across Africa today, young, creative professionals are deploying tech innovations that are reimagining farming and food production”.
He added that “We want to do our part to help companies like Hello Tractor and ColdHubs as they provide Africa’s smallholder farmers with much-needed products and services to develop sustainable, profitable business”.
The statement said “As winners of the AYuTe Africa Challenge, the companies will receive a sizeable monetary investment—a total of US$1.5 million in grants—along with ongoing support from a team of expert advisers—accomplished business veterans—to help them translate their funding into an aggressive expansion strategy”.
It said “This is part of Heifer International’s efforts to support young entrepreneurs developing affordable tech innovations to scale their businesses. Doing so ensures greater access to services that enable African farmers to overcome long-standing challenges, while encouraging a new generation to pursue opportunities in agriculture”.
Hello Tractor provides technology that allows farmers to connect with local tractor owners on the Hello Tractor marketplace and book a machine for as long as they need it.
ColdHubs owns and operates dozens of compact, walk-in, solar-powered coolers at rural produce markets in central Nigeria.
The transportable, stand-alone units give local farmers a way of keeping their beans, peppers, tomatoes fresher for days or weeks, reducing waste.
The statement said “While many agritech competitions focus on early-stage companies and ideas, the AYuTe Africa Challenge seeks innovations that are market-tested, farmer-ready and poised to provide an impact that will cascade across the food systems of multiple countries. Both Hello Tractor and ColdHubs meet those criteria.”
It quoted Jehiel Oliver, Founder and CEO of Hello Tractor as saying “Our ambition is for Hello Tractor to be available across Africa and we’re excited that winning the AYuTe Africa Challenge will help make that happen. The entire continent of Africa sees about 15,000 new tractors every year, while India alone sees about one million. Our farmers clearly need a lot more tractors and Hello Tractor offers a proven pathway for increasing access to this important technology.”
It also quoted Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, CEO of ColdHubs as saying, “With support from Heifer and the AYuTe Africa Challenge, I think in five years we can grow from 50 to about 5,000 ColdHubs across West Africa and create new income opportunities for smallholder producers.
Too many African farmers do not get the income they deserve because they have no way of keeping their produce fresh, forcing them to sell it soon after harvest. ColdHubs offers an affordable, pay-as-you-go refrigeration option available right in the middle of local markets.”
Heifer International conceived the idea for the AYuTe Africa Challenge (AYuTe stands for Agriculture, Youth and Technology) based on four decades of work as a trusted partner of African farmers—and seeing first-hand the stark difference between local farms that have access to new technologies and those that do not.
The statement quoted Ifedi as saying “Ikegwuonu and Oliver are examples of young agritech innovators, who can help change the negative narrative surrounding farming in Africa—showing how an occupation many young Africans associate with hardship can be profitable, productive, stimulating and rewarding”.
A recent report by Heifer International also pointed to the need for more investments to encourage African youth turning away from agriculture to reconsider opportunities in the sector—especially given the need to generate jobs and repair food systems battered by the pandemic.
The statement quoted Ifedi as saying “the quality of the competition sends a strong signal that the African agriculture sector contains a wealth of opportunities—as many or more than any other sector,” adding “Young entrepreneurs across Africa understand the farming struggles of their parents’ generation and have seen how this has discouraged the people around them from pursuing careers in the agriculture sector.
But they also see a pathway through which their innovative products and services can transform farming into a promising future for their generation.”