A Kenyan and Nigerian firm have won a Sh165 million (US$1.5 million) grant to fund expansion plans in a bid to provide services to smallholder farmers.
Heifer International picked Hello Tractor, a Kenyan firm and Nigerian's ColdHubs as winners of the inaugural Agriculture, Youth and Technology (AYuTe) Africa Challenge.
Hello Tractor was feted for creative solutions to Africa’s farm machinery challenges. The company is known in Africa as the “Uber of tractors.”
ColdHubs provides solar-powered, walk-in coolers for smallholder vegetable farmers to keep their produce fresh.
Hello Tractor founder and CEO Jehiel Oliver and ColdHubs founder and CEO Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu who are winners of the 2021 AYuTe Africa champions were chosen from young agritech innovators from across the continent, during the ongoing 2021 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) Summit.
“Across Africa today, young, creative professionals are deploying tech innovations that are reimagining farming and food production,” said Adesuwa Ifedi, senior vice president of Africa Programs at Heifer International.
“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,” he said.
The companies will also receive support from a team of expert advisers and accomplished business veterans, to help them translate their funding into an aggressive expansion strategy.
This is part of Heifer International’s efforts to support young entrepreneurs to develop affordable tech innovations.
Ifedi noted that this boosts services that enable African farmers to overcome 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 help farmers keep beans, pepper and tomatoes fresh for long to reduce waste.
Ifedi noted that 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 and Hello Tractor and ColdHubs meet those criteria.
Heifer International Ifedi supports farmers and local food producers to strengthen local economies and build secure livelihoods that provide a living income.
Hello Tractor founder said currently they are serving more than 500,000 small farmers across Africa with over 3,000 tractor and combine owners, in a technology that seeks to unlock investment and drive the tractor market for smallholder farmers.
“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,” said Oliver .
“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,” added the CEO.
ColdHubs CEO said: “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,” added Ikegwuonu.
Then CEO said young agriculture technology visionaries bring new energy to African agriculture
Ifedi explaineD that 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.
“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,” said Ifedi.
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 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,” said Ifedi.
“Young entrepreneurs across Africa understand the farming struggles of their parent’s 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,” he added.
ColdHubs Ltd is a social enterprise in Nigeria that designs, installs, commissions and operates 100 per cent solar-powered, walk-in cold rooms known as "ColdHubs," in farm clusters, horticultural produce aggregation centers and outdoor food markets.
The hubs are used by smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers, to store and preserve fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable foods 24/7, extending their shelf life from two days to 21 days thus eliminating wastage.
ColdHubs increased the income of farmers, retailers and wholesalers; and make safe, nutritious and hygienic food available for local consumption.
President Kenyatta encourages African youth to take up agriculture