Kenyan, Nigerian innovators win awards for revamping agricultural value chains

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Seasonal farm labourers pick tomatoes on a farm in the Boland region of the Cape Province. These tomatoes were destined to go to a canning factory to be made into tinned tomatoes. These workers are part of the so-called coloured or mixed race community in South Africa who often feel left out of the political process in the country. | Location: Mcgregor, South Africa. (Photo by Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images)

Two youthful innovators from Kenya and Nigeria on Wednesday bagged prize money worth $1.5 million for pioneering technologies that are transforming agricultural value chains in the continent.

The overall winners of the inaugural agricultural technology contest, sponsored by international development charity, Heifer International, were announced during the ongoing African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) held in Nairobi, capital of Kenya.

“Across Africa today, young creative professionals are deploying tech innovations that are reimagining farming and food production,” Adesuwa Ifedi, senior vice president of Africa Programs at Heifer International, said.

Ifedi said that access to finance and training is key to stimulating growth of youth-owned technology start-ups that are helping African smallholder farmers tackle endemic challenges like pests, diseases and post-harvest losses.

Among the two winners of the 2021 Agriculture, Youth and Technology (AYuTe) Africa challenge included Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, founder and CEO of ColdHubs, a Nigerian social enterprise that provides solar-powered, walk-in coolers for smallholder vegetable and fruit farmers.

Jehiel Oliver, founder and CEO of Hello Tractor, a Kenyan technology start-up, was also shortlisted for pioneering digital solutions that have revolutionized access to equipment for tilling among smallholder farmers.

ColdHubs, which was founded in 2015, designs, builds and operates solar-powered walk-in cold rooms at aggregation centers and outdoor markets, thereby enabling smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers to preserve fruits and vegetables.

According to Ikegwuonu, the establishment of ColdHubs that serves on a pay-as-you-go model for building refrigeration facilities at outdoor markets has extended the shelf life of fresh produce from two to 21 days, besides reducing post-harvest losses among smallholder farmers by 50 percent.

The income for key fresh produce value chain actors like farmers, aggregators and wholesalers has increased thanks to access to affordable refrigeration options to help reduce spoilage, said Ikegwuonu, adding the new financing to be accompanied by hands-on training will enable his enterprise to set up additional cold chain facilities across West Africa, reducing post-harvest loss of fruits and vegetables.

Since its founding six years ago, Hello Tractor has ensured that smallholder farmers have access to affordable plowing equipment, enabling them to plant 40 times faster and reduce the cost of hiring manual labor, according to Oliver.

The business venture is currently operational in 13 African countries, serving half a million farmers with more than 3,000 tractors, said Oliver, adding that greater access to a pay-as-you-go model for hiring tractor services is key to revolutionizing food production systems in the continent.

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