Drone start-ups among semi-finalists for top agric award

Two drone start-ups have made the semi-finals of the prestigious GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize, where they are hoping their precision agriculture solutions will beat competition from 22 other hopefuls and claim the $50,000 prize.

Benin-based Drone Era and South Africa’s Integrated Aerial Systems will be part of the 24-strong group of semi-finalists hoping to make the grade for the finals tomorrow, on August 5.

Returning for its second year and running until the 11th of September this year, the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize is a pan-African competition for innovative, young entrepreneurs pursuing opportunities in the continent’s agriculture industry. The aim is to inspire young Africans of ages between eighteen and thirty-five to find solutions to food security problems on the mother continent, through original, scalable and environmentally friendly initiatives that promote increased harvests, zero waste, value addition and crop protection across the agrifood value chain.

The entries will be judged to award two young agriculture entrepreneurs – one male and one female – with a $50,000 cash prize each and pioneering business ventures that will help them change their world and transform the Agrifood business.

It is this grand prize that Guyrence Gbaguidi, co-founder and Chief technology Officer at Drone Era is hoping to land, so he can upscale his operations by adding high end drones to his start-up’s fleet. A mechanical engineer and drone pilot, Guyrence founded Drone Era in 2018, borne out of his love to fly the machines, and wish to protect farmers from poisoning themselves by deploying drones for precision crop spraying.

“We are deep in the fourth industrial revolution and precision agriculture, but local farmers are still using 30-year-old technics to defend their crops,” Guyrence said in his pitch. “Here in West Africa, farmers cannot afford Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); hence they are exposed to toxic chemicals. And the sad fact is that 80 percent of the citizens are farmers; so you can imagine just how many people are dying in silence from chemical overdose.

“That’s why we set up the AgForce service, a Drone-as-a-Service (DaaS) project which helps farmers to protect their crops with the low-cost, fast, and precise agricultural drone solutions. Unlike traditional methods which use the knapsack sprayers and other old dangerous infrastructure, our Artificial Intelligence-based solution makes the plant protection tasks safe, simple, easier, smarter, up to 50 times faster, reliable and very precise. Besides, drop crop spraying is now more environmentally friendly.”

In South Africa Integrated Aerial Systems; the other semi-finalists for this year’s competition, use drones for precision crop spraying and multi-spectral surveys to give farmers actionable data about under-performing crops. They leverage the latest developments in drone hardware and software applications to deliver to their clients accurate and actionable data in a user-friendly manner.

“We operate a fleet of drones and have extensive experience of some 35,000 hectares of field surveys” says Dexter Tangocci, co-founder and CTO. “We provide a complete end-to-end process to the farmer; by integrating drone-based crop spraying with intelligent analytics, not only are we able to help the farmer determine exactly where and how much of their crop is being impacted; we are also able to target the affected area with precise crop spraying by drone. This allows the farmer to reduce the costs and increase the yields with less impact on the environment.”

The two start-ups are facing stiff competition from the other agriculture entrepreneurs, whose solutions to players in agribusiness are equally impressive. Below are some of the start-ups that made it into the semi-finals:

  • The Farm – a social enterprise that trains farmers to boost their productivity by using produce by-products to raise livestock, and then links the farmers new markets in Malawi.
  • BeNu Nutrition – produces a nutritious biscuit from local Ethiopian produce and fights malnutrition by giving one free biscuit to a child in need for every biscuit sold. They were moved to act by the chronic malnutrition problem in Ethiopia.
  • Phema Agri – a Tanzanian digital agriculture investment platform that provides smallholder farmers with blended finance and de-risks the value chain.
  • Achiever Foods Limited – Ghana-based start-up on a mission to save lives with organic foods that promote health and a strong immune system.
  • Vertical and Micro Gardening – Builds autonomous high rising farm towers to make urban farming a viable micro-enterprise for low-income households in Uganda.
  • Mhogo Foods – a socially conscious Kenyan cassava processor making gluten-free flour, crisps, starch and animal feeds while also training and supporting local farmers.
  • Mahwi Tech – created M-lima, an ICT solution providing smallholder farmers in Rwanda with services, market info and financial opportunities via USSD and an online platform.
  • Magofarm – Rwandan insect technology start-up that turns food waste into insect protein for animal feed, which they deliver straight to farmers based on an individual needs analysis.
  • Lombrisol – From Morocco; builds a vermicompost machine that automates organic fertiliser production from food waste using earthworms.
  • GoMarkit – Food supply and delivery business in Sierra Leone letting vendors, retailers and consumers purchase produce from smallholders via an app.
  • Footmo Kit – Based in Uganda, they design a low-cost, hand-held device that diagnoses Foot and Mouth Disease in livestock.
  • Farmz2U – a Nigerian Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) farming management platform that empowers farmers with data analytics for key decisions and provides access to services along the entire value chain.
  • AgriZoom App – a Congolese crowdfunding and e-commerce platform that connects farmers, fishermen and food processors to financing and markets.
  • Adjiyon – from Benin; produces 100 percent organic, low-cost fertiliser that can empower smallholder farmers with better yields and break the cycle of poverty.
  • Soupah Limited – uses USSD, apps, and blockchain to build an efficient, traceable supply chain connecting smallholder farm producers to vendors in Nigeria.
  • Solar Freeze – battles post-harvest losses for smallholder farmers in Kenya with mobile, solar powered cold storage and “sharing economy” cold-chain logistics.
  • Phronesis Foods (Ukwa Spot) – processes and sells indigenous Nigerian Ukwa (African breadfruit) into a variety of healthy, organic food products for the local and international market.
  • OBRI Tanzania – produces local sunflower oil, and to get quality seeds they train small scale farmers in sustainable land use, and organic and environmental standards.
  • Artisanal Foods – Zimbabwean start-up processes locally sourced bananas and baobab fruit into a variety of nutritional products like gluten-free green banana flour and banana chips.

Applications were opened in April and closed on June 18, 2020, after which reviewers announced the semi-finalists last week. Additional pitches and interviews were then conducted on all the penultimate stage qualifiers, to help decide which twelve candidates will make the final cut tomorrow.

Finalists will be invited to compete in the final live or virtual pitching contest at the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) meeting between 8-11 September 2020. Depending on the coronavirus situation this will be part of a full week of activities that finalists will be expected to attend in Nairobi, Kenya.

All 12 finalists will be awarded mentorship, programming linkages, and other guidance to continue their entrepreneurial journey.

The inaugural competition was held last year, with Isaac Sesi from Sesi Technologies in Ghana and Bonolo Monthe of Maungo Craft, Botswana walking away with the top honours.

Founded by AGRAAlliance, Corteva Agriscience, Econet Zimbabwe, SACAU, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, and Yara International, Generation Africa is the partnership initiative with a vision to strengthen the ecosystem for youth entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector across the continent.

The Generation Africa movement seeks to inspire a next generation of African entrepreneurs, connecting them to the resources they need to move their businesses successfully from idea to scale. The initiative also draws attention to opportunities for technological innovation and disruption in the agri-food sector, increases access to diverse forms of capital along the entrepreneur’s journey and strengthens the continent-wide agenda for youth entrepreneurship.


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