When it comes to the most vulnerable groups within society, women and children have always stood out. However, the coronavirus crisis has also escalated that of the youth (aged 15 - 35) on the African continent. Break down in food supply, access to medical facilities and access to remote educational tools for children have been some of the concerns arising, and if not come to grips with can have this group slip into poverty. The agriculture sector just like the Leisure and Tourism sectors among others, has faced similar challenges including labor and supply shortages, limited access to markets, limited access to finance as funding efforts are directed to fight the virus and depressed prices for various commodities.
The severity of this bump is heightened by the percentage of women and youth dependent on this occupation. In 2018 FAO recorded 54% of Africa’s working force is reliant on agriculture, creating employment opportunities for both women and the youth. Women and the youth makeup 50% and 60% of the continent’s population respectively. Additionally, more than 60% of women employed South of the Sahara work in agriculture. On this account, an unstoppable chain reaction will affect markets and nationwide.
A 2017 World Bank report also estimates a range of 61% to 78% of African households are under the grid. This has hindered not only continued learning for their children as a result of no access to the lockdown study material and programs available on television but to also power medical machinery and equipment at health centers close by since larger hospitals have been converted to containment zones for coronavirus patients.
In the spirit of diversity, we reached out to 7 startups in the AgriTech (6 startups) and Energy (1 startup) co-founded by women as this would resonate better with them, to find out what support is available women and the youth in agriculture to tackle these grievances and find out how they are working to bring rural Africa on-grid.
Samawat Energy combined two critical needs and launched the Afiya Kit for residents in Somalia. This is a universal healthcare-on-the-go solar backpack that allows health workers to rural off-grid zones and measure their patient’s vitals using blue-tooth enabled and solar-charged medical devices. All this information is then stored on the health worker’s phone memory and later uploaded to the Samawat Afiya app and then the cloud. The startup aims to have this product screen for symptoms of COVID-19 to rural communities are catered for as well in the testing and subsequently treatment of the virus.
This agribusiness working with 5000 moringa farmers Ghana went the extra-mile and took a survey of fellow-based SMEs and realized the extent of which the COVID-19 pandemic had distorted revenue flows. Some have suffered an over 70 - 90% loss in revenue which has also interrupted both their ability to purchase raw materials and pay their employees. With these findings, this startup has launched Thrive Together, an online marketplace to help SMEs safely sell groceries and other essential products to their customers. This initiative has supported 20 CGP businesses in the food, beverage and personal care industries that collectively employ over 7138 people and in doing so supporting both direct staff and indirect jobs during this difficult time.
Sidai Africa Ltd has put in place several steps to not only grow their sales but also maintain their service standards during the outbreak. Sidai is committed to protecting their staff and customers and so has provided hygiene stations and safety equipment. The company has also opted for on-farm deliveries and use of tele-veterinary medicine where possible. Group training has been halted until further notice.
YouFarm has incorporated a franchise model that helps them identify and work with farmers particularly in vulnerable groups that require funding support in South Africa and Zimbabwe. This has given them the opportunity to scale faster and create employment in farming communities by empowering entrepreneurs who want to help farmers in their communities get access to funding. The startup acts as an intermediary to help farmers get access to collateral-free finance from people investing in their crop and livestock. When the produce hits the market, the profits are then shared with the farmers. YouFarm aims to upscale these franchises into various African countries in Southern Africa to make an even greater contribution to food security.
To better understand the impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on farmers, the iCow Customer Care team carried out a survey on 70,000 farmers in Kenya and realized the huge food shortage amongst them which is consequently affecting their families, livestock and even the market. Due to the current heavy rains that have destroyed their crop, break in supply chain and greater household consumption as a result of the lockdown, farmers are likely to suffer from malnutrition making them susceptible to the virus and not financially capable of taking care of their livestock. Therefore iCow has rolled out 3 initiatives to support farmers: Animal Scientists for Farmers which is a partnership with Safaricom that is granting farmers access to 20 voluntary veterinary experts for free through their toll free line, a search tool set to get API integration this week for the Government 719 National COVID-19 Hotline that will allow users get access to COVID Experts in their towns and iCow Farmer Angels Campaign to link farmers to committed angel investors that will support a farmer family with as little as $10 a week.
In a bid to achieve zero hunger in Nigeria, Vavego has focused on utilizing current technology and innovations to resolve the gap between value chains of the agricultural industry. As a perk the company has established strong relationships with its suppliers and centered their initiative around this. As farmers and traders have been on the greater receiving end of the adverse effect due to the break in supply chains, Vavego has promoted stronger working relationships with suppliers by offering flexible payment terms, convenient time to fulfil purchase orders and aiding logistics if need be in order to better supplier performance to support farmers.
Farmcrowdy’s fintech platform Crowdyvest connects users to impact-driven opportunities with good returns. To support their customers, the company launched two initiatives: Crowdyvest Donate with the COVID-19 Food Drive and COVID-19 Medical Kits Fundraises where they have collaborated with 2 credible partners Beyond The Classroom Foundation and BOAT by Lifebank to provide food to families during the lockdown especially women and children and access to medical equipment like oxygen kits and ventilators to fight against the pandemic. No margins are made out of the donations and welcomes contributions as low as $2.59 (N1000). Second is Sponsorships geared towards keeping Nigerians safe. These include the Beef Processing, Fresh Produce Trading and Farmcrowdy Foods to make food accessible to families but also increasing the income of rural farmers while they continue to produce food. Second sponsorship is the Smart Disinfect Gate Project which is in partnership with Crenov8 Consulting which is an automated disinfection gate placed at the entrance of a building to disinfect anyone who walks through the gate. This further supports the efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
We invite you to complete our survey on the COVID-19 impact on African startups. This survey will better help us identify and match your startup to some useful resources available to help you cope with these effects.
If you’re a startup fighting the COVID-19 pandemic through your business or offering solutions to other startups in these tough times, contact us here for the opportunity to be showcased on our website.