The seeds of success: 4 start ups leading the field in agriculture

Story highlights

Agribusiness is a booming sector in Africa among younger people

Digital and mobile technology have given rise to a new industry known as "ag-tech"

CNN  — 

Farming is a vital source of food and income for millions across Africa, but there is still plenty of room for growth.

As The World Bank recently reported, food production in sub-Saharan Africa needs to increase by 60% over the next 15 years to feed its growing population. But with the challenges to improve production, come new opportunities.

Women across the continent are taking matters into their own hands, and kickstarting an enthusiasm for agribusiness among young people. Farming and food have helped them break down gender barriers and reap the fruits of success.

Here are four companies doing just that:

A farm for the young

While most of the industry’s leaders are men, almost seven out of ten workers in the agricultural sector are female. According to the OECD, women own less than 1% of land in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2011, former TV presenter Mavis Mduchwa won funding from a $100 million initiative known as the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme to set up an agribusiness company. She used the money to start Chabana Farms, a poultry farm that provides training and work for unemployed young people. Mduchwa now counts herself among the minority of African female landowners.

“In Botswana, about 80% of people survive on agriculture, and many of those people are women,” she says. “But for you as a woman to turn it into a business, you have a challenge of finding land. Traditionally, men acquire it, so it’s hard to take that bold step and say, ‘Okay I need to change this land into my name’.”

Mduchwa noticed that many businesses like her own were shutting down due to high prices for animal feed, which are often imported from South Africa. So Chabana Farms is currently setting up the area’s first feed manufacturing plant designed to help local farmers tackle this issue.

“If we can manufacture feed within the country for the people of Botswana, farmers will be able to have profitable businesses,” she explains.

The business of fruit

In Nigeria, women are planting the seeds to a successful business – by selling fruits and vegetables.

Affiong Williams is the founder of Reelfruit, a growing food company on a mission to whet the country’s appetite for fruit snacks. Launched in 2012, Williams invested $8,000 in savings to get her company up and running. In 2013, she won over $5,000 at a Women in Business Competition in the Netherlands.

Reelfruit now sells a range of dried fruit including mango, pineapple and coconut in brightly colored packets in over 85 stores across Nigeria.

Going global

Like Williams, Congolese businesswoman Joujou Bomanga is on a mission to spread African produce, but has her sights set on breaking into the European market. Bomanga, who now lives in Belgium, set up company Evelea Foods in 2011.

“I noticed that there was a lack of certain African greens in the Belgian market,” she explains. “The idea was to introduce fresh high quality groceries from Congo into a European context.”

Evelea sells three traditional Congolese dishes made from cassava leaves, amaranth and a plant known as “ngai ngai”, all imported from Congo. Her products, which are sold in jars to stay fresh, are garnering interest among chefs and consumers in Europe and America.

“We’ve seen a lot of Europeans and Africans are receptive to what we’re doing at the moment,” Bomanga says. “Now we have offers from different chefs to try our products and adapt them into their restaurant menus, for things like bread loafs and snacks.”

Making “ag-tech” cool

Lack of communication and an agricultural market flooded with middlemen can spell out disaster for many rural farmers in Africa. Entrepreneurs are developing technologies to help them improve production and get a fair price for their produce. Such ventures in digital and mobile technology have given rise to a new industry known as “ag-tech”.

Jamila Abass and Linda Kwamboka run the Kenyan platform MFarm, a mobile app that connects Kenyan farmers with consumers via SMS messaging. Set up in 2010, MFarm also works as a virtual forum for farmers to connect with each other and get advice from industry experts.

Kwamboka said the idea came about when farmers in the news were constantly “complaining and literally crying on TV on how middlemen were taking their profits from produce sales.”

Inefficiency in the agribusiness value chain has been around for a while, but Kwamboka said: “Someone had to do something about it.”