The groundbreaking innovations coming out of Africa

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Generation Africa's agripreneurs are a testament to Africa’s innovative vision in action. Pic: Generation Africa
Generation Africa's agripreneurs are a testament to Africa’s innovative vision in action. Pic: Generation Africa

Related tags Africa Entrepreneurship women empowerment Innovation agrifoodtech Palm oil Potatoes Sustainability spices and herbs

The ‘Kraken’ - the world’s most advanced palm nut de-sheller; scaling up Madagascar’s spice and herb value chains to benefit poor households; and a disease-free potato strain to combat Africa’s potato shortage are among the winners of Generation Africa’s 2023 GoGettaz Agripreneur awards.

Two visionary agripreneurs clinched top honours in the 5th​ annual GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition Finals held at the 2023 Africa Food Systems Forum Summit (the AGRF) in Dar Es Salaam.

Chaired by Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan, Generation Africa awarded two grand prizes of US$50,000 to Hasina Andriatsitohaina, founder and CEO of Mad’Arom in Madagascar, and Ikenna Nzewi, cofounder and CEO of Releaf Africa in Nigeria.

Held annually since 2019, the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition (GAPC) aims to root out and support the most innovative and promising agripreneurs in Africa.

The competition is open to all African entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 35, with two grand prize winners and four Impact winners each receiving cash prizes, mentorship, scholarships, introductions to stakeholders in the agrifood sector and the opportunity to be part of Generation Africa Fellowship programme.

“Our continent’s young agripreneurs are a testament to Africa’s innovative vision in action,” ​said Strive Masiyiwa, founding member of Generation Africa and chair emeritus of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

“We must continue to celebrate and support these amazing young people, most of whom designed innovative technology solutions to tackle both food system and environmental challenges while creating new businesses and jobs.

“Generation Africa’s agripreneurs are leading the transformative change that needs to happen across Africa’s agrifood sector.”

Grand prize winners

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Hasina Andriatsitohaina

A food technology engineer in agriculture and environmental sciences, Hasina Andriatsitohaina of Madagascar won the female-led category.

Her company - Mad’Arom - encourages the development of the spice and aroma value chains by promoting the agroforestry system in Madagascar. She works with around 2,000 producers in rural areas, transforming the herbs and spices into essential oils for the food, cosmetics and perfume industries, both locally and worldwide.

The agroforestry system not only preserves and restores Madagascar’s soil and biodiversity, but also generates income for small-scale producers throughout the year. The post-harvest processing is an important activity, generating jobs for young people and women in rural areas. These activities enable smallholders to be more resilient in the face of climatic disasters, such as the cyclones that attack the eastern part of Madagascar each year.

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Ikenna Nzewi and Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan

The grand prize in the male-led category went to computer scientist Ikenna Nzewi, founder of Releaf Africa in Nigeria.

The company’s value proposition is lowering food costs through efficiency, which it achieves with both software and hardware solutions. Returning home six years ago after studying in the US, Nzewi’s multi-pronged approach features geospatial software to find viable farms and a mobile platform to purchase oil palm fruit from rural smallholders.

To process the palm nuts in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive way, Releaf designed the world’s most advanced palm nut de-sheller named the Kraken.

To-date, Releaf has worked with 5,600 farmers with a retention rate of 86% and put an additional $500,000 in their pockets while eliminating child labour, providing access to finance and improving traceability using artificial intelligence.

Releaf plans to add 20,000 more farmers in the next five years.

Impact award winners

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Choreographer Sherrie Silver from Rwanda dazzled the stage with young dancers from across Africa

All 12 Gogettaz finalists - who travelled to Tanzania to compete in the live pitch contest - were lauded for their entrepreneurial vision and innovative new businesses they’ve each launched in Africa’s agrifood sector.

Four winners were each awarded a $2,500 prize, while the remaining six received $1,000 each, donated from Generation Africa partner United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“This year’s summit theme was ‘Recover, Regenerate, Act: Africa’s Solutions to Food Systems Transformation’. Far from being a distant hope, these GoGettaz have demonstrated to everyone at the Summit that they are Africa’s solutions,”​ said Dr Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

“I hope the investors were paying attention because I can clearly see how some of these businesses have the potential to impact millions of lives across the continent in the next decade.”

Biotechnology entrepreneur Pelkins Ajanoh, founder of CassVita in Cameroon, impressed the judges with his proprietary process that uses microbes to extend the shelf-life of cassava from three days to 18 months.

Community development specialist Margaret Wanjiku, founder of Pollen Patrollers in Kenya, developed an IoT smart device to track beehive metrics that are analysed by AI to create actionable insights and precision pollination maps to help farmers more effectively pollinate their fields.

Hailing from Sierra Leone, electrical engineer Martin Dainbaquee, founder of Eco-friendly Incubator Company, designed an innovative high-capacity solar-powered incubator, its own chicken breeds and high quality feed, tackling several needs in the egg and poultry industry including over-dependence on foreign imports.

A biotechnology specialist with expertise in plant tissue culture, the youngest finalist this year was Impact Award winner Crescentia Mushobozi of Tanzania Vijana Agribusiness Enterprises (VIABLE).  Her company has developed a superior potato strain, engineered with Africa’s largest gene bank, in her vision to solve malnutrition and food insecurity. In the process, VIABLE involves thousands of Tanzanian youths  in “making agriculture fun”.

Amath Pathe Sene, MD of the Africa Food Systems Forum, underscored the significance of amplifying youth-led businesses at the Summit.

“We bring together policymakers and industry leaders so conversations can evolve into actionable solutions,” ​he said.

“Youth-led businesses like these impressive GoGettaz finalists belong in the conversation because their innovative ideas are pivotal to shaping the future food system."

GoGettaz Impact Award winners were celebrated at the Youth Innovation Awards ceremony alongside winners of the agritech-focussed Pitch AgriHack Awards and the AYute Africa Challenge, both funded by the Heifer Foundation.

Added Svein Tore Holsether, founding member of Generation Africa and president and CEO of Yara International, “In the face of mounting food security challenges, it is imperative to revolutionise our food systems. Young entrepreneurs are the torchbearers of sustainable solutions.”

The top 12

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The 2023 GoGettaz Agriprenuer Prize Competition received applications from 43 African countries, with nine represented in the Top 12. Application data also showed an increase in female applicants.

According to the organisers, this is a very encouraging shift in an industry that is perceived as male dominated, while the reality of African food production is very much in the hands of women smallholder farmers.

Female agripreneurs

Jannifer Muthjike, Dudu Masters, Kenya

Dudu Masters has a mission to restore Africa’s degraded farmland with its soil-enhancing Kijanni VermiCompost, an affordable fertiliser bio-converted by insects from the organic waste generated by hotels. Dudu Masters also shares its expertise by training 5,000 students in regenerative agriculture and insect farming.

Patience Ben, Farmavi Agro, Nigeria

Farmavi Agro brings social impact and agriculture together with a range of products that upcycle sawdust, cassava waste and seaweed into food and fertilizers. Its goal is to reduce waste, tackle poverty and malnutrition, create employment opportunities (especially for women) and mitigate climate change.

Hasina Andriatsitohaina, Mad’Arom, Madagascar

Madagascar is rich in biodiversity, including aromatic and therapeutic plants. The development of its spice and herb value chains is one of the main pillars of development in Madagascar's rural areas. The income generated from the sale of these products by Mad’Arom enables poor households to meet their food and health needs year-round and send their children to school.

Patrice Wachira, Patvention Recycling Enterprise, Kenya

Patvention Recycling Enterprise in Kenya transforms plastic waste into durable, weather-resistant and pest-resistant beehives. Its capacity-building initiatives and training workshops are introducing new farmers, especially women, to beekeeping and improving beekeeping practices.

Margaret Wanjiku, Pollen Patrollers, Kenya

Pollen Patrollers is making beekeeping in Kenya smarter with an IoT device that measures temperature, humidity, sound, foraging activity and queen status. It uses AI and machine learning to analyse the data to create actionable insights and precision pollination maps for beekeepers and growers.

Crescentia Mushobozi, Tanzania Vijana Agribusiness Enterprises, Tanzania

Tanzania Vijana Agribusiness Enterprises (VIABLE) believes its superior potato strain, engineered in collaboration with Africa’s largest gene bank, is a key piece in solving malnutrition and the potato shortage in Africa. Its first 1,000 disease-free potato seeds yielded a 5 tonne harvest in six months. This youth-led enterprise is ready to scale.

Male agripreneurs

Pelkins Ajanoh, CassVita, Cameroon

CassVita believes climate resilient cassava root is the key to food security in the face of climate change in Africa. Its post-harvest processing techniques extends the shelflife of cassava from three days to 18 months, helping rural farmers in Cameroon get real value from their crops.

Tafadzwa Ron Chikwereti, eAgro, Zimbabwe

eAgro takes the guesswork out of farming in Zimbabwe by bundling complex technologies into a user-friendly WhatsApp chatbot. Its CropFix AI chatbot uses photos from a farmer’s mobile phone to diagnose pests and diseases and provide relevant, location-based agronomic advice in seconds.

Martin Dainbaquee, Eco-friendly Incubator Company, Sierra Leone

The Eco-Friendly Rechargeable Incubator and Local Animal Feed Processing Company is reinventing the ailing import-dependent egg and poultry industry in Sierra Leone with locally manufactured high-capacity incubators, its own specialised chicken breeds and a consistent supply of high quality feed.

Imani Bora, Hatch Plus, Rwanda

Hatch Plus in Rwanda provides automated solar hatching stations as a service, where it uses AI and computer vision to track egg fertility. Its deep learning software, Agroid, delivers poultry farming advice via SMS, giving smallholders access to affordable, healthy chicks and real-time assistance to thrive.

Ikenna Nzewi, Releaf Africa, Nigeria

Releaf in Nigeria is taking a holistic approach to eliminate inefficiency in the food value chain. It uses its geospatial software SITE to find farms; its SALT software to buy crops from farmers; and Kraken, the most advanced palm nut de-shelling technology to produce vegetable oil that is sold to food factories.

Yohan Gallet, Sealife Organics, Mauritius

Sealife Organics hopes to repair its soil and sea from the damaging effects of rampant chemical fertilizer use. The company produces organic fertilisers made from sustainably sourced seaweed and organic waste that won’t poison the environment.

Making a real difference

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Applications for the 2024 GoGettaz Agriprenuer Prize Competition open in April 2024 and head of Generation Africa Dickson Naftali has called on more youths to follow the example set by the 2023 innovators.

“If you want to make a real difference, to help people and build a healthier planet, the agrifood industry is where your energy will find purpose,”​ he said.

“The truth about our future is that we need an African food system that is African-owned and African-led. And we want to reach as many young Africans as we can with this message.”

Coming into focus for the rest of 2023 are mentorship programmes such as the Generation Africa Fellowship Programme, and the important work of reshaping national policies for better support of youth and women in agriculture. The new Generation Africa Online Academy - in partnership with Microsoft - was also launched at the Summit.

Generation Africa cofounders include the African Development Bank Group, AGRA, the AGRF, Bayer, Corteva Agriscience, Econet Group, Heifer International, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, USAID and Yara International.

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