Online platform helps local farmers flourish

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe

KwaZulu-Natal-based Zamokuhle Thwala (29) has created a digital crowdfunding platform that empowers smallholder farmers.  

AgriCool is an online marketplace that links smallholder farmers and buyers to a fair and reliable market. Thwala says the platform also helps farmers secure financial assistance and gives them access to real-time information that they need to improve production. 

The entrepreneur, who was once a smallholder farmer himself and knows how hard it is to secure the money needed to get started, and then to find good markets for your products.

“I would farm and lose most of my produce to spoilage due to lack of access to markets. I decided to quit farming so I could solve these key problems in the agri-value chain. With AgriCool, we work with both formal and informal markets. Street vendors can get their fresh produce delivered to them, saving them time and transportation costs, while we link formal smallholder farmers with market access opportunities,” he says.

AgriCool is one of 10 start-up companies chosen for the AlphaCode incubation programme, which is powered by Rand Merchant Investment.Zamokuhle Thwala, founder and creator of AgriCool online platform.

The 10 companies will benefit from a 12-week intensive pre-incubation programme valued at R500 000, including R150 000 in grant funding for each participant.

“It’s a golden opportunity for us,” says Thwala. “The insight we are gaining is invaluable and is going to contribute immensely to our success. I like that it’s very practical. With regards to the funds, we will be investing it in the improvement of the technology behind AgriCool.”

Although 2020 proved to be a tough financial year for Thwala and his business, things are on the mend. “Over and above the AlphaCode win, we have also sealed deals with Boxer, Save Hyper and Farm Fresh and gradually, other smallholder farmers are coming on board.”

According to the World Wildlife Forum, South Africa has an estimated two million smallholder or household farmers compared to 35 000 commercial growers, while 2020 economic figures released by Statistics South Africa indicate that the agriculture sector contributes 4% annually to the GDP of the country. 

“I think agriculture is the backbone of the economy and the most relevant industry. I want more people to join this space and see farming as cool. The plan is to grow AgriCool’s market share, partner with more retailers and expand to other provinces,” he says.   

Interested smallholder farmers can visit www.AgriKool.com or call 065 677 1573 for more information.