You may have heard of the jollof wars – which, for the unaware, is a passionate debate amongst West African countries as to which country’s jollof rice recipe is the best. Fundamental to the tastiness of jollof rice – and, indeed, many other foods consumed across the region – is tomatoes. 

Nigeria, West Africa’s largest economy, has a stake in this culinary debate and, therefore, tomatoes: In response to the growing demand for tomatoes, farmers, particularly in the northern region of Nigeria, grow tomatoes as cash crops that are transported across the country and beyond. 

Tomato has been a tender spot for Nigeria, with issues like storage, transport infrastructure, and disease affecting availability and crop yield. Over 1.5 million tons of tomato is harvested annually, however, most of this produce goes to waste. In fact, it is estimated that about 45% of fresh tomatoes harvested are wasted each year. With insufficient local production, importation has satisfied the growing local demand for many years. However, rising inflation, oil price volatility, and currency devaluations, amidst other macro factors have done little to mitigate the rising threats of food insecurity and farmers’ income.

Local production: the Tomato Jos factor

In 2020, tomato farmers in the small village of Kangimi in Kaduna state, Northern Nigeria, looked to the future with excitement and hope. An opportunity had landed on their doorstep: a new tomato processing plant was being built in their village. In the five years prior to the ground-breaking ceremony, the factory owners had supplied the farmers with farming inputs, techniques, and technology to increase tomato yields, then bought the fresh produce. This resulted in increased quality of tomato output, increased quantity of yield and income per farmer, and a strengthening of the tomato value chain.

That tomato processing factory, a $5 million project, was started in January 2020 mere weeks before a global pandemic was declared. By January 2021, a year after construction commenced, the factory was completed, making it the third largest tomato factory in Nigeria with the capacity to process 3.5 tons of fresh tomato per hour. It is also the only factory in the country to produce tomato paste without relying on imported concentrates. By mid-2022, products from the factory were already in the market. 

The factory is owned by Tomato Jos, an agribusiness company founded by Mira Mehta in 2014. There are multiple implications of the factory operations: local production of tomatoes is increased ensuring economic productivity and wealth creation for rural communities around the factory, value chain for tomato is developed, throughput for manufacturing tomato paste is secured, quality made-in-Nigeria goods are produced, and the problem of food wastage – and, by extension, insecurity – is addressed. 

As Aisha Mohammed, a small-holder farmer in Kangimi village, declared in a recent video that since she started working with Tomato Jos, “I have made tremendous progress in life. I paid my children’s school fees. I have capital to start a new business and I have built a house with the monies I made working for Tomato Jos company.” 

According to Mehta in an interview with ThisDay newspaper, Tomato Jos currently has “over 200 full/contract workers, and a network of over 3,000 smallholder farmers who partner with the company to grow year-round at yields well above the national average.”

Understanding the local context

In building Tomato Jos, Mehta went on a learning journey on growing and processing tomatoes and agribusiness. Part of her research journey led her to California to talk with major growers and processors. However, Mehta notes the importance of understanding the local context whilst observing global trends: “You can’t just take a perfect system from California and plonk it down in Nigeria and expect it to work. You have to figure out which things move yield the most, and which things are possible in Nigeria given infrastructure constraints,” she said in an interview with the online platform, How We Made it in Africa.

With this perspective, Mehta and her team set about identifying the factors that led to the failure or underperformance of other tomato manufacturers in Nigeria. In doing this, they pioneered a new approach to tomato paste production and tapped into a business philosophy that other entrepreneurs in different sectors have identified: understand the local context and build the enabling pipeline, first. 

For the first five years of the company’s life, Tomato Jos focused exclusively on farming thereby de-risking the upstream end of the business before investing in a factory. This approach to developing the upstream first before pivoting to manufacturing meant that the company understood the science and practice of growing tomatoes year-round (the approach also differentiated Tomato Jos from competitors who began with manufacturing before securing the upstream). So that when the factory was finally operational, Tomato Jos already had a sustainable pipeline for raw materials (tomatoes), avoided supply risks that may affect production, and had embedded infrastructures for distribution – including embracing digital technology and sustainable energy.

Like Lidya, Paga, and ReelFruit (all portfolio companies of Alitheia Capital), Tomato Jos took into cognisance the complexity of its business environment and paired this awareness with novel approaches to birth a production model that serves millions of people as producers, suppliers, distributors, and consumers. 

In an interview with TechCabal, Tayo Oviosu, co-founder and CEO of the financial technology company, Paga, pointed out that his company, which began operation in 2012, followed a similar path: “The first couple of years of Paga was building infrastructure where it didn’t exist. We built a hybrid payment infrastructure for the online and offline customer.” Oviosu and the Paga team built for the local context by developing pipelines and infrastructures that enable further productivity. 

Crucially, this approach also means that newer players have a template or roadmap to follow which translates to faster and more efficient deployment of innovations or solutions that have the capacity to unlock Africa’s full potential. Mehta and the Tomato Jos team, operating in a largely informal and underfunded sector, showed the potential for impact through innovative thinking and how patient capital can drive development.

Complete Farmer, an end-to-end digital, agricultural marketplace that connects African farmers and global industries to competitive markets, resources, data, and each other on a single platform, raises $10.4 million in a Pre-Series A funding round of equity and debt. The equity portion of the round was co-led by the Acumen Resilient Agriculture Fund (ARAF) and Alitheia Capital via its uMunthu II Fund in partnership with Goodwell Investments, who were joined by Proparco, Newton Partners and VestedWorld Rising Star Fund. Debt financing was provided by Sahel Capital’s SEFAA (Social Enterprise Fund for Agriculture in Africa) Fund, Alpha Mundi Group through its Alpha Jiri Investment Fund and Global Social Impact Investments, to fund both CAPEX and working capital investments in support of short and long-term growth.

Complete Farmer currently offers two main solutions tailored to farmers and agricultural commodity buyers. On the one hand, its farmer-focused product, CF Grower helps African farmers optimize their productivity, access global markets, and improve their livelihoods through precision farming tools and data-driven cultivation protocols. CF Buyer, on the other hand, serves buyers across the world by providing them with reliable and easy access to commodities grown to meet their specifications. On the platform, buyers can access a large network of qualified growers, get quality certified crops through a seamless digitized process, and transparently monitor the progress of their orders from order to fulfilment, giving them full control of their procurement process.

A McKinsey report highlights the economic significance of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, given that the sector contributes around 23% to the region’s GDP, and the social significance, given that agricultural productivity is predominantly driven by smallholder farmers, who constitute 60% of the population. Despite the glaring opportunity this presents for Africa’s agricultural industry, the sector is rife with supply chain and infrastructure bottlenecks that make it difficult to effectively participate in global supply chains. Given the prevalence of small and medium-sized farms, boosting productivity holds the key to enhancing economic conditions in African nations. Complete Farmer is looking to transform the approach to farming by building technological and physical infrastructure to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of the agricultural industry in Africa. Desmond Koney, the CEO of Complete Farmer, is building a comprehensive one-stop resource for African agriculture leveraging proprietary cultivation protocols for crop production that make it possible for smallholder and commercial farmers to grow crops that meet global market specifications, thereby guaranteeing post-harvest offtake.

The $10.4 million raised will be instrumental in amplifying Complete Farmer’s impact and reach. Since its inception in 2017 and launch on TechCrunch’s Battlefield Africa stage in 2018, the platform has successfully brought together over 12,000 farmers across 5 key regions in Ghana and overseen the cultivation of over 30,000 acres of land, delivering commodities to Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world, as well as reducing post-harvest losses. These compelling milestones reflect Complete Farmer’s substantial progress and its contributions to the industry.

“At Complete Farmer, we are on a mission to revolutionize Africa’s agriculture value chain, to ensure competitiveness for all stakeholders involved ” said Desmond Koney, CEO of Complete Farmer. “We are thrilled to welcome our new partner investors, who are seasoned experts in the industry and have a profound understanding of our mission which enables them make valuable contributions along our entire supply chain. It is a pleasure to have partners who share our belief in Complete Farmer’s potential impact on sustainable food production and food security in Africa and the rest of the world.”

The funds will be strategically allocated towards driving Complete Farmer’s expansion plans, facilitating the scaling of its operations, and further enhancing its technology infrastructure. Complete Farmer will invest in the continuous development and enhancement of its digital platform, ensuring a seamless and user-friendly experience for farmers, buyers, and all users of the platform. The funds will also be channelled towards driving further research into the company’s proprietary data-driven farming protocols and other innovations to improve its efficiency and maximize its effectiveness in helping farmers optimize farming practices and increase yields.

“Having been with Complete Farmer from the start as investors, we have had the privilege of witnessing Complete Farmer’s incredible journey unfold over the past six years.” adds Ashwin Ravichandran, Portfolio Advisor at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) Africa. “The progress achieved by Desmond and the team are truly commendable. The addition of new investors further fuels our anticipation for the business’s extended impact. With fresh perspectives and resources, Complete Farmer is poised for remarkable expansion, and we are excited about the journey ahead”

Complete Farmer aims to expand its domestic operations and break into new African countries. This will enable the company to reach more farmers providing them with access to quality inputs, technical expertise, and market opportunities. The funding will also allow Complete Farmer to forge strategic partnerships with key stakeholders in the agriculture and technology sectors and build a formidable team for the next phase of growth the company foresees.

Tamer El-Raghy, Managing Director of ARAF, says: “We are pleased to co-Lead this investment round, having been impressed with the progress that Complete Farmer has made in facilitating access to global trade for Ghanaian farmers, as well as introducing them to new crops and sustainable farming practices. Our goal at ARAF is to invest and grow local enterprises that support smallholder farmers in building resilience to climate change. Complete Farmer’s technology platform and farming protocols enable farmers’ access quality inputs, agronomical support, and premium markets, resulting in improved yields and income as reported by the farmers themselves. We are therefore excited to partner with Complete Farmer over the next phase of its growth through expanding in Ghana and to other parts of the region.”

Tokunboh Ishmael, Managing Partner at Alitheia Capital, adds “We are proud of Complete Farmer’s work and the opportunity to amplify our desired outcomes of fortifying the African agricultural value chain and bolstering export prospects through this investment in Complete Farmer. Employing home-grown technology developed in Africa, Complete Farmer serves as a vital bridge that connects local farmers and their products with global markets and financial resources. This connectivity results in increased incomes for farmers, elevated product quality, broader access for buyers, and an overall enhancement of global trade dynamics”

Proparco, a subsidiary of Agence Frainçaise de Développement (AFD) focused on private sector development, sees significant value in Complete Farmer’s innovative approach. “We are proud to partner with such pioneering Ghanaian entrepreneurs. Complete Farmer is a unique digital platform that helps African farmers optimize their productivity and improve their access to offtake,” stated Sadio Dicko, Proparco’s Deputy Regional Director for West Africa. “This investment, alongside other Proparco’s partners, will provide Complete Farmer with additional resources to both improve its digital infrastructure and tap into new markets for the benefit of the African agriculture sector”

LAGOS, NIGERIA – Haul247, an end-to-end logistics tech platform connecting businesses to haulage and warehousing assets, has raised $3 million in a seed funding round. Haul247 will use the investment to increase its market share in Nigeria, expand to other African markets, recruit talent, and develop its technology.

Alitheia Capital led the $3 million seed funding round via its uMunthu Fund, while Investment One participated. This follows a pre-seed funding round in 2021 by Khafid Gbadamosi and Horsham Gates. More recently, the company was selected as one of the recipients of the 2022 Google for Startups Black Founders Fund.

With over a thousand trucks on its roster and about 151,000 sqm of warehouse space available across various locations, Haul247 provides a unique platform for businesses to seamlessly book trucks and warehouses across multiple geo-locations in Africa using real-time technology.

Africa’s logistics industry remains fragmented, with over 80% of the market being operated by informal carriers that own one to three vehicles.

“Africa’s logistics sector continues to be hampered by a lack of supporting infrastructure, bottlenecks in service delivery, and a widespread informal approach to logistics business,” says  Sehinde Afolayan, CEO of Haul247. “Haul247 was founded to address the supply-demand mismatch in the ecosystem and optimize logistics service delivery in key African markets.”

Afolayan, who has over a decade’s experience in the African supply chain business, believes that solutions to logistics in Africa that do not solve warehousing challenges will be more costly, inefficient, and risky.

“Our platform connects businesses with reliable and efficient haulage and warehousing assets, making the movement of goods across the continent easier and faster. With the support of our investors, we will expand to new markets, recruit more talent and develop our technology to make logistics even more accessible and efficient for businesses in Africa”, he says. Afolayan believes this funding round will help Haul247 cement its position as Africa’s Airbnb for trucks and warehouses.

Tokunboh Ishmael, Managing Partner at Alitheia Capital, adds, “We are excited to be at the forefront of optimising logistics service delivery in key African markets, as trade and commerce is a key lever for driving development. Our investment further enables Haul247 to provide a seamless logistics solution for transporting and storing goods across the continent in a way that unlocks value and amplifies impact for individuals and companies throughout the value chain”.

Haul247’s proprietary software enables individuals, enterprises, manufacturers, and FMCGs to book logistics services in three simple steps quickly. The software takes an order request from a shipper, attaches a quote, and then matches the request with the most suitable truck and warehouse for efficient fulfillment.

Companies looking for warehouse facilities can also use the same process, making it an efficient and versatile platform for all logistics needs. Additionally, the system allows shippers to track the status of their goods until they reach their destination.

The founders of Haul247, Sehinde Afolayan, Tobi Obasa and Akindele Philips, believe the company is well-positioned to unlock Africa’s commercial potential while delivering value to clients and partners.

Experts globally have identified logistics as critical to The African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AFCFTA) success. According to the World Economic Forum, demand for intra-African freight will see a 28% increase by 2030, bringing benefits and transformation to the continent’s broader economy.