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Digitalization of African Agriculture

End-to-end digital platforms to quickly scale regenerative agriculture in Africa and connect small farmers with low emissions commerce.

Photo of John Van Duesen Lewis
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Otura Group LLC, Afojo is the domain name.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Pilots proposed with FAGRIB (Future Agribusiness) (Cameroon & DRC); Novare Group Ltd. (Tanzania); Yobe State, a Great Green Wall project in partnership with AFR100; Phase II: DRC, REDD implementing partner - Terra Global Capital.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

Domain name -

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Washington D.C.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Phase I: Littoral Province, Cameroon ; Kagera Region, Tanzania; Yobe State, Nigeria Phase II: Mai Ndombe Province, DRC

What country is your selected Place located in?

Cameroon, Tanzania, Nigeria, DRC

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Afojo team has deep and long-term relationships with each of these places and more. John Van Duesen Lewis, Director of Agriculture USAID (1994-2000) has worked all over Africa and is currently engaged with FAGRIB to implement climate smart, regenerative forest gardens with cocoa farmers and beyond. Women are central to FAGRIB and they work closely with a women's cocoa cooperative. (The FAGRIB network extends into Chad, Nigeria and DRC.) With Terra Global Capital, John is in discussion with three DRC governors to implement REDD where extensive agriculture is a driver of deforestation. With its remote sensing capacity, the Afojo program addresses this. Sheryl Quail, a Borlaug Fellow with expertise in geospatial sciences, spent six years in Tanzania working with a REDD pilot project and later in large-scale contract farming schemes. While in her work duties of visiting farmers, her first question was always "how are rainfall patterns and temperatures now compared to when you were a child?" On almost every single occasion - and there were many hundreds of them - this illicated a very strong response even from young people. Farmers are feeling the heat. She is partnering with Novare Group in Kagera Region who work with coffee farmers. Kagera is also a major banana producing region. Michael Cullen, an agricultural economist, has worked all over Africa for the OECD and was also a senior advisor to the World Cocoa Foundation. He currently works in an advisory role to FAGRIB in Cameroon's cocoa sector helping farmers improve post harvesting practices. In Yobe State, Nigiera, Sidi Yakubu, the Commissioner of Environment and Implementing Partner for the AFR100 initiative to restore 100m ha of degraded lands, would like to pilot with Afojo for 900 farmers growing gum arabic and fruit trees. Smallholder farmers in Africa that grow commodity crops also grow food crops. Commodity crop production has existing infrastructure and organization making it an easier point of entry.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Afojo's ambition is to provide a full suite of ICT tools and the right incentives to further climate smart, regenerative agriculture beginning in two phases: 1) Tanzania, Cameroon and Nigeria, and 2) DRC. It's long-term goal is to scale in conjunction with the AFR100 initiative whose objective is to restore 100 million hectares of degraded lands. Much of AFR100's work involves agroforestry crops. Located in NE Nigeria is Yobe Province and a community of 900 Kanuri farmers (neighbors of Fulani herders) who are active in the Great Green Wall initiative. Many of these farmers were displaced by Boko Haram in neighboring states. They were given Certificates of Occupancy in exchange for investments in land. In addition to food crops, they plan to adopt gum Arabic agroforestry and have obtained processing equipment. They are implementing partners of AFR100. In the coastal region is the Littoral Province in Cameroon, Afojo’s partner, FAGRIB, maintains a network of 3,000 farmers who produce cocoa, yams, and other food crops. This farmer base is working with a tree planting NGO to convert cocoa farms to shade grown forest gardens. FAGRIB’s network extends into surrounding countries. Their farmers keep bank accounts and divide their one lump sum sales into monthly payments to hold them throughout the year. In NW Tanzania's Kagara Region is Afojo's partner, Novare, an agricultural logistics company in partnership with Nagara, a coffee processing company. They source from 3,000 Haya farmers who practice mixed farming of coffee, bananas, sweet potatoes, maize and cassava. Other livelihoods include artisanal mining and fishing. Novare's owner has another company that has built a traceability platform to formalize the artisanal and small mining sector. Most of these miners are also coffee farmers. Coffee is an important export crop in Tanzania. Once past pilots, Afojo has ambitions to offer services to other commodity sectors such as cashew. Keep in mind that most small-scale commodity crop farmers also grow food crops. Afojo plans to work with the governments of the Mai Ndombe, Tshuapa and Equateur Provinces – home to large forest estates - to combine REDD (with implementing partner Terra Global Capital) and sustainable palm, rubber and cocoa as well as regenerative agriculture for food crops. Together with CIFOR, some areas have been reforested and are part of AFR100 commitments to restore forests.

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Over the last two decades, in spite of significant, twentieth century global progress in agricultural productivity and crop market integration, rural poverty and land degradation trends are turning sharply downwards. Demographic pressure? Economic polarization? Global Warming? Increasing rural conflict? Or all these threat multipliers taken together? For nearly a century, much of Africa has needed significant supplements of food aid to survive. Now the rest of the world will need Africa’s increasing environmental potential for sustainable productivity, abetted by steadier rainfall in the center and little legacy of chemical farming, to survive. Climate stabilization at 2 degrees requires carbon sequestration through her vast forest and soil resources. Whatever its growing agro-ecological potential, Africa is neither technologically nor institutionally ready to fulfill this global destiny. Even where global agricultural markets have long since relied on African commodities (palm oil, rubber, cocoa, coffee, tea and, more recently, shea butter) they are not sufficiently transparent or sufficiently price informed to ensure sustainable productivity growth for any of them - let alone all of the new crop surpluses that the rest of the world will soon be needing for Africa to export. Her majestic humid rainforests and less visible dryland forests – essential providers of rainfall, healthy soils and cooler temperature - have been cleared at alarming pace localizing and amplifying drying and warming trends. Yet these commodity crops are a source of foreign exchange, badly needed tax revenue and infrastructure, and income for small farmers. Undoubtedly, Africa must feed itself first, reduce its dependence on food imports and produce crops needed for its industrializing ambitions. Importantly, deforestation and degradation must reverse and restoration of degraded lands enter warp speed. The tension between export agriculture, large-scale commercial agriculture, smallholder farmers, forest and wildlife is glaring, but this is also not a zero sum equation.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The digitalization of agriculture will be a game changer in supporting and accelerating agricultural transformation across the continent. Afojo’s value proposition is to upend the fragmented, piecemeal ICT solutions of today with the most optimized bundled tools purposed to serve small farmers and their associations/cooperatives while providing more nutrient dense food for regional markets and deforestation-free supply chains for major commodity crops. For farmers, the value proposition delivers precision-agriculture scale advisory and insights that allow them to optimize their production, gain access to regenerative technologies, and explore new linkages with markets. Rapid scalability is hampered by working at the individual farmer level. By contrast, the farming association and agricultural cooperative – the ubiquitous organizing principle of much of African agriculture, promoted by governments and often loathed by farmers – offers scalability but only if its governance and efficiency are improved. Governments, likewise, can use improved understanding of farmer segments to improve macro-decision policy-making, as well as the design and implementation of their programs. The result – if fully implemented at scale – would be a highly connected, intelligent, real-time agricultural ecosystem that is vastly more productive, efficient, and transparent than ever before. The hope is that vertically integrated digital solutions will significantly reduce the costs of service, inputs and information delivery for farmers and other value chain intermediaries.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Afojo is a Yoruba medicine put on farms to bring rain. Afojo will be the Ali Baba of climate change. Its points of entry are four: farming associations/cooperatives, donor and development initiatives, private companies and the gig economy for youth and graduates. Our proof of concept pilots cover the first three. In Cameroon, Afojo will work with two cocoa cooperatives that are struggling with easily resolved quality control problems that as well as forest degradation. We envision their future to be as follows: improved cocoa quality and a deforestation free supply chain making them more attractive to chocolate companies. With better information about food crop production and diversified farms, farmers and their families are healthier and the export company is at less risk of promoting food insecurity at the expense of commodity exports. The paper system they once used has been replaced by a digital one that communicates with banks and input providers who deliver inputs in a timely manner. With better bookkeeping and credit worthiness data the bank is less exposed to loan defaults that governments sometimes swallow. Because the quality of cocoa is better, farmers capture a better price and more tax revenue is generated. The government then encourages more cooperatives to engage the Afojo platform. In Tanzania, farms once multicropped with banana trees only now native Albizia and Fadherbia albida for more marketable and climate smart shadegrown coffee. Much of the same conditions in Cameroon are the same as in Tanzania: A Great Green Wall project that is partnering with the African Union’s AFR100 initiative is planting gum Arabic in an agroforestry system. Afojo’s program will provide those farmers with the essential tools for basic agribusiness management, enabled financing and a low emissions e-commerce platform. Climate conscious manufacturers will be attracted by satellite evidence of this greening landscape.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The Afojo ICT platform could reverse all of these global strategic challenges at once. How? By guiding small farmers across the tropics into a land regenerating, greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigating, income generating agriculture for their families, their villages and their larger producer associations, cooperatives and agribusiness partners.Afojo is believes that for African farmers to adapt to and mitigate climate change, their income and livelihoods must be stabilized first. Market inefficiencies and governance and institutional challenges share much of this responsibility. However, technology can also improve these. Once incomes are more stable, Afojo’s second step is to help farmers adapt to climate change by improving soil health and moisture retention and sourcing better adapted seeds. After both of these are accomplished, then tree planting, saving the trees they have, introducing improves cookstoves, etc. can be introduced. We believe it is a more likely hardship to vulnerable and risk averse farmers to begin our relationship with farmers with climate change mitigation.

The Afojo multi-facited business model has been developed such that it doesn’t rely on selling fertilizer and agrochemicals. It will eliminate inefficiencies in the agribusiness ecosystem and pass the savings back to farmers in the form of incentives to plant trees and improve soils. While our business model is not dependent on carbon trading FOR NOW, as demand outstrips supply and the price continues to climb, Afojo foresees selling carbon credits thru its partner, Terra Global Capital, to subsidize its proposed landscape transformation.

Exportable commodity crops offer rapid scalability with their existing infrastructure and large farmer bases. Importantly, those same farmers also grow food crops, which for too long have been ignored at the expense of training and input packages for the cash crop. African cooperatives have a bad reputation and suffer governance challenges. Ghost farmers end up in the system, more inputs are ordered than are necessary and sold on the side, cooperatives become indebted and the system falters. Governments and banks absorb bad debt and interest rates are high as a result. Other cooperatives are very well run and serve as models in a sea of failures. We developed our toolkit based on those success cases as well as figuring out how to plug gaps in those faltering systems.

Regional trade is ripe with the newly established African Continental Trade Agreement and with the AFR100 initiative to restore 100 million hectares of degraded lands and works largely with rural communities. With its versatile remote sensing capacity, Afojo can provide monitoring and verification of these efforts as well as its full suite of tools for forest gardening communities. Market access followed premium prices can be powerful motivators for sustainable landscapes

Working with individual farmers and assisting them to form groups is friction to rapid scalability. However, once the system is fully developed, Afojo envisions the use of its fully loaded tablets to be used by college graduates or small traders who form farming groups of their own and receive a commission to enable regenerative agriculture, put the trees back and hold on to the ones they have.  

 Afojo is confident its system will be desirable by governments as farming communities are happier and healthier, become increasingly competitive as they move up the value chain, and government tax revenue is increased. We anticipate spread the system to other cooperative sectors.

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Photo of michael akande

I like this vision. Good Luck!

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