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Young African innovators are leading the charge on food security

A recent award has highlighted the innovative approaches young African innovators are using to tackle the continent's food security challenges. The Pamoja Founders Project, a regional leadership initiative, partnered with PepsiCo, to support six African enterprises aiming to revolutionize food security across Africa.

FROM innovative energy solutions to effective financing options for farmers and advanced farming practices, young African inventors and entrepreneurs are finding novel ways to take on the continent’s food security challenges, it emerged during a recent award ceremony in Nairobi.

The award, a project of The Pamoja Founders, a regional leadership development initiative of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), together with the PepsiCo Foundation and PepsiCo, provides catalytic support of $15,000 each to young African enterprises.

According to Roshan Paul, Director of Leadership at IREX, the six awardees who were celebrated at the Nairobi event “exceeded our expectations with their passion, thoughtfulness, and commitment to advancing food security across Africa.”

The ceremony was the culmination of a competitive pitch competition held after a four-day boot camp for Pamoja entrepreneurs.

Speaking at the event, Devendri Adari, the Social Impact & International Lead Sub-Saharan Africa for PepsiCo Foundation, expressed her excitement about partnering with IREX in the inaugural Pamoja Founders Program.

“We saw amazing African entrepreneurs that are pioneering African solutions for our African communities,” said Adari, who was also part of the judging panel.

In an interview with bird story agency, two of the winners, Nathnael Tadasse and Ahmed de Almeida, explained the solutions their respective enterprises offer in the fields of solar energy and agroforestry/farming.

Through his start-up, CRIMAS, OARZA, and FAE, Almeida helps smallholder farmers by promoting an inclusive business model and capacity building for young entrepreneurs throughout Mozambique.

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He employs the trickle-down method where he trains farmers on merging smart agroforestry practices with farming. These farmers train other farmers, and the cycle continues.

“When I was working as an extension officer in the government, they didn’t have enough resources to implement most of the programs. And I felt like I had a lot of information and expertise to share with farmers, but I couldn’t do it through the government,” he explained.

“I also had colleagues from the universities that didn’t manage to get a job. And then I thought, why not invite them and start a company together?” Almeida explained how his company started. Since then, he’s been able to work with more than 6,500 farmers.

Ethiopia-based Tadasse is the founder and CEO of Senaryo Trading PLC, a startup providing high-quality, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly solar solutions in Ethiopia. He aims to combat energy challenges by making solar power accessible and affordable.

“The main reason I got into this program is to learn how to address the solar energy problem. In the long run, if we get into the manufacturing parts, especially the solar panels, we’ll go to another phase. We’ll go to mini-grid. It’s done so that instead of addressing an individual person’s problem, you’ll address society’s problem,” Tadasse explained.

“It’s not just about the money but the capacity building and mindset in terms of investing in your education so you can be able to serve more people,” he added.

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“The main lesson is that if you collaborate with other people in your sector and you hear from other people, other countries and other businesses, you get prepared to serve more people in a better way.”

These innovations by the awardees are highly needed on the continent where up to 282 million people, roughly 20 per cent of the population, are undernourished. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, this figure has increased by 57 million since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2023 World Food Program report showed that Africa is still not on track to achieve food security and nutrition targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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Initiatives such as The Pamoja Founders Project promise to help catalyse resilience efforts in this sector, with the initiative providing a comprehensive support system for 12 cohort members, equipping them to further develop innovative and disruptive solutions that address food security.

Beyond the financial rewards offered to the winners, IREX will support the entire cohort for the next three months as they complete the program. After the project, the Pamoja Founders will join a vibrant, supportive pan-African network of IREX alumni.

In addition to Tadasse and Almeida, the other winners were:

• Dr Akpem Shadrach, founder of Vet Konect, Nigeria
• Juliet Namwanje, founder of Ziimba, Uganda
• Brendah Nantongo, founder of Veathari Ventures Limited, Uganda
• Elizabeth Okullow, founder of Agriboom, Kenya

The project also honoured and recognized the contributions and accomplishments of the other participants in the cohort:

• Benson Abila, Founder, M-Taka; Kenya
• Mafeng Dangyang, Co-Founder, Kayan Gona Agro Network; Nigeria
• Emmanuel Dusabimana, Founder, Agriboom; Uganda
• Nalugemwa Elizabeth, Founder, Seedloans and Kyaffe Farmers Coffee; Uganda
• Abdallah Mabrouk, Founder & Executive Director, Ibukia Shambani; Tanzania
• Babajide Oluwase, Co-Founder and CEO, Ecotutu; Nigeria