Old farmers warn that you must make sure you have a market for your veggies before you plant. But what do you do if Covid-19 collapsed your market, or you just haven’t managed to find a buyer for your crop?
If you’re a smallholder farmer in KwaZuluNatal, and especially if you’re one close to Pietermaritzburg, then pick up your phone and send a WhatsApp to AgriCool Finance.
This young start-up company has big plans to revolutionise agribusiness by linking small fresh-produce farmers with informal vendors and formal retailers.
Headed up by co-founder Zamokuhle Thwala, AgriCool pays farmers at the gate for fresh produce like tomatoes, potatoes, green peppers, cabbage, butternut, carrots, bananas, mangos, pineapples and maize.
He then sells and delivers them to hawkers and informal markets in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, as well as distribution centres for Boxer, Save and Farm Fresh.
Zamokuhle, who has a degree in agricultural engineering, says in this way farmers can avoid the 12.5% commission charged by agents on fresh produce markets.
“This is a lot of money for emerging farmers who also still have to pay for transport. Market prices can also always drop. Selling to street hawkers pays better and is less hassle.
“We’re organising the informal market. Hawkers order ahead from us by WhatsApp and we deliver to them. It saves them waking up at 4am to get to the market, only to find there is no stock.”
So prices become more feasible for all the links in the chain: the farmer, the hawker and the consumer.
“The poorest consumers spend about 40% of their disposable household income on food. By solving inefficiencies in the value chain, food becomes more affordable,” he says. Farmers prefer selling their crop to AgriCool rather than paying AgriCool a sales commission.
“They like us to pay them on the spot, which helps improve their livelihoods and they also end up wasting less produce.”
And Zamokuhle should know. He spent 18 months farming in Durban. “I was growing crops like cabbage and spinach on 3ha of leased land; but quit in 2017 to try and solve the challenges that I faced, like access to markets and financing. I was selling to locals and street hawkers, and that’s how the idea of selling to the informal market came about.”
Launched in July 2019, AgriCool recently won joint first place in the SAB Foundation’s Social Innovation Awards. The award came with R1.3 million in grant funding.
“This funding will let us scale up and help solve our biggest bottleneck – logistics. The market is there, but we need to be able to move product.”
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU GROW?
For Zamokuhle there is always a market for crops like tomatoes in the informal market.
“I love dealing with the informal market. We are prized dealers there; as opposed to the formal market, which dictates price.” AgriCool sells a minimum of 2,2 tons of tomatoes a day to the informal market.
“Even now, going into March, we are desperately looking for tomatoes. This will get worse in winter. We are looking to partner with small farmers in areas like Jozini in northern KwaZulu-Natal, which has a better winter climate for summer crops.”
They are also looking for cucumber and butternut suppliers. These crops, however, are more difficult to source from smallholders.
“Products like cabbage are easy to buy from smallholders because one simply loads them. Crops like tomato, cucumber and butternut need to be prepacked; while with something like butternuts, farmer have to move heavy pallets. Until our logistics are sorted out and we have packing facilities, we have no choice but to go to more established farmers for certain crops.”
AgriCool is currently working with 75 farmers in Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas like Greytown, Richmond and Albert Falls. So don’t wait until your crop is rip before contacting them!
“I prefer being called right at the start when the crop is still a seed or seedling. Then we can plan. Don’t phone me a million times when you can’t find a buyer. It’s too late and the produce is already spoiling!”
WhatsApp 076 647 6228 with your specific farm location, produce, quantity and the anticipated harvest date, as well as pictures of your produce.
Contact Zamokuhle Thwala at 076 647 6228 or send a mail to ZAMOKUHLE@AGRIKOOL.COM.
Check out their website at AGRIKOOL.COM or follow them on Twitter @AGRICOOL5