Interview with Nelson Mandela, Co-Founder & CEO of Fruiti-Cycle Ltd

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Prior to Fruiti-Cycle, how would you describe the agriculture value-chain in Uganda in terms of bottlenecks, opportunities and industrial progression? Is it a reflection of the entire African agric sector?

I describe agricultural value-chain in Uganda largely in terms of opportunities and industrial progression .This is because bottlenecks triggers people to think creatively and come up with effective solution to problems affecting agricultural sector. These solutions could be innovative technologies or services that advances industrial progression not just in Uganda alone but Africa as a whole if it is appropriately applied.

Much as I see it as an opportunity, there are also other bottlenecks that still exist in agricultural sectors like bureaucracy and strict laws on the supply of agricultural inputs. These, need to be addressed by automating the process and also having a dialogue with different stakeholders like government, private sectors and farmers to ensure efficiencies and effectiveness in agricultural production.

Why do you think plans and actions towards addressing the bottlenecks facing the agricultural sector have been snail-paced? 

 Plans and actions toward addressing the bottlenecks facing the agricultural sector have been snail-paced partly due to bureaucracy and strict government regulations on agricultural sector. Government tend to have long procedures in clearing agricultural inputs leaving farmers with limited options of such inputs. Limited supply of such inputs creates monopoly tendencies which lead to hiking of prices hence low agricultural production, less food supply and hunger.

The level of technological innovations in agricultural sector in Africa is still low compared to western countries. Most of the technology developed by our innovators are still at infant stage. Very few are at growth or maturity stage and these means less of such solutions are within the farmer’s reach to address the need that they were created for.

Limited funding of agricultural sector has also greatly affected the performance of the sector. Most of these innovators or farmers lack collateral securities to obtain bank loans to facilitate their activities. It has also led to a reduction in production in agriculture and shortage of food supply to consumers.

Several small but impactful solutions have been developed to address particular problems farmers and food producer’s face. Do you think this is a much more realistic approach to solving the issues plaguing the agric sector or a more robust government-driven approach? 

Most small but impactful solutions are easier to create penny-wise. It is also very effective in terms of impact. Instead of buying four trucks with a refrigeration unit to preserve food by government, I suggest government should come up with a model of development that creates ecosystem for also smaller solutions. Not many people would afford to buy a truck but many people would afford to buy and own smaller solutions. When many people have access to solutions more lives are impacted. These could be inform of more employment opportunities, reduced hunger and increased GDP.

Government has got a huge role to play as far as solving the issues afflicting agricultural sector is concerned. They need to create a conducive investment climate for both local and foreign investors. They should implement their fiscal policies wisely by investing in activities that will support local agricultural producers or manufacturers. For example government can decide to spend money meant for fiscal policies by giving grants or low interest loans to entrepreneurs, innovators and farmers in agricultural sectors. By so doing they will increase market for domestic products .These will also lead to economic growth, creation of more employment opportunities to people. More employment implies more income tax paid hence leading to an increase in domestic taxes or revenue collected by government.

Tell us about Fruiti-Cycle? 

Fruiti-Cycle is an electric motorized tricycle mounted with a detachable refrigerated storage unit for conveniently and safely distributing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fruiti-Cycle uses manual peddling energy to generate electricity then converts it up to 50km/hr motorized system. This energy allows a famer to carry more produce (up to 150kg carrying capacity) every time unlike the current normal bicycles with 60kg carrying capacity. The energy also allows a farmer to reach far markets in a radius of 100km without getting exhausted unlike the normal bicycles that can only travel as far as 30km before a farmer gets very exhausted.

Unlike other motor tricycles in the market, Fruiti-Cycle has a refrigerated storage unit with a cooling unit powered by solar to prolong the shelf-life of the produce during distribution and to reduce mechanical damages due to poor packaging. The storage unit is also detachable to be used within the market by market vendors to preserve their produce up to five days, significantly reducing the total post-harvest losses from 50% to only 10%.

Since its launch, how many farmers have been impacted by Fruiti-Cycle? 

We haven’t officially launched our product for sale to our clients but can sell it to them when it can be sold. We had planned to pilot by giving it to one farmer or a group of them in January. We wanted to start piloting with the one unit that we have currently but we had a delay in production that forced us to postpone it to June this year. It is the plan we are still sticking to unless circumstances that is beyond our control occurs.

We participated in several exhibitions in Uganda and interacted with our clients regarding the solution. They like the product and a few of them have already placed their sales order on condition that they pay for it when it is produced and delivered to them. Also, there are a few clients who want to buy it, use it and give us feedback on where we should improve.

We planned to pilot our product and we shall mostly accept pre-sales order for now .The whole product will cost only $1,000 each and there will also be other affordable modes of payments like leasing and hire purchase for those who may not afford to buy it.

We shall only accept payment when our products are delivered to our clients and they are satisfied with it.

Do you think like Fruiti-Cycle, differentiated smaller solutions targeting specific problems are the future for Africa’s agric sector development? 

Smaller solutions like ours are not the only future of Africa’s agricultural sector development but technology as a whole. Our startup is handling just a portion of the problems that are being faced by agricultural sector currently and that is postharvest handling of food produced. We need to have more people innovating even relatively bigger solutions that will address the entire agricultural cycle. Africans need to encourage and support more talented individuals to come up with a rational solutions to tackle challenges faced by farmers’ right from when seeds are planted up to when they are harvested as food from the garden. For example, we need innovations in areas like fertilizers and food processing machines.

We are currently focusing on a smaller solution because we want to start small and it is also easy to create penny-wise in a relatively shorter period of time. I believe African innovators have got the capacity to produce even bigger solutions or high tech for agriculture when they are availed with the right support and financial model.

What other countries are you expecting to venture into in the coming years? 

We plan to expand our startup starting with countries like Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan in the next 3 years to come. We plan to scale by partnering with farmers’ groups, SACCOs and Microfinances. We also intend to open up smaller retail and wholesale distribution outlets at those countries in the long run to ensure steady supply of our product to the farmers.




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