East Africa’s climate tech innovators

By Janet Ndugire & Sarah Horsley


Just as COP27 began in Egypt, the UN reported that the past eight years have been the warmest on record. Nowhere is this more evident than here in Africa. Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are entering their fifth year of successive droughts. Across the Horn of Africa, 36 million people are affected by drought and that will rise to 80 million people by the end of the year if the rains are insufficient, according to the UN. At the same time, flooding in South Sudan, Uganda and Burundi have destroyed homes and crops and displaced millions.

Climate disasters are having a dire effect on the continent’s ability to produce food. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that $30 billion was lost in sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa from 2008 to 2018 due to declines in crop and livestock production in the aftermath of drought, floods and storms.

Research from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s most food insecure region. Climate-resilient infrastructure, such as solar power to run irrigation systems, is the key to protecting food production and distribution in Africa, according to the IMF. Digitalisation is also important, allowing farmers access to early warning weather systems, mobile banking and platforms to buy seeds, fertilisers and connect them with wholesale buyers.


Innovation hub


East Africa is fast being recognised as a hub for such agriculture and climate tech innovation. Research from Fitch Solutions this year identified Kenya as Africa’s top destination for agri-tech investment.  Agricultural insurance and technology company Pula helps smallholder farmers insure their crops and livestock against a wide range of climate risks, including drought, excessive rainfall, pests and disease. Pula’s partner, Apollo Agriculture, uses satellite imagery of farms and machine learning to guide with credit decision making. It also helps farmers diversify to high-yielding crops, providing access to wholesale orders on its checkout app.

While start-up Neruva Technologies has come up with a particularly innovative product: the ecocapsule. Powered by solar energy, this pop-up pod allows farmers to rear 2,000 fish every five months and 1,000 heads of crops every four months.  There are no harmful by-products as plant roots absorb the fish waste, avoiding the need for fertilisers and ensuring all yields are organic.

In Tanzania, EEP Africa funded ENdep is reducing post-harvest losses through the provision of solar-powered cold storage for fish traders around Lake Victoria. These shared cold storage rooms will also be used to store meat, dairy and crops, with women and youth prioritised on rental space to encourage them into this sector and boost livelihoods.  According to ENdep’s projections, the system will generate 105 MWh of clean energy per year.

Rwandan-based Shambapro, founded in 2018, is a next generation agtech start up which helps small scale farmers to develop their farms into sustainable businesses. The company has created a platform, accessible via an App, with simple-to-use farm management tools that enable them to maintain financial and production records, manage inventories and obtain access to financing.


Where is the support?


Early-stage climate-focused start-ups in East African countries face distinct challenges and barriers such as poor internet connectivity, an unreliable power supply, and a lack of access to funding making it challenging for climate tech start-ups to achieve scale.

Initiatives such as the EU funded Uganda Green Enterprise Accelerator provide some much needed support. SMEs, drawn from a broad range of sectors including eco-tourism, clean energy, sustainable transport, waste management, green manufacturing, and agro-processing are assisted through the early growth stage of their business via the sharing of skills and partnering with financial institutions to facilitate access to loans. One such enterprise is Nampya Farmers Market a food sourcing and distribution company aiming to improve transparency and protect precious food resources by reducing waste.  It has developed a digital platform for a formal agri-food marketplace connecting stakeholders throughout the supply chain thereby increasing affordable, quality, fresh and safe food access to urban populations in Uganda whilst improving smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.

The Kenya Climate Innovation Center backs local entrepreneurs looking to tackle climate change through technology, acting as an incubator and supporting with skills development and financing. The organisation, which has mobilised USD 44 million in financing for climate change and has incubated around 300 SMEs to date, is on a mission to deliver innovative climate change solutions through an empowered private sector.

Africa only accounts for two to three per cent of global emissions, according to the UNFCCC, but it is the most vulnerable region in the world to climate change. With COP27 now behind us, alongside the broad agreement on the climate and loss fund, another key takeaway from the talks is potential changes coming to the mandates of multilateral lenders so that financing flows more easily to energy-transition and climate adaptation projects. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, east Africa’s innovators will continue to play a crucial role in helping the region to withstand some of the worst impacts of climate change.


For international communications support in East Africa and beyond, please do get in touch with our sustainability team at: gongkenya@gongcommunications.com. From its Nairobi base, Gong Kenya has delivered communications assignments for clients in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is part of a network of agencies operating globally.