Bolstering the container-farming industry both locally and internationally, Hivos Food and Lifestyle Fund, based in the Hague, the Netherlands invested EUR 500,000.00 in a closed investment round in Cape Town-based container-farm construction business AgriLED.
AgriLED manufactures and supplies container farms to smallholder farms, refugee camps and disaster agencies. It also makes market-leading full-spectrum LED Grow Lamps for controlled environment farms both locally and abroad and has had more than 2,000 tonnes of food grown under its lamps in the past year.
This investment comes at a crucial time for both the Western Cape and South African agriculture economy and allows AgriLED to scale internationally through the Hivos Food and Lifestyle Fund footprint, to deploy its high-impact high-nutrition farms with the backing and expertise of a global impact team.
Grown from the need of finding nutrition solutions that were both water- and space-smart in the drought-hit Western Cape in late-2017, Richard Lomax and Theo Pistorius started the business from their expertise in microbiology, remote sensing and electronic engineering. With insight from Richard’s family having worked with refugees, they developed LED Grow Lamps that produce better nutrition and taste while requiring less space and generating less heat than their pricier, foreign competitors. They mention, however, that the product development was always driven by their customers’ need for high-quality, nutritional food in extremely tough circumstances. This while still making sure the produce tastes great and the farms are economically viable for the suppliers, consumers and the producers.
“Most refugee camps depend on very expensive donations to provide small amounts of fresh, nutritious food at great expense to their inhabitants, while fresh nutrition is almost impossible to find in disaster areas. After hundreds of customer interviews, we concluded that you need a low- cost, rapidly deployable, semi-permanent solution that would provide healthy, fresh, nutritious food from deployment day 1,” says Theo Pistorius, the managing director of AgriLED. “We also had to create a space for people to have something to do while in the camps or communities, as lack of activity was a mental killer. So we developed a hybrid-high-and-low-tech solution to grow the food even while in transit to the site, and provide sustainable employment in the communities where we deploy.”
Jaap Spreeuwenberg, the Managing Director of Hivos Food and Lifestyle Fund, mentions that “AgriLED is the type of company that Hivos Food and Lifestyle Fund is looking for: its product delivers impact at its core, and when it scales it will increase both its profitability and impact in an exponential way. The containerized farm solutions increase food outputs and decrease costs substantially; an earn-back period between 24 and 36 months means buying its products is a rational solution for both the food entrepreneurs and the relief organisations that use the products to feed people in need.” He continues “The company is innovative and R&D-driven and sprung out of a practical solution to farm food in the drought-stricken Western Cape. Developed in the hardest of circumstances, it is a high quality, low-cost solution that can be of use all over the world. AgriLED will both help to provide healthy food for people in Southern Africa as well as provide an affordable and cheaper solution to provide vegetables, fruits and herbs in disaster areas and for refugees who would otherwise suffer from malnutrition, depend on dry-ration donations, or would not have food at all.”
Asked about their choice in partner, Theo responds: “We specifically approached the Hivos Food & Lifestyle Fund, as we were looking for an impact-focused partner with whom we could walk a long-term path. They understand the core focus of the business and provide international scalability. Farm-to-fork and urban agriculture are growing trends in the world, and we found that South African technology doesn’t have to stand back in a growing global market. We can also
service local businesses with high-quality products, that would help them supply local retailers and restaurants, and help their businesses grow. So, while helping local businesses win at farming sustainably, we also help those with the greatest need for food and skills-transfer, all around the world.”
Focusing on farm-to-fork, impact-oriented equity investments in Southern Africa, specifically in the EUR 50,000.00 to EUR 500,000 bracket, Hivos Food & Lifestyle Fund provide a fitting partner to AgriLED’s global focus.
AgriLED is based in Durbanville and can be visited at www.agriled.co.za.