What Chad’s Startup Community Can Do About Its Food Insecurity

N'Djamena, Chadian Capital (Credit: Around Travels)

Young Chadians are already defying a tough business and political environment to build a budding though nascent startup ecosystem. Chad is considered one of the most difficult countries to build a startup. The country ranks 180 of 190 in ease of doing business. Another thing is Chad’s food security problem. The country ranks 110 of 113 in food security, making it one of the least food secure countries. One-third of the population is malnourished, the hunger problem is enormous especially owing to security and climate issues. People are being forced to move to Chad due to security challenges in neighbouring countries like Nigeria and Sudan. Lake Chad, one of the sources of water and fishes in the land-locked country, is drying up. Can Chadians look to its group of young innovators and technology entrepreneurs to take baby steps towards solving the problems? Can they draw inspiration from agritech innovation coming out of other African countries?

Chad’s Startup Ecosystem

One of the major hallmarks of a startup ecosystem are hubs, Wenaklabs is one of Chad’s first hubs. The hub has already begun making significant impact, it worked with UNICEF to make computers out of e-waste and jerrycans.The computers are helping children connect to the internet for the very first time, an example of what’s possible even in the midst of extremely difficult situations. Wenaklabs is also working on some other interesting projects. One of them is L’heure du Net a bimonthly meeting of Chadian netizens with the aim of discussing digital products and services thereby educating attendees about them. The project receives support from the French Institute of Chad.

Another important member of the ecosystem is the RJDTL: Réseau des Jeunes pour le Développement et le Leadership au Tchad (Network of Young for Development and Leadership in Chad). The organization is seeking to promote the culture of entrepreneurship in Chad. It has worked with the Global Entrepreneurship Network to set-up a chapter in Chad. The network continues to hold events to engage experienced and new entrepreneurs. Kinnevik Group’s non-for profit organization Reach for Change is working with social entrepreneurs like Didier Lalaye who developed a mobile health platform that provides individuals access to medical services via SMS.

There are a number of startups taking on interesting problems in Chad. One of them is Mossosouk a classifieds website that helps sellers connect with buyers. Product categories include clothing, vehicles and mobile phones. There’s also Carsuq, a classifieds website for buying and selling cars and motorcycles. Chad’s solar energy startup Kouran Jabo is providing electricity to low-income earners. Individuals and businesses can pay for the product over the period of one year.

Chad’s Food Security Challenges

Asides climate and corruption related challenges, there are simpler problems contributing to Chad’s food security challenges. One of them is access to financing. Farmers lack the necessary credit they need to buy quality seedlings and other important farm inputs. Agricultural infrastructure is also very limited in many parts of Chad. Farmers lack access to infrastructure such as good roads, storage facilities and water resources. The diet is also very limited. There’s not enough variety of agricultural produce which will ensure that citizens are well nourished.

Farmers also do not have proper education on modern farming practices which can help them gradually scale their operations. Easy access to market is another one of the challenges farmers face. Another cause of the food security challenge is the lack of food safety net programs according to the Global Food Security Index. One of the questions one might ask as regards the food challenge is, do farmers have important farming information like best time to plant, weather conditions and crop disease information?

There needs to be a combination of innovative solutions to tackle these problems.

What Can Be Done

The good news is the startup community in Chad has already taken the bull by the horn and begun working on tackling these challenges. The other side of the story is, there is still a long way to go.

The global Future Agro Challenge is a pitching event seeking to sponsor the best agritech startups. The local event holds in Chad annually, the 2018 edition held earlier in the year. LARBE Agrobusiness Project, an entry from Chad that processes peanuts and corn into other food products was one of the finalists at the 2017 edition of the global stage of the event. There needs to be more of such agritech events and hackathons. One of the challenges that might hinder funding is discoverability. If it is difficult to find all the startups in Chad, then it will be difficult for potential investors to know who to fund. There needs to be more platforms like Entreprendre l’Afrique covering Chadian startups. More startups also need to ensure they take the simple step of signing up on platforms like AngelList and VC4A.

To solve the challenge of access to farming information for farmers, there needs to be more projects like Wenaklab’s Hiratech which enables farmers collect information such as temperature, soil moisture, rainfall etc. Chadian entrepreneurs should also expand their network within the African startup ecosystem.

Chances are whatever product or startup needs to be built in Chad, there’s already something similar in another African nation. As an example, Nigeria’s FarmCrowdy is helping farmers get capital from individual donors. A similar solution is needed in Chad. There’s also MFarm in Kenya which is making it easy for farmers to connect to buyers. A startup like MFarm will help Chadian farmers get easy access to market. Kenyan startup iCow provides farmers the education they need to succeed in livestock farming, a similar startup will tackle the same problem in Chad. More organizations also need to replicate what Evelyne Naotordene is doing with her work NAOFood which uses mobile phones to educate parents on the most nutritious meals to give their children.

While Chadian innovators will need to begin in their country, they will need to have a Pan-African focus by also targeting the market in other francophone African countries. It will also be great to see more organizations do something similar to what Reach for Change is doing to support entrepreneurs in Chad as against just providing aid. The Chadian government will need to step up to play its part to ensure its startup ecosystem thrives. Asides the minor reforms that have already been done to make it easier to do business, there needs to be a wide-reaching policy program that caters to startups and technology innovators. The government can also invest a certain percentage of the money from its oil sector into startups. The 5 million people facing hunger in Chad desperately need the startup ecosystem to succeed in addressing food insecurity, their very lives depend on it.