Innovative platform links farmers to those feeding the poor

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The fights against food waste and hunger have been given a boost by an innovative collaboration between a bank, an agritech firm and South Africa’s largest food redistribution company.

Since launching in November 2020, the OneFarm Share initiative has already collected and distributed more than 270 tons of food to beneficiary organisations, which prepared more than a million meals for vulnerable people across KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. 

This year, the project is being ramped up, with a national roll-out that has already included Gauteng and Limpopo. In March, it moved to the Eastern Cape and Free State, while expansion into Mpumalanga and the Western Cape is expected later in 2021. 

The national roll-out comes against the backdrop of startling levels of hunger in South Africa: The third wave NIDS-CRAM survey reported a rise in household hunger after a significant decrease in the proportion of households that ran out of money for food in earlier reports (from 47% in wave 1 to 38% in wave 2).

By wave 3, that proportion rose again to 41%, indicating a worrying trend. It observed a similar pattern at play in household hunger between waves 1, 2 and 3: “a significant decline from 23% to 16% between waves 1 and 2, and an insignificant increase in household hunger from 16% to 18% between waves 2 and 3.” It furthermore noted a significant change in child hunger, from 15% in wave 1 to 12% in wave 2, but rising to 16% in wave 3, which it called “alarming”.

OneFarm Share brings producers, logistics companies and beneficiaries together under a single digital platform. 

First instituted by Standard Bank in Uganda in 2019, OneFarm proved to be an effective platform to link supply and demand by helping small-scale farmers – who contribute towards more than 70% of the continent’s food production, but are hamstrung by poor access to market and a lack of tools and equipment – to sell their produce.

In Nigeria, the bank also funded Founders Factory Africa, which partnered with local agritech FoodLocker to create a marketplace that forecasts demand for food, thereby enabling large-scale buyers to procure fresh produce and fast-moving goods from small farmers. 

Wendy Pienaar, Standard Bank’s head of client ecosystems, said the model was developed as an entry strategy for approaching hunger in the wake of the pandemic. “Fresh produce was being produced, but hotels and restaurants had collapsed, so we thought, how do we match the surplus with people who are very hungry in South Africa?” 

Sustainability was essential to the project, she explained, “We didn’t want farmers to donate, we wanted them to stay in business.”

Agritech firm HelloChoice, which developed the online platform for OneFarm Share, was “glue in the middle” to orchestrate multiple partners, Pienaar said. Initially, the launch was limited to KwaZulu-Natal, which is where HelloChoice is based, to ensure its processes were correct, before scaling up. 

Grant Jacobs, the CEO and cofounder HelloChoice said its platform provides an online marketplace where supplies can be directly accessed from farmers on behalf of donor agencies. “OneFarm Share is about sharing opportunity and excess. We help farmers – of all sizes, whether emerging, small or big and commercial – to find a market for their out-of-spec produce that might be hail-damaged or not the right size. Farmers can also donate the produce, if they want.”

“It prevents food wastage, making a sustainable impact on reducing hunger and improving food security in South Africa.”

With no joining fee, OneFarm Share has removed barriers to entry for farmers and beneficiaries. The platform collates requests for food donations from registered and vetted community feeding schemes such as early childhood development, youth and old age centres, and lists them on the online marketplace. The food is made accessible to beneficiary organisations at a reduced cost, or even as donations, while the platform facilitates delivery at the lowest possible cost. 

Jacobs said talks are under way to bring on further food distribution partners to help with the national roll-out.

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The bank initially allocated Covid-19 relief funding to food and logistics procurement, while FoodForward SA, which recovers and redistributes edible surplus food from the supply chain (including retailers, manufacturers, and farmers), is leveraging its existing capabilities to help the project get off the ground within four months.

Pienaar said FoodForward was already experienced in distribution, and found the organisation to be one of the most formalised in the country, with warehouses and logistics. 

Andy du Plessis, the MD of FoodForward SA, said the partnership has enabled it to expand its existing food basket, from dry goods to fresh produce with high nutritional value, by including potatoes, apples, oranges, tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, butternut and beetroot. It also gives them access to a far wider network of farmers. 

“Our core business is the recovery of edible, non-expired food from the supply chain that is surplus – from overproduction, overharvesting and not A-grade. We take all that food to our warehouses to check, sort and distribute to 1,005 registered non-profit organisations.”

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in SA, FoodForward’s operations doubled. “Before lockdown, we distributed to 570 organisations a year ago. The demand for food and food parcels – because school meals weren’t available – has skyrocketed like you can’t believe. Healthy food is beyond vulnerable people’s ability to afford. And applications for support from our network have flooded in.”

With donor fatigue a danger, donors have become warier about where their money is going. Through OneFarm Share, they get a tax benefit, which allows them to have discussions with corporate clients. “This is a very strong channel for you to be able to participate and have certainty about where your donations are going,” Pienaar said. DM/MC