Accessible Tech Lights a Way for Smallholder Farmers in Zimbabwe Losing Harvest

Only 10 years ago, most rural households in Zimbabwe lived below the poverty line. For the 70% of rural households who depend on agriculture, preventing post-harvest loss is a key concern. While Zimbabwean food loss and waste is difficult to quantify, globally food loss and waste accounts for 25-30% of total produced food. 

Additionally, poor post-harvest practices are not the only factors that prevent farmers from becoming food secure and increasing their income. Inadequate infrastructure and low productivity contribute to farmers finding it difficult to access markets. 

Southern and Central Africa Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist, Tebogo Masombuka, discussed with Lanforce Energy CEO, Judith Marera, how her company leverages its technology to reduce post-harvest loss for the betterment of farmers and the environment.

What is your technology? Why did you decide to focus on it? 

Our technology is biotechnology. We sell biodigesters – both fixed dome and portable digesters on a pay-as-you-go model. We decided to focus on this technology in a bid to address energy poverty and fight climate change, especially in marginalized rural communities which are not connected to the national electricity grid. We also wanted to improve agricultural yields for farmers using bio-slurry. To avoid food loss, we provide farmers with cooling facilities for storage of their produce before they go to the market. Farmers who focus on pig farming have also benefited from our technology, as they now can manage their waste by putting the waste to use and producing energy.

What makes Lanforce’s model unique, and how do communities benefit from it?

Our model is unique because it sells biodigesters using a pay-as-you-go model, which then enables the population at the base of the pyramid to afford our services.  Communities benefit from our model in terms of employment, given that we employ Community Based Agents who sell our products. Our model is also unique in the sense that we engage with local traditional leadership thereby cementing our relationship with the communities we engage. Communities also now benefit from a cheaper and reliable source of organic fertilizer. We also provide after sales service to our clients.

Has it been challenging to convince end-users to use your product?

Biogas technology has been around for some time and many plants have failed, which has resulted in people being skeptical about the technology. This is due to not enough information on plant maintenance being shared and a lack of after sales service. The initial cost is still something that hinders many interested customers from taking up the technology. However, because of our model, we have managed to convince end-users that the technology is a worthwhile investment. We invested in smart meters and this has boosted the confidence levels of end-users as challenges are solved in real time.

How do women benefit from your innovation?

Women benefit from our technology in terms of employment -80% of our Community Based Agents are women. Women also become financially independent as they manage to do various income generating projects from the technology. Most women have ventured into fish farming and organic farming, gaining the ability to sell fresh produce to different markets.

How does your innovation decrease food loss and waste?

Our innovation uses waste as feed for our biodigesters and the biodigesters produce energy, which we then use to power cold rooms. The cold rooms will be used as storage facilities for farmers’ fresh produce, especially perishables, thereby reducing post-harvest loss.

What barriers in Zimbabwe do you face in expanding your innovation and decreasing food loss and waste?

There are three main challenges at this moment. Ahead of the 2023 elections, we are operating in a politically sensitive environment, so our marketing campaigns cannot run smoothly. 

Furthermore, some farmers who are interested in our technology do not have waste for feeding the biodigesters. This has been caused by a loss of livestock due to the outbreak of diseases. 

And lastly, working capital is another barrier to our efforts towards expansion.

What does working with WE4F mean for your organization and how do you think it will impact you?

Working with WE4F gives us an opportunity to market our business not only at national level, but at regional and international level, thereby enhancing our expansion zeal. This will impact the growth of our business.

Lanforce Energy is a women led for-profit social enterprise in the renewable energy sector. The company constructs fixed dome biogas digesters for farms, households and other establishments. It provides access to innovative portable biodigesters which are scalable depending on energy requirements.

Tebogo Masombuka is a Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist for the WE4F Southern and Central Africa Regional Innovation Hub. Her experience lies predominantly in the development sector both locally and internationally. She enjoys telling impactful stories and helping innovators do the same.