Technology & Innovation

African industrialisation: Showcasing the stars of three critical sectors

Between wars, loadshedding, recessions, climate change, and pandemics, the world is not short of problems that need solving. And global problems need global solutions, preferably created with the input of those impacted most.

The world celebrates Africa Industrialization Day in November and considers how we can accelerate innovation and tap into the bright minds and inventions emerging from the continent.

What is Africa Industrialization Day, and why is it important?

First celebrated on 20 November 1990, Africa Industrialization Day exists to promote conversations between African leaders and officials about Africa’s industrialisation efforts and to analyse the past year’s progress.

Although its main purpose is to brainstorm solutions for more sustainable and inclusive economic expansion, it’s also an opportunity to bring hope and encouragement by highlighting notable achievements and innovations.

Here’s why you should celebrate with us:

  • Collaboration: Uniting bright minds, stakeholders, and policymakers can expand development and financial resources to create more opportunities, reduce poverty, and increase involvement in international trade.
  • Revision: Reviewing industrial challenges reveals what hasn’t worked in the past, highlights new issues, and helps to place a focus on urgent matters.
  • Enhances intra-African trade: Industry and business leaders can more easily identify opportunities to increase competitiveness and promote the advancement of manufacturing sectors.
  • Knowledge: Business and industry leaders can familiarise themselves with new developments, opportunities, and potential they wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Hope in African innovation

Africa is rich with natural resources and great minds with the potential to increase industrialisation and economic improvement. However, many people don’t have the necessary opportunities or resources to make strides.

Access is one of the main factors holding Africa back from being the most lucrative continent. But sometimes, someone comes along to provide those opportunities and access to others.

This Africa Industrialization Day, we show how innovators from three key sectors are turning big problems into big solutions—and taking others along on the journey.

Energy sector: AWPower

Energy, or the lack thereof, is one of the biggest challenges currently facing South Africans.

Parents base “what’s for dinner” answers on load-shedding schedules, and businesses rely on choosing the better of two evils in diesel for their generators.

AWPower and Nedbank recently hosted a “Renewable Energy Thrives with Technology” event in which they analysed South Africa’s current energy status and renewable energy prospects.

Currently, Eskom has a 54,000MW energy capacity, 5,659MW of which is from renewable energy sources, highlighting the urgency to expand the use of renewable energy in the country.

“Wind energy has assisted a lot when the systems are constrained during peak hours. For example, when there could’ve been stage 3 or 4 loadshedding, wind energy helps us keep it to stage 2,” says Prof Sampson Mamphweli, Director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at the University of Stellenbosch.

Due to years of corruption, coal deficiency, and lack of maintenance, it seems independent power producers (IPPs) are knights in shining armour for the future of the South African energy sector.

AWPower energy solutions

AWPower is an energy solutions provider founded by industrial, mechanical, and mechatronics engineers. Its goal is to research and develop ways of ensuring the supply of energy-efficient solutions such as off-grid solar PV, grid-tied solar PV, battery-tied solar PV, load-shedding battery backup solutions, and electric vehicle solar integration.

It is part of three Group companies: AWPower, Applico, and AWCape, a Sage Platinum business partner. As such, they understand the financial challenges of adopting and integrating renewable energy solutions—and the benefits.

Using technology, commercial and residential property landlords can increase solar ROI by billing tenants for the solar energy used. What’s more, using cloud technology systems, property owners can integrate meter readings and monthly billings to automate billing and reporting.

Agriculture sector: Enterprising Africa Regional Network (EARN)

In 2021, the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry in South Africa contributed nearly R129 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Although this seems high, much more can be, erm, cultivated to increase the statistic.

Zambian, Joshua Ngoma, started his first business when he was seven by growing and selling vegetables to his community. Top of his class, Joshua received a government sponsorship to study mining in the UK, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree.

After returning to Zambia and spending six years in the mining trenches, Joshua took a job in South Africa. He eventually mastered his craft and partnered with a group of Black professionals to create Eyesizwe Mining Ventures, which would later merge with Kumba Resources to form Exxaro.

In 2012, Joshua was forced into retirement due to illness. While in hospital, he came up with the idea for the Enterprising Africa Regional Network (EARN), which aims to empower African entrepreneurs to grow profitable and sustainable commercial agriculture businesses.

Joshua established EARN in 2014 on a 21-hectare property in Centurion, encouraging and training youth to start and scale commercial farming operations through technical, practical, and operational skills.

Today, EARN trains approximately 40 people a year, each with the potential to start a business and provide employment opportunities to others.

By empowering the youth through EARN, Joshua is helping them become independent and encouraging them to spread knowledge and create employment across various provinces.

“The problem in Africa is that we’re training many people, but there aren’t many job opportunities. We can only develop this economy if more people create opportunities for themselves and others. So I thought, why don’t we develop entrepreneurs who can create jobs?”

says Joshua.

“Our vision is to develop young African entrepreneurs to create profitable and sustainable businesses that will create jobs and increased levels of prosperity while ensuring food security.”

Tech meets agriculture: Lono

Post-harvest loss is one of the most significant factors contributing to Africa’s low share of global agricultural productivity. What’s more, smallholder farmers dominate the sector and contribute up to 70% of the continent’s food supply.

However, most farmers are poor due to produce loss before the sale. In fact, post-harvest waste in Côte d’Ivoire accounts for two to five times the amount of crops sold.

That’s why Ivory Coast resident Noel N’guessan decided to use the abundant waste and invented low-cost biowaste processing equipment called KubeKo. So, instead of buying fertilisers, farmers can purchase the equipment and make their own compost, enabling healthier and organic food options.

Noel not only won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, but he also helped local farmers cultivate post-harvest waste using technological innovation.

Over four weeks, KubeKo transforms 400kg of organic waste into 150kg of liquid compost, ultimately decreasing farmers’ losses and helping them save money by not having to purchase fertiliser separately.

“Farmers cannot be perpetually impoverished,” says Noel. “We sell them the equipment that allows them to make fertiliser and apply it to their crops, thereby increasing their income.”

Today, Noel owns Lono, a company producing KubeKo compost, organic fertiliser, bio-pesticides, and biogas for farmers in Côte d’Ivoire.

Last word

There’s no shortage of problems in Africa, and there’s no shortage of bright minds and ideas to solve the problems. What we lack, however, is finances, resources, and opportunities.

According to the United Nations, African countries face a “perfect storm” of armed conflicts, rising food and energy insecurity, skyrocketing inflation and debt, shrinking fiscal space, and increasing climate disasters.

Despite these challenges, Africa has some of the fastest-growing economies in the world and has the potential to lead the global energy transition.

Public-private partnerships and multilateral cooperation must be strengthened to advance inclusive, resilient, and sustainable industrial development in Africa. A new financial architecture with greater access to finance and a lower cost of capital is critical to unlocking large-scale investments.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of funds, but a lack of “bankable” projects with viable potential. To solve this, the World Bank stresses the importance of optimal risk-sharing protocols during the project development phase to ensure bankability.

It also recommends using project preparation facilities (PPFs) and market sounding to develop bankable, investment-ready projects and get lenders’ feedback.

We must all work together to encourage entrepreneurship, harness the potential of new technologies, expand opportunities for the youth, women, and girls, strengthen climate resilience, and promote competitiveness and trade.