Cultivating opportunity in unprecedented times:
Lunga Momoza is connecting farmers and informal traders to solve South Africa’s unemployment crisis one crop at a time
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced South Africans and the rest of the world to go under strict lockdown regulations, small-scale farmers in townships around the Western Cape were particularly hard-hit. Unable to do business with their usual buyers of fresh fruit, meat and vegetables, farmers were forced to find customers elsewhere. But with limited resources and underdeveloped networks, they didn’t know where to start.
This is where student and entrepreneur, Lunga Momoza, saw an opportunity: Through his e-commerce and agri-tech startup, Basket, he and the team are digitising the supply and value chains between township-based farmers and traders across the province.
Making use of appropriate technology
Momoza says that his business idea took shape after he witnessed first-hand how the pandemic impacted his aunt, who at the time was herself an informal trader and entrepreneur.
“It was a very difficult situation. The tough regulations meant that only a handful of traders could stock-up on fresh produce. This caused a major backlog for farmers, who had to quickly find a new way of selling their goods before they perished,” he recalls.
At first, Momoza and the team developed a digital application, however, they soon discovered that informal farmers and traders were weary of adopting new technologies that deviated from traditional business models. As such, their initial efforts to get users on-board saw little success. But Momoza refused to call it quits.
“Truth be told, this was a fairly new and confusing technology for our market, so we went back to the drawing board. After more research, we found that – while farmers and informal traders lacked computers and a stable internet connection at home – they were very adept to mobile phones and frequently used WhatsApp to liaise with family and friends.”
As such, the company pivoted to a Chat-based model, with producers and retailers now able to meet and negotiate terms completely online.
Balancing business with academia
In addition to starting his own business, Momoza is also completing a degree in International Relations and Economics at Stellenbosch University.
“I find it fascinating to learn about how changes in the global economy can have such a pronounced effect on people at a grassroots level, and I feel that my studies are contributing greatly to my overall understanding of doing business in South Africa – but I must admit, it is sometimes a challenge to juggle my entrepreneurial and student lives.”
At the end of the day, he says its all about balance and good time management – two qualities that have proven hugely beneficial when trying to solve other issues facing the business.
“Initially, I had thought that funding would be our major problem. However, as we grow, our focus is now on on-boarding more farmers and traders from across the province on to our system. This is complicated by the fact that we receive very little support from government stakeholders such as the Department of Agriculture, who are key to connecting us with big commercial players. But with time and persistence, we will be successful in reaching them.”
Solving South African challenges
With his own hurdles in-mind, Momoza believes that young people in South Africa are fortunate to live in a country that presents so many challenges to its people.
“I see it as endless opportunities for innovation. As the next generation of leaders, we are faced with issues such as the high unemployment rate, which need us – the youth – to start thinking differently about how we solve them.”
He adds: “Especially young entrepreneurs, they should not be afraid to take that leap of faith, explore how and where we can make a difference, and utilise what we have available to kick-start our solution. We need to change our mindset, in which we tend to shy away from hardship, to one that welcomes adversity and recognises the growth and opportunity behind it.”
To this end, Momoza calls on young people in South Africa to have the courage to take the first step in their entrepreneurial journey and become an active player in moving the country forward.