Zazu using tech to trade local produce smarter

Trading local produce smarter with tech

It’s 3am; gogo (granny) rises from her bed to prepare to catch the bus from her farming village on the Mozambican border to the nearest vegetable market in the eastern Zimbabwean town of   Mutare. The community in her AIDS stricken village depends on the the small income she generates from her small plot of land. The labour is onerous, and the trading process inherently inefficient explains Perseus Mlambo, founder of Zazu Africa in an interview with

Perseus Mlambo has just graduated from the Nottingham Law school and is working on a project in the area with the UK Department for International Development (DfID). He recognises that there must be a better way to match agricultural production in remote areas with markets and buyers in the larger centres.

The first trial is run using a WhatsApp group. The small scale farmers send details of their produce to the group so Perseus can aggregate the information and go and take it to buyers in Mutare. To his delight, there is interest and he is able to arrange the logistics to get all the produce to the buyers who have agreed in advance what they want and the prices they are prepared to pay. The Minimal Viable Product phase has been a success. Now to take this to the next level.

Building on an idea

Now back in the UK Perseus manages to get into a Dotforge 3 month pre-seed funding accelerator programme. It is here he starts to learn about the concepts of startups, and how appropriate technologies can introduce efficiencies to brick and mortar processes. He realises that he can help those communities in their remote villages, but he needs to do it profitably, so it is a sustainable, commercial enterprise.

While working with Dotforge, Perseus met Paul Smith of the Ignite 100, Angel led investment fund, who recognised Entries Open For The Appsafrica Innovation Awards 2016the values of what Zazu (then called Farm efficiency) was trying to achieve. What had just started out as a solution for Zimbabwe needed to expand its vision to incorporate all emerging markets. To help achieve this objective, Ignite 100 provided seed funding of £30,000 in return for 6% of their business. However, more than the money, the level of support, introductions and mentorship was provided was invaluable. The  journey is now well under way.

The Cape Town Phase

I had previously met Perseus in London while he was on the Ignite 100 programme and was surprised to bump into him again at the Rise Cape Town co-working space. I took the opportunity to ask a few questions about Zazu; why he was working Cape town and where he sees Zazu going.

Q. Short and to the point; why Cape Town?
Cape Town was favourable to our key considerations before making the move here: it is a focal point of agriculture, indeed the Western Cape is both a key player for import/export considerations. It’s also true that we just listened to the market because a significant portion of responses from adverts was from the Western Cape. Lastly, it was very important for us to be around other start-ups, hungry businesses still in their formative stages and Cape Town has a very strong tech scene. For us, the opportunity to be based out of Barclays Rise, which is run by Camilla Swart who has been pivotal in providing a soft-landing and making key introductions to the tech community at large.

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Q. What technologies are you be using in your solution?

Zazu was created to solve problems affecting people in very disparate communities and as such, it was very important to simplify the technologies used. We were lucky that Whatsapp worked in our trial run but looking back at the numbers, a lot more people were left out of the trial. So we decided that SMS was the best way to offer Zazu to as many people as possible. Think about this: there are over 500 Million smallholder farmers in the world and they produce food for a further 2 billion people. Those 500 million farmers traditionally rely on advice from government and NGO extension services, most of which use outdated advice. Mobile phones have had unprecedented adoption than any other technology in history and they have the power to shape economic and social change, so they feature heavily in our plans, hence deciding to use SMS as the main communication method. For those with access to the internet, we are also reachable via web.

Q. Are you going to build a tech team while you are in Cape Town?
One of the main reasons we have been able to successfully develop Zazu in Zimbabwe, has been the strength of human capital there. Local people working on issues that are not just familiar to them, but actively improving the society around them and we intend to keep going on that basis. In South Africa, not only we will be looking to strengthen our tech team, but we will also be recruiting for key personnel like our Country Director and executive team. Luckily, companies like Andela continue to prove that there is so much tech talent out there.

Q. It’s early days, but how have South African farmers and buyers responded to the Zazu solution?
Suffice to say the decision to base ourselves in Cape Town wasn’t out of a hunch, we ran ads and spoke to farmers alongside businesses and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Despite being a mature market, farmers in South Africa still are not guaranteed prices and are paid on 30 day invoice terms. Similarly, retail outlets and food processors often find themselves at the mercy of an unpredictable market. Our conversations with all of these people have seen us accelerate developing our API, which by the way is now live.

Q. What is the Zazu commercial model?
First and foremost, we are a marketplace and the key metrics for any marketplace are always going to be monetary. Our commercial model is based on a transactional fee, charging on average 10-15% to the buyer for services and logistics support.

Q. In what ways has your original vision for Zazu changed?
To begin with, the original idea for Zazu was an attempt at alleviating poverty by using local resources and people power. By questioning our assumptions, it became clear that what we were ultimately trying to tackle, was the asymmetrical nature of information. Our model has not so much changed as it has broadened to include farmers of all sizes.

Yes, Zazu is a marketplace connecting farmers but we are working towards a more inclusive vertical integration of farming, one that prizes information and makes it available for farmers of all sizes, at the touch of a button. Because, once again, I think people underestimate the power of mobile. In the history of humankind, there has never been a more widely adopted piece of technology and its up to us all to make it a force for good.

Q. Where do you see Zazu going in the next few years?
We are very lucky to have advisors and customers helping us shape what Zazu is and can be. At the current growth levels, we are confident of achieving our aim of having Zazu across the entirety of the SADC by end of 2017.

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