Founded by Zamokuhle Thwala in 2005, AgriCool developed out of a need to help smallholder farmers access funding and markets for their harvests; effectively contributing to their business growth and livelihoods.
“I’m passionate about the problem because it’s a problem I’ve experienced myself,” says the tech founder.
Thwala started off as a smallholder farmer himself and the challenges that he experienced acted as a catalyst for his journey with AgriCool. In those days, like other smallholder farmers supplying the informal market, he was often confronted with yields of fresh produce and a limited number of consistent buyers for them. In cases when consumers were interested in placing orders; a lack of reliable transport would make it difficult to deliver and on time.
In the startup’s infancy, a few of his friends provided manpower and Thwala’s used his income from part time work as a final year student at the University of KwaZulu Natal and later, grants from different companies and investors to build his dream of a more inclusive agricultural sector.
Today the business is situated in the Pietermaritzburg CBD which makes it more convenient to access and work with local farmers and retailers in and around the town. Together with Mandisa Myende as the administration officer and the company's drivers Mthokozisi Zikode and Mfundo Zondi, AgriCool continues to grow.
At the onset of the first national lockdown AgriCool only supplied street vendors; but restrictions hindered trade for informal, small businesses and the new reality pushed the expansion of AgriCool as they started to approach the formal market as potential consumers for the farmers. AgriCool now sources fresh produce from small, emerging farmers and sells it to the informal market made up of street vendors in the area, as well as retailers and the hospitality industry in different parts of the province. In spite of and because of the challenges created by a locked down economy, the startup’s revenue continues to grow.
For Thwala, being a successful entrepreneur is about navigating the hurdles that one might face, that’s why he encourages others to work on the foundation of their businesses and spend more time getting their hands dirty with business development.