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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Can 3D Printing Move Beyond Design Customization in the F&B Industry?

First conceptualized over 40 years ago, 3D printing is still rapidly developing. The technology has been used in various industries ranging from 3D-printed human organs for implants to printing numerous customized products as per the customers’ requirement. There are several interesting applications of this technology in the Food & Beverage (F&B) industry as well. While currently they mostly pertain to creating visually complex geometrical food structures, there are also ongoing innovations with regard to using 3D printing for nutritional controllability and sustainability. However, most of these projects are one-off and 3D printing still remains a niche application in the F&B space.

3D printing is an evolving technology, offering F&B industry players benefits such as efficiency and customization. 3D printers are mostly used by F&B producers to make foods using the extrusion technique. In this method, the edible is in the form of a paste and is extruded from syringe-like containers onto a plate based on a 3D computer model. The process is similar to icing a cake using a piping bag, except with robotic precision, as the printer layers edible filament in desired shapes.

Traditionally, 3D food printing has been used to architect intricate shapes and designs that are difficult to achieve manually. It has been mostly confined to desserts such as chocolates and sweets as 3D printing offers huge potential for customization.

That being said, there is a gradual shift to adopt this technology in preparing more complex foods such as 3D-printed pizzas, spaghetti, burgers, and meat alternatives. For instance, since January 2022, BBB, an Israeli food chain has been serving 3D-printed burgers prepared from a mix of potato, chickpea, and pea protein. Similarly, since 2021, companies such as Spain-based Novameat and Israel-based Redefine Meat have been preparing 3D-printed beef steaks and other products using unique plant-based compounds that taste like blood, fat, and muscle that make up traditional meat flavors.

Printing beyond customization

While currently the main advantage of 3D printing in food is its ability to customize complex shapes and designs (thereby making it popular for creating chocolates, cakes, and cookies), it is also extending to customizing the level of nutrients in a meal. 3D printing offers the possibility to produce high-quality food concepts such as developing personalized meals by adding specific nutrients or flavors, ultimately giving more control over the food’s nutritional and flavor value.

With this idea in mind, a Netherland-based Digital Food Processing Initiative (DFPI) is testing this concept and trying to come up with a flexible food production system using 3D printing technology that will allow personalizing food at any time based on individual dietary choices. The collaboration is an ongoing project between the Dutch institution, Wageningen University & Research (WUR), global food and beverage companies GEA Group, General Mills, Tate & Lyle, and pharmaceutical company Solipharma B.V., together with Ministerie van Defensie, and a Netherland-based research organization, TNO, whose aim is to bring commercially viable personalized food products to the market, especially for military personnel and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) patients.

Can 3D Printing Move Beyond Design Customization in the F&B Industry by EOS Intelligence

Another potential use of 3D printers is to reduce food wastage. The Netherland-based food-tech startup, Upprinting Food, which specializes in recycling organic food waste through 3D printing, has offered design services to various chefs and is also training restaurants to utilize their 3D printers to reduce food wastage. The company specializes in creating dishes out of any food left at restaurants and currently focuses only on high-end restaurants. They plan to expand their work towards retail and wholesalers in the future to reduce food wastage on a larger scale.

While 3D food printing seems to have a lot of unique uses, commercializing 3D-printed foods on a large scale has always been a challenge. For instance, printing a small piece (5x5x5 centimeter) of a food item takes around four to five minutes. Thinking about producing large-scale printed food would be difficult at this rate. In 2015, a project called the PERFORMANCE project (PERsonalized FOod using Rapid MAnufacturing for the Nutrition of elderly ConsumErs ) was shut down because it could not produce at a scale large enough to provide meals at nursing homes. The project focused on creating customizable meals for the elderly who had difficulties in chewing and swallowing. Thus, while customization of food products has immense use and strong growth potential in theory, it still needs a lot of work on improving speed and costs to facilitate its commercialization and feasibility.

Despite several advantages and functionalities, the market does not seem to use 3D printers for printing food as much as it could. It is mostly limited to confectionaries and very high-profile restaurants where quantities are small and prices are high. For instance, Natural Machines 3D printer, Foodini, is being used at Spain-based Michelin-star restaurant, La Enoteca, to prepare seafood, where food puree is printed into a flower-like shape, topped with caviar, sea urchins, hollandaise sauce, and carrot foam.

As per industry experts, 3D printing in F&B is still at an initial stage of development and will be more accepted once people see it being extensively adopted at restaurants. For now, 3D printing can be used to produce food with unique functionalities related to shape, taste, and texture such as printed pasta shapes of unique designs as offered by Italian food giant Barilla, through its spinoff business BluRhapsody as well as 3D-printed candy selfies by Magic Candy Factory, a spinoff of German candy manufacturer Katjes.

EOS Perspective

At present, 3D printing in food is largely limited to confectionaries. It is an evolving technology that offers considerable benefits of saving time and improving efficiency. It can potentially bring other advantages to the table, including reduction of food wastage, but such applications still require more research, investment, and trials, as well as attempts of expansion across food service formats, including small eateries and larger restaurants.

A 3D printing machine requires skill and appropriate training to print a meal. 3D food printing machines may not seem attractive for personal usage at this point but several food and beverage industry players have already moved in to adopt and exploit this innovative technology for various customized and attractive food options, although still largely at a pilot or experimental scale.

Most 3D food printers currently only cater to single restaurants or personal kitchens and are not very popular. For the technology to enter mainstream use and become attractive to broader audience, the printers need to be able print at large volumes. At the moment, there is a huge gap between what could be achieved with 3D printers in the F&B space and what has been actually tested and implemented. While several companies are working towards using this technology in innovative ways, there is a large space open for market disruption.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: India-Afghanistan Trade Hangs in the Air after Taliban Takeover

Over the past two decades, India has invested substantial political, diplomatic, and economic capital to foster good relations with Afghanistan, especially since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Trade has been one of the key components of these relations, with India being the largest market for Afghanistan’s exports in South Asia, accounting for 41.2% of its global exports in 2020. In 2021, Afghanistan’s exports to India were US$509 million, while imports from India constituted US$825 million.

However, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 has impacted the India-Afghanistan relations on multiple fronts, especially damaging trade relations between the two countries. According to the Federation of Indian Export Organization (FIEO), the Taliban stopped all imports and exports from India through transit routes in Pakistan, also called the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), the main trade pathway.

Textile industry

The route blocking has impacted many businesses across India. One of the sectors witnessing direct repercussions has been the textile industry. The halted trade resulted in stock worth US$540,000 being stuck as corporate bank holders in Afghanistan were not able to withdraw money and do any electronic transactions, as per the Afghanistan Central Bank’s order. Due to this, over 100 traders in Surat, Indian textile hub, were hit hard with delayed payments.

Sugar and dry fruit

India’s sugar exports to Afghanistan have been hit as well with Indian merchants reporting cancellations of orders as a result of the changed rule in Afghanistan. Indian traders were already treading cautiously about exporting to Afghanistan, insisting on advance payments due to the looming uncertainty and restricted trade routes. Following the political upheaval in Afghanistan, Indian sugar exports came almost to a halt in September 2021. Indian food ministry seemed optimistic and expected the trade to resume under the new Taliban regime. However, it is still uncertain how this will unfold, especially in the face of sugar export restrictions introduced by India in May 2022 to ensure domestic availability and to keep the local prices in check.

The new rule in Afghanistan has not only affected Indian exports, but also imports, with imports of dry fruit seeing a particularly major blow as India receives 85% of its dry fruit from Afghanistan. With the disruption of shipments, dry fruit prices in India saw a considerable increase (around 30%), especially as the timing coincided with the festive season (from October to December) in India, a period with the highest demand for dry fruit.

The carefully-nurtured trade relations between India and Afghanistan have been gravely affected post the Taliban takeover and routes closure. As both countries are each other’s important trade partners, there is some hope that trade relations could resume over time, although it would be naïve to expect the matters to fall back to the state from before the Taliban takeover any time soon.

Pakistan routes issue

India had already faced problems routing its exports and imports to and from Afghanistan, as Pakistan repeatedly denied India’s access to overland trade routes with Afghanistan in the past. As a result, India sought alternative routes: one route through Chabahar Port in Iran and an air freight corridor. Although these are not major trade routes, the opening up of such alternatives allowed India’s exports to Afghanistan to be less dependent on Pakistan. Pakistan’s trade routes denials in the past could be somewhat seen as a blessing in disguise, especially in the face of the current INSTC block.

However, the INSTC continued to be the key route for India’s exports to Afghanistan, and its shutting also caused some drastic consequences impacting India’s trade with other countries. Not only was this route used to export products to Afghanistan but it was also a very important trade route for India to reach European and Central Asian markets and vice versa. Although some goods are still being exported through the international North-South Corridor and the Dubai route, the INSTC is the fastest connection to a range of international markets. The closure will continue to have impact on trade timelines and pricing as traders will have to resort to longer trade routes or trim the volumes of goods traded.

EOS Perspective

When and how India-Afghanistan relations could recoup is yet to be seen, and will depend significantly on the Taliban’s recognition as a legitimate government. While the Taliban may have gained military control over Afghanistan and stated that they want better diplomatic and trade relations with all countries, they are still struggling for global recognition and economic support.

While there is not much that India can currently do regarding its trade situation with Afghanistan, it can look at nurturing and developing relationships with alternative trading partners, especially that trade with Afghanistan is unlikely to return to the previous normal. The Indian government needs to work on policies to aid traders and improve relations with other countries, such as Bangladesh and Turkey, to attempt to fill up the void left by the Taliban upheaval.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Clean Beauty: Next Stop – China

China is one of the most promising markets for cosmetics and skin care companies globally, only being second to the USA in size. Despite its size and potential, the Chinese beauty market has remained relatively closed to several international players that make cruelty-free and vegan products. This is because of Chinese regulations that required compulsory animal testing pre- and post-market entry for international brands. However, in 2021, the Chinese government squashed the mandated animal testing requirement and introduced other certification methods. While this opens the market for a plethora of players who have till now shied away from entering the Chinese market, steering through the Chinese turf may still not be very simple.

China’s new cosmetic regulations easing entry for imported products

China is currently the second-largest cosmetics market globally, and has an immense potential to grow further. As per China’s Ministry of Commerce, the value of imported cosmetics grew by 30% in 2020, underlining the strong potential for international brands in the Chinese market. At the same time, several international companies have kept their distance from this US$57 billion beauty and personal care market, owing to stringent regulations.

However, in 2021, the government introduced new rulings for cosmetics and beauty products, which have altered the regulatory landscape in China. As per Chinese regulations, cosmetics are divided into two categories, special and general cosmetics, and the two are subject to different pre-market registration requirements.

As per the new regulations, while the former will continue to be subject to pre-registration with National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) before being allowed to be manufactured or imported, general cosmetics now only require filing documentation of the product with the authority. Earlier, the general category also required prior approval before import.

In addition to streamlining the process for the general category, the government has reduced the number of special product categories from nine to six. As of 2021, the only product categories under the special category encompass hair dye products, hair perm products, spots removal and skin whitening products, sunscreen products, and hair loss prevention products. The streamlining of the registration process for general category is expected to have a direct impact on the cost of warehousing and logistics for global brands as it is likely to quicken the import cycle.

Another regulation that was a deterrent to entering the Chinese market was that international beauty companies were expected to perform animal testing for their products both pre-and post-market entry. This created an issue for the growing number of global clean beauty brands who position themselves as vegan or cruelty-free. These brands could either choose to dilute their brand positioning by undertaking animal testing for the Chinese region or had to keep away from this goldmine market.

However, these companies did have one channel to enter this market, and that was through cross-border e-commerce sites, such as Alibaba’s Tmall. Although this resulted in a limited presence as the cross-border market size has government restrictions and is about one-tenth the size of the domestic market. Moreover, physical retail still continues to dominate the Chinese market with regards to cosmetics sale, with growing popularity of multi-brand stores.

As per the new regulations, global companies do not require animal testing anymore before entering the Chinese market. This will level the playing field between international imports and domestic brands, as domestic brands have been exempt from animal testing since 2014.

However, there are a few conditions to be met by companies looking to bypass animal testing. The brand must provide relevant quality certifications from their country of origin, the product should not be aimed at children or babies, the product should not contain any raw material that is not included in China’s approved list of raw materials, and the applicant brand and its Chinese representative should not have been flagged as requiring further supervision by the authorities.

Clean Beauty Next Stop China by EOS Intelligence

Companies responding to the new regulations

This opens the door for several international players who position themselves as cruelty-free. In May 2021, Australian clean beauty brand, Frank Body, welcomed a closed investment from Chinese private equity firm, EverYi Capital, which put the value of the brand at about US$74 million (AUD 100 million). The investment, which includes the creation of a Shanghai team for the brand, will help the company find a strong footing in the Chinese market in the light of the latest animal testing relaxation. The brand is expected to enter the market over the next 12 to 18 months, with prospects of opening a physical store.

In a similar move, Brazilian beauty conglomerate, Natura & Co., mentioned during its 2020 fiscal year results that it is looking to expand into China with its brands, Aesop and The Body Shop. The two brands were expected to complete their registration in China by first half of 2021, with Aesop expected to open its first store in Shanghai by the end of 2021, while The Body Shop is scheduled to open its first store in 2022 (however, there is no information regarding the completion of the registration process yet). While these brands have been available in China through cross-border e-commerce, they expect that physical retail presence will help establish a strong foothold in this growing market.

Nerissa Low, founder of Singapore-based organic and cruelty-free cosmetic company, Liht Organics, has also welcomed the decision and expressed interest in entering the offline Chinese market. Liht Organics, which entered China in 2020 through cross-border e-commerce, gained significant traction in the Chinese market. However, the brand refused to enter the offline market when approached by several Chinese distributors, as the company did not want to compromise on its cruelty-free ethos. Given the change in regulations, the founder has expressed interest in expanding beyond cross-border e-commerce considering the potential in the offline market and is looking for the right partner and opportunity.

Moreover, popular international brands such as Drunk Elephant, Fenty Beauty, and The Ordinary, which are currently limited to be selling through Alibaba Tmall, are expected to enter the Chinese market and establish a physical presence there. While a lot of these brands might wait to establish physical stores and may penetrate the market through mainland e-commerce websites such as Tmall (instead of Tmall Global) to reach a larger audience, presence in multi-brand retail stores or opening pop-up stores will be the natural next step.

Despite new regulations, challenges remain

However, entering the Chinese market (despite the abolishment of the animal testing rules) will be no easy feat. Owing to the recent changes in regulations, the companies need to keep up higher standards in terms of product quality, marketing, and operations. Moreover, some of these regulations have made it harder for foreign players to comply as they require a complete overhaul of their local marketing strategies and operational functions.

Firstly, as per the new regulations, the NMPA of China has made it mandatory for international companies to have a domestic agent who must be based in China. This agent will be responsible for the registration process, which includes massive paperwork and approval procedures. Moreover, these agents will be held completely accountable for the company’s products and operations in China and will be answerable and responsible for any safety concerns arising in the product. In addition, they will be responsible for ensuring that the product, its ingredients, and its marketing are compliant with the Chinese regulations. Thus it will be a challenge for foreign players to find a Chinese agent to fill this capacity as in reality, such a person/company may have no impact on how the ingredients or final product are made. This is also definitely expected to increase costs for the company.

The government has also imposed harsher penalties for non-compliance and various violations such as misleading advertising, non-compliance of new cosmetic naming guidelines, non-submission of approved hygiene license and certificates, etc. This makes it critical for companies that the Chinese agent is well aware of all regulations and is thorough with all registration requirements as violations can also result in cancellation of license.

Secondly, while the removal of animal testing for imported cosmetics is a welcome news for a great number of global cosmetic brands, the policies put in place of this pose to be equally challenging and complex to steer through. Under the new regulations, cosmetics falling under the general category require a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certificate to avoid animal testing. These GMP certificates need to be issued from the brand’s local government regulatory department. Considering that different countries will have different authorities and templates for issuing these certificates, there is a lot of ambiguity regarding what is acceptable and what is not.

Moreover, cosmetic companies need to provide a manufacturing quality management system (QMS) for each individual ingredient used in the cosmetic formulations. This requires companies to collect information on each and every ingredient manufacturer and supplier, including their quality specification documents and certificates. This is a tedious process since a company may use ingredients from several manufacturers for a single product. In addition, in case a company plans to change a supplier, it will have to undergo this process and update the information with the Chinese authorities for the new supplier, which is both money and time consuming.

On the one hand, it is true that the exemption from animal testing has given an opportunity of many cruelty-free brands to enter the Chinese market. However, on the other hand, the lengthy procedure and strict scrutiny over the process is undermining the overall market entry process for mid to small size companies. Non-compliance with these certifications will reverse the relaxation on animal testing for the companies that don’t meet the new procedural requirements and then their products will need to undergo animal testing for selling in China.

Furthermore, despite getting the green light to enter the Chinese market, the cruelty-free cosmetic companies would still need to deal with another challenge arising from the consumer side. While the clean beauty segment is definitely growing, it is currently not a major factor in purchasing decisions by consumers, unlike in the USA. Chinese consumers seek products that are functional and have healthier, milder, and more reliable formulas. Hence, to ensure a right placement of their cruelty-free products, companies would need to undergo distinctive marketing strategies to grab a good consumer base. Education and awareness regarding cruelty-free products and creating a substantial market for such products may require significant marketing funds.

In addition to the changes in regulations with regards to animal testing, the Chinese government added new regulations regarding product labelling. As per the new regulations, the labels must have corresponding Chinese explanation to everything mentioned and they must a have larger font size than the explanation in foreign language. Also, the label should contain the Chinese name and special cosmetics registration certificate numbers, product implementation number, name and address of the person responsible in China and of the manufacturer along with the production license number.

Adding to these is a ban on use of any kind of medical term, names/pictures/endorsement of celebrities in the medical field, and implication of medical effects to avoid any misleading of information. Although all these changes are implemented in order to curb the market of counterfeit products, they are expected to make the product approval process lengthier, as now companies would be required to undergo a comprehensive regulatory review of the guidelines to ensure hassle-free entry into the Chinese market.

EOS Perspective

While the new regulations provided a pathway for several foreign clean beauty players to enter the Chinese market, the process still requires a lot of navigation, especially since a lot of rulings regarding safety requirements, GMP authorities, and template remain ambiguous.

Moreover, since these certificates need to be derived from the country of origin, the country’s overall political and business equation with China might also play a subtle role in their acceptance by the Chinese authorities. For instance, China has not yet declared the jurisdictions that will be recognized for the QMS certificate. Given the current political friction with Australia and the USA, the Chinese authorities may not accept QMS certificates from these countries at the moment. Thus brands from these countries may have to look to find suppliers or shift part production to other countries to be able to enter the Chinese market.

While currently there is no clarity regarding what terms and jurisdictions will initially be accepted for the GMP and QMS certificates, it is expected that clarity on the matter will be provided by the government shortly. In the long run, these regulations are a move in the right direction. As the government has overall simplified the filing process and focused on quality and safety measures, the new regulations are a positive development for international cosmetic companies, especially clean beauty brands that have been unable to enter the second largest beauty market in the world.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Hydrogen: Fuel of the Future for Shipping?

Just like many other carbon-emitting sectors, the shipping industry is also working to reduce its contribution to greenhouse gases and get closer to carbon neutrality. For this, the sector is pinning its hopes on hydrogen-based fuel. Being one of the most polluting industries in the world, the shipping sector is also one of the most difficult ones to introduce such a profound change. This is owing to the massive size of commercial vessels, long distances, hydrogen storage issues, and commercial costs. Although small-level adoption of hydrogen fuel has already begun, it remains unknown whether it will be functional in large commercial vessels as well.

As per the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the shipping industry was responsible for 2.9% of the total anthropogenic emissions in 2018, up by almost 10% between 2012 and 2018. It is expected that the sector’s contribution towards global greenhouse emissions will significantly increase by 2050 if proper efforts are not made towards decarbonization. To counter the situation, the IMO has set a global target to cut annual shipping emissions by 50% by 2050 (based on 2008 levels). In response to this, shipping corporations and other stakeholders across the shipping industry have been exploring different ways to reduce their impact on the environment. One of the most critical aspects in this is replacing fossil fuel with a greener fuel. This is where hydrogen fuel might find its place.

As we discussed in one of our previous articles (China Accelerates on the Fuel Cell Technology Front), hydrogen fuel is considered to be the fuel of the future for the transportation sector, as it produces zero emissions. Moreover, with regards to shipping, it is one of the only conceivable options at the moment.

That being said, using hydrogen fuel alone cannot solve the issue of reducing the sector’s carbon footprint, as it depends on how the hydrogen fuel is produced. Currently most of the hydrogen that is produced (and used in other industries), is produced using fossil fuels, while only a small portion of it is produced using renewable energy. Hydrogen produced through renewable energy is much more expensive, which keeps the production levels low. If ships run on hydrogen fuel produced using mainly fossil fuels, while the fuel itself would produce zero emissions, the whole process will not carbon efficient. However, with the shipping industry making real efforts to consider a change in fuel, it is expected that production of hydrogen through renewable sources will ramp up, which in turn may reduce costs (to some extent) owing to economies of scale.

Hydrogen Fuel of the Future for Shipping by EOS Intelligence

 

At the moment, several leading players have pledged to develop new or modify existing vessels so that they can run on hydrogen fuel, however, these are currently either prototypes or short-distance small vessels. Antwerp-based Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB) Group, which is one of the leading maritime groups in the world, commissioned the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry in 2017, named Hydroville. It is currently operational between Kruibeke and Antwerp. It runs on a hybrid engine, with options of both hydrogen and diesel. CMB, which has been a pioneer and advocator of clean fuel for the shipping industry, also partnered with Japanese shipbuilder, Tsuneishi Group, to develop and build Japan’s first hydrogen-powered ferry (in 2019) and tugboat (in 2021). Moreover, it launched a joint venture with the Japanese firm to develop hydrogen-based internal combustion engine (H2ICE) technology for Japan’s industrial and marine markets. In another move to find a strong foothold with the shipping fuel of the future, CMB Group acquired UK-based Revolve Technologies Limited (RTL) in 2019, which specializes in engineering, developing, designing, and testing hydrogen combustion engines for automotive and marine engines. Moreover, CMB is building its own maritime refueling station for hydrogen automobiles and ships at the Antwerp port, which will produce its own hydrogen through electrolysis.

Similarly, in November 2019, Norwegian ship building and design company, Ulstein, developed a hydrogen-fueled vessel, called ULSTEIN SX190. The vessel is the company’s first hydrogen-powered offshore vessel providing clean shipping operations to reduce the carbon footprint of offshore projects. The vessel, which uses fuel-cell technology, can operate for four days in emission-free mode at the moment. However, with constant development and investment in the hydrogen fuel space, it is expected that it will be able to run emission-free for up to two weeks, post which it will have to fall back on its diesel engine. Ulstein also launched another hydrogen-powered vessel in October 2020, called ULSTEIN J102, which can operate at zero-emission mode for 75% of the time. Since Ulstein used readily available technology in developing the J102, the additional cost of adding the hydrogen-powered mode was limited to less than 5% of its total CAPEX. This vessel design is expected to cater to the offshore wind industry.

A leading oil corporation, Shell, also announced that it is looking at hydrogen as the key fuel for its fleet of tanker ships in the coming future as the company aims to become carbon neutral by 2050. In April 2021, the company commenced trials for the use of hydrogen fuel cells for its ships in Singapore. The trial encompasses the development and installation of a fuel cell unit on an existing roll-on/roll-off vessel that transports wheeled cargo such as vehicles between Singapore and Shell’s manufacturing site in Pulau Bukom. Shell has chartered the vessel, which is owned by Penguin International Ltd, however, Shell will provide the hydrogen fuel.

In addition to this, several other companies across Europe and Japan are undertaking feasibility studies to understand and assess the use of hydrogen fuel to power ferries and also the production of hydrogen fuel from renewable sources for the same purpose. For instance, in 2020, Finland-based power company, Flexens conducted a feasibility study to generate green hydrogen through wind farms in order to fuel ferries in the Aland group of islands. Similarly, Japan-based companies, Kansai Electric Power, Iwatani, Namura Shipbuilding, the Development Bank of Japan, and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, are collaborating on a feasibility study to develop and operate a 100-foot long ferry with hydrogen fuel. The ferry is expected to be in operation by 2025.

Apart from small ferries, hydrogen fuel is also making a slight headway with commercial vessels. In April 2020, a global electronic manufacturer, ABB, signed an MoU with Hydrogène de France, a French hydrogen technologies specialist to manufacture megawatt-scale hydrogen fuel cells that can be used to power long-haul, ocean-going vessels. While most of the currently operational hydrogen technology is used in small-scale and short-distance vessels, this partnership, which builds on an already existing 2018 collaboration between ABB and Ballard Power Systems, is expected to bring this technology for larger vessels (which in turn are responsible for most of the carbon emissions).

In April 2021, French inland ship owner, Compagnie Fluviale de Transport (CFT), in partnership with the Flagships Project (which is a consortium of 12 European shipping players), launched the first hydrogen-powered commercial cargo vessel, which will ply the Sevine river in Paris. The vessel is scheduled for delivery in September 2021. In 2018, the Flagships project was awarded EUR 5 million of funding from the EU’s Research and Innovation Program Horizon 2020.

While several companies are bullish about hydrogen fuel being the answer to the industry’s carbon woes, others are skeptical to what extent hydrogen fuel can replace the current traditional fuel, especially given the challenges with regards to large commercial vessels. For instance, Maersk, global player in the shipping industry, does not feel that hydrogen fuel is suitable for container ships as the fuel takes up a lot of physical space in comparison with traditional bunker oil.

As per estimates, hydrogen fuel takes up almost eight times as much space as gas oil would take to power the same distance. The more space is occupied by the fuel, the less space is left for carrying containers, and this negatively impacts its container-carrying capacity and revenue per trip/ship. Moreover, container vessels travel extremely long distances across oceans, and carrying that much hydrogen fuel in either liquid or compressed form at this moment is not physically and commercially viable. To be stored as a liquid, hydrogen needs to be frozen using cryogenic temperatures of -253˚C, which makes it expensive to store. Currently about 80-85% of the sector’s emissions come from large commercial vessels such as cargo ships, container ships, etc., and considering that hydrogen can play only a limited role in these vessels, its adaptability and effectiveness as a tool to reduce carbon emissions may be restricted.

However, that being said, the industry is open to alternative fuels and one such fuel is ammonia, which in turn is also produced from hydrogen. Thus using green hydrogen to create green ammonia is another option to explore. Ammonia can be used either as a combustion fuel or in a fuel cell. Moreover, it is much easier and cheaper to store since it does not need cryogenic temperatures and takes up about 50% less space compared with hydrogen fuel, since it is much denser. Thus ammonia seems to fit the needs of commercial vessels in a better manner, however, at present most of ammonia being produced (mainly for the fertilizer industry) uses hydrogen obtained from fossil fuels. Moreover, it further uses fossil fuels to convert hydrogen into ammonia. Thus, to create green ammonia, additional renewable energy will be required, which adds to further costs.

EOS Perspective

Given the industry’s vision to reduce its carbon footprint and the ongoing efforts, investments, and feasibility studies, it is safe to say that hydrogen will definitely be the fuel of the future for the shipping industry, whether used directly or processed further into ammonia. However, how soon the industry can adapt to it is yet to be seen.

Moreover, the industry cannot bear the cost of the transition alone. To transition to a greener future, the shipping industry needs support in terms of on-ground infrastructure and investments in production of green hydrogen. Till the time production of green hydrogen reaches economies of scale, it will definitely be much more expensive compared with traditional fuel. This in turn, will make shipping expensive, which would possibly impact all industries that use this service. While the shipping industry may absorb a bit of the high costs during the transition phase, some of it will be passed down to the customers, which is likely to be met with resistance and in turn will impact the overall transition.

On the other hand, green hydrogen projects are expensive to set up and require significant investment and gestation period. Hydrogen companies do not want to rush into making this investment, unless they see global acceptability from the shipping sector. Thus while the transition to a more carbon-neutral fuel is inevitable, it may not be a short-term transition. Unless governments and regulatory bodies come up with strict regulations or a form of a carbon tax on the sector to expedite the transition, the change is likely to be slow and phased, especially when it comes to large commercial vessels.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Ethiopia’s Half-Hearted Push to Telecom Privatization Finds Limited Success

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Ethiopia’s telecom sector has been considered as the last frontier for telecom players, since the country is one of just a few to still have a state-run telecom industry. However, this is due to change, as the Ethiopian government has finally opened up the sector to private investment. Privatization of the telecom sector has been on the prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s agenda since he first took office in 2018, however, it was initially a slow process, mostly due to bureaucracy, ongoing military conflicts, and COVID-19 outburst. Apart from that, the privatization terms have not been very attractive for private players, making the whole process complicated.

With a population of about 116 million and only about 45 million telecom subscribers, Ethiopia has been one of the most eyed markets by telecom players globally. The telecom sector has immense potential as Ethiopia has one of the lowest mobile penetration rates in Africa.

To put this in perspective, Ethiopia has a mobile connection rate of only 38.5%, while Sub-Saharan Africa has a mobile connection rate of 77%. Moreover, 20% of Ethiopian users have access to the Internet and only about 6% currently use social media, which is much lower than that in other African countries. That being said, about 69% of the country’s population is below the age of 29, making it a strong potential market for the use of mobile Internet and social media in the future.

This makes the market extremely attractive for international players, who have for long been kept at bay by the Ethiopian government. Thus, when the government expressed plans to open up the sector, several leading telecom players such as MTN, Orange, Etisalat, Axian, Saudi Telecom Company, Telkom, Vodafone, and Safaricom showed interest in penetrating this untapped and underserved market.

Currently, state-owned Ethio Telecom, is the only player in the market. Lack of competition has resulted in subpar service levels, poor network infrastructure, and limited service offerings. For instance, mobile money services, which are extremely popular and common across Africa have only been introduced in Ethiopia in May 2021.

Moreover, as per UN International Telecommunication Union’s 2017 ICT Development Index (IDI), Ethiopia’s telecom service ranked 170 out of 176 countries. To correct this, in June 2019, the government introduced a legislation to allow privatization and infuse some competition and foreign investment into the sector. The privatization process is expected to rack up the country’s foreign exchange reserves, in addition to facilitating payment of state debt. It also aims to improve the overall telecom service levels and help create employment in the sector.

As a part of its privatization drive, the government has proposed offering two new telecom licenses to international players as well as partially privatizing Ethio Telecom by selling a 40% stake in the company. The sale of the two new licenses will be managed by the International Finance Corporation, which is the private sector arm of the World Bank.

Ethiopia’s Half-Hearted Push to Telecom Privatization Finds Limited Success by EOS Intelligence

While this garnered interest from several international telecom players, with 12 bidders offering ‘expression of interest’ in May 2020, the process has not been very smooth, owing to bureaucracy, ongoing military conflicts in the north of the country, and the proposal of an uneven playing field for international players versus Ethio Telecom. This last challenge appears to be a major obstacle to a smooth privatization process.

As per the government’s initial rulings, the new international players were not to be allowed to provide financial mobile services to their customers, while this service was only to be reserved for Ethio Telecom. Mobile money is a big part of the telecom industry, especially in Africa, where it is extremely popular and profitable as banking infrastructure is weak. This made the deal much less attractive for foreign bidders as mobile money constitutes a huge revenue stream for telecom players in African markets.

However, post the bidding process in May 2021, the government has tweaked the ruling to allow foreign players to offer mobile money services in Africa after completing a minimum of one year of operations in the country. However, since this ruling came in after the bidding process was completed, the government missed out on several bids as well as witnessed lower bids, since companies were under the impression that they will not be allowed to offer mobile money services. As per government estimates, they lost about US$500 million on telecom licenses because of initial ban on mobile money.

Another deterrent to the entire process has been the government’s refusal to allow foreign telecom tower companies to enter the Ethiopian market. The licensed telecom companies would either have to lease the towers from Ethio Telecom or build them themselves, but they would not be allowed to get third party telecom infrastructure players to build new infrastructure for them, as is the norm in other African countries. This greatly handicaps the telecom players who will have to completely depend on the state player to provide infrastructure, who in turn may charge high interconnection charges that may further create an uneven playing field.

These two regulations are expected to insulate Ethio Telecom from facing fierce competition from the potential new players, and in turn may result in incumbency and poor service levels to continue. Moreover, even with regards to Ethio Telecom, the government only plans to sell 40% stake to a private player (while 5% will be sold to public), thereby still maintaining the controlling stake. With minority stake, private players may not be able to work according to their will and make transformative changes to the company. It is considered a way to just get fresh capital infused into the company without the government losing real control of it.

In addition to these limitations, the overall process of privatization has faced delays and complications. The bidding process has been delayed several times over the past year owing to regulatory complexities, the COVID crisis, and ongoing military conflict in the northern region. The process, which was supposed to be completed in 2020 was completed in May 2021, with the final bidding process taking place in April 2021 and the government awarding the bids in May 2021.

During the bidding process, the government received only two technical bids out of the initial 12 companies that had shown interest. These were from MTN and a consortium called ‘Global Partnership for Ethiopia’ comprising Vodafone, Safaricom, and Vodacom. While the Vodafone consortium partnered with CDC Group, a UK-based sovereign wealth fund, and Japanese conglomerate, Sumitomo Corporation, for financing, MTN group teamed up with Silk Road Fund, China’s state-owned investment fund to finance their expansion plans into Ethiopia. The other companies that had initially shown interest backed out of the process. These include Etisalat, Axian, Orange, Saudi Telecom Company, Telkom SA, Liquid Telecom, Snail Mobile, Kandu Global Communications, and Electromecha International Projects.

In late May 2021, the government awarded one of the licenses to the ‘Global Partnership for Ethiopia’ (Vodafone, Safaricom, and Vodacom) consortium for a bid of US$850 million. While it had two licenses to give out, it chose not to award the other license to MTN, who had made a bid of US$600 million. As per government officials, the latter bid was much lower than the expected price, which was anticipated to be close to a billion by the government.

Moreover, the government seems to have withheld one of the licenses as currently the interest in the deal has been low, considering that it only received two bids for two licenses. Given that they have somewhat altered and relaxed the guidelines on mobile money (from not being allowed to be allowed after minimum one year of operations), there may be some renewed interest from other players in the market. That being said, the restriction on construction of telecom infrastructure is expected to stay as is.

In the meanwhile, Orange, instead of bidding for the new licenses, has shown interest in purchasing the 40% stake in Ethio Telecom, which will give the company access to mobile money services right away. However, no formal statement or bid has been made by either of the parties yet. If the deal goes through, it will give Orange a definite advantage over its international competitors, who would have to wait for minimum one year to launch mobile money services in the market. In May 2021, Ethio Telecom launched its first mobile money service, called Telebirr, and managed to get 1 million subscribers for the service within a two-week span. This brings forth the potential mobile money holds in a market such as Ethiopia.

EOS Perspective

While several international telecom companies had initially shown interest in entering the coveted Ethiopian market, most of them have fizzled out over the course of the previous year, with the government only receiving two bids. Moreover, the bid amounts have been much lower than what the government initially anticipated and the government chose to accept only one bid and reject the other. Thus the privatization process can be deemed as only being partially successful. Furthermore, the opportunity cost of restricting mobile money services has been about US$500 million for the government, which is more than 50% of the amount they have received from the one successful auction.

This has occurred because the government has been focusing on sheltering Ethio Telecom from stiff competition by adding the restrictions on mobile money and telecom infrastructure. While this may help Ethio Telecom in the short run, it is detrimental for the overall sector and the privatization efforts.

Restrictions on using third-party infrastructure partners, may also result in a slowdown in rolling out of additional infrastructure, which is much needed especially in rural regions of Ethiopia. Other issues such as ongoing political instability in the northern region have further cast doubt in the minds of investors and foreign players regarding the government’s stability and in turn has impacted the number of bids and bid value.

It is expected that the government will restart the bidding process for the remaining one license soon. However, the success of it depends on the government’s flexibility towards mobile money services. While it has already eased its stance a little, there is still a lot of ambiguity regarding the exact timelines and conditions for the approval. The government must shed clarity on this before re-initiating the bidding process. MTN has also mentioned that it may bid again if mobile money services are included in the bid.

However, with Vodafone-Safaricom-Vodacom consortium already winning one bid and expecting to start services in Ethiopia as early as next year, the company definitely has an edge over its other competitors. Considering that the first bid took more than a year and faced several bureaucratic delays, it is safe to say that the second bid will not happen any time soon, especially since this time it is expected that the government will give a serious thought to the inclusions/exclusions of the deal and the value that mobile money brings to the table for both the government and the bidding company.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China. Is There a Way Out?

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Dubbed as the factory to the world, China is an integral part of the supply chain of a host of products and brands. From manufacturers of simple products such as toys to complex good such as automobiles, all are dependent on China for either end products or components. However, China’s ongoing trade war with the USA and the COVID pandemic have made several brands question their supply chain dependence on this country, especially in some industries such as pharmaceuticals. Moreover, aggressive investment incentives offered by countries such as India and Japan have further cajoled companies to reassess their global supply chains and reconsider their dependence on China. However, with years of investment in the supply chain ecosystem, a shift such as this seems easier said than done.

China emerged as the manufacturing hub of the world in the 1990’s and hasn’t looked back since. Owing to vast availability of land and labor, technological advancements, and overall low cost of production, China became synonymous to manufacturing. Over the past decade, increasing labor and utility costs, and growing competition from neighboring low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand, etc., have resulted in some companies shifting out from China. However, so far this has been limited to a few low-skilled labor intensive industries such as apparel.

The year 2020 has changed this drastically. The COVID pandemic along with the ongoing trade war between the USA and China made companies realize and question their dependency on China. In the beginning of last year, COVD-19 brought China to a halt, which in turn impacted the supply chain for all companies producing in China. Moreover, several pharmaceutical companies also realized that they are highly dependent on China for few basic medicines and medical supplies and equipment, which were in a considerable shortage throughout 2020. This pushed several companies across sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronic goods, to reconsider their global supply chains to ensure reduced dependence on any one region, especially China.

Currently, several companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are looking to shift their production from China to other South Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand.

Some of the companies looking to reduce dependence on China:

Apple

In November 2020, Apple, along with its supplier Foxconn, expressed plans to shift assembly of some iPad and MacBook to Vietnam from China. The facility is expected to come online in the first half of 2021. Moreover, Apple is also considering shifting production of some of its Air Pods to Vietnam as well. In addition, it has invested US$1 billion in setting up a plant in Tamil Nadu, India to assemble iPhones that are to be sold in India. Apple and Foxconn are consciously trying to reduce their reliance on China due to the ongoing USA-China trade war.

Samsung

In July 2020, Samsung announced plans to shift most of its computer monitor manufacturing plants from China to Vietnam. The move is its response to hedge the supply chain disruptions it faced due to factories being shut in China during the early phase of the pandemic. In addition, in December 2020, the company shared its plans to shift its mobile and IT display plants from China to India. Samsung plans to invest about US$660 million (INR 48 billion) to set up the new facility in Uttar Pradesh (India).

Hasbro

Hasbro has been moving its production out of China into Mexico, India and Vietnam over the past year. It aimed to have only 50% of its products to be coming out of China by the end of 2020 and only 33% of its production to remain in China by the end of 2023. In 2019, about 66% of its toys were produced in China, while in 2012, 90% of its toys were manufactured in the country. The key reason behind the consistent switch is the souring trade relations between the USA and China.

Hyundai

During the past year, Hyundai Motors has been looking at developing India into its global sourcing hub instead of China in order to reduce its over-reliance on the latter. It has been encouraging its vendors, such as Continental, Aptiv, and Bosch, to ramp up production in India so as to move their supply chain away from China. It plans to source its auto parts from India (instead of China) for its existing factories in India, South America, Eastern Europe as well as planned facility in Indonesia.

Google

Google is looking to manufacture its new low-cost smartphone, Pixel4A, and its flagship smartphone, Pixel5A in Vietnam instead of China. In addition, in 2020, it also planned to shift production of its smart home products to Thailand. This move has been a part of an ongoing effort to reduce reliance on China, which in fact gained momentum post supply chain disruptions faced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Microsoft

In early 2020, Microsoft expressed plans to shift the production base of its Surface range of notebooks and desktops into Vietnam. While the initial volume being produced in Vietnam is expected to be low, the company intends to ramp it up steadily to shift volumes away from China.

Steve Madden

In 2019, Steve Madden expressed plans to shift parts of its production out of China in 2020, given growing trade-based tensions between the USA and China. However, due to the COVID pandemic, it could not make planned changes to its supply chain. In October 2020, it again expressed plans to start shifting part of its production away from China by spring 2021. It plans to procure raw materials from Mexico, Cambodia, Brazil, and Vietnam to reduce reliance on China.

Iris Ohyama

The Japanese consumer goods player expressed plans to open a factory in northeastern Japan to diversify its manufacturing base, which is based primarily in China. The company made this move on the back of increasing labor cost in China, rising import tariffs to the USA, along with the supply disruptions it faced for procuring masks for the Japanese market. In 2020, it also set up a mask factory in the USA. In addition, the company plans to open additional plants in the USA and France for plastic containers and small electrical goods to cater to the local demand in these markets.

Nations using this opportunity to promote domestic production

In August 2020, about 24 electronic goods companies, including Samsung and Apple, have shown interest in moving out of China and into India. These companies together have pledged to invest about US$1.5 billion to setup mobile phone factories in the country in order to diversify their supply chains. This move is a result of the Indian government offering incentives to companies looking to shift their production facilities to India.

In April 2020, the Indian government announced a production linked incentive (PLI) scheme to attract companies looking to move out of China and set up large scale manufacturing units in the electronics space. Under the scheme, the government is offering an incentive of 4-6% on incremental sales (over base year FY 2019-20) of goods manufactured in India. The scheme, which is applicable for five years, plans to give an incentive worth US$6 billion (INR 409.51 billion) over the time frame of the scheme.

In November 2020, the Indian government subsequently expanded the scheme to other sectors such as pharma, auto, textiles, and food processing. In addition, it is expected to provide a production-linked incentive of US$950 million (INR 70 billion) to domestic drug manufacturers in order to push domestic manufacturing and reduce dependence on Chinese imports. Apart from incentives, India is developing a land pool of about 461,589 hectares to offer to companies looking to move out of China. The identified land, which is spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, makes it easy for companies looking to set shop in India, as acquiring land has been one of the biggest challenges when it came to setting up production units in India.

On similar lines, the Japanese government is providing incentives to companies to shift their production lines out of China and to Japan. In May 2020, Japan announced an initiative to set up a US$2.2 billion stimulus package to encourage Japanese companies to shift production out of China. About JNY 220 billion (~US$2 billion) of the stimulus will be directed towards companies shifting production back to Japan, while JNY 23.5 billion (~US$200 million) will be given to companies seeking to move production to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.

In the first round of subsidies, the Japanese government announced a list of 57 companies in July 2020, which will receive a total of US$535 million to open factories in Japan, while another 30 companies will be given subsidies to expand production in other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. The move is a combination of Japan looking to shift manufacturing of high value-added products back to the country and the initial disruptions caused to the supply chain of Japanese automobiles and durable goods manufacturers.

Similarly, the USA, which has been at odds with China regarding trade for a couple of years now, is also encouraging its companies to limit their exposure in China and shift their production back home. In May 2020, the government proposed a US$25 billion ‘reshoring fund’ to enable manufacturers to move their production bases and complete supply chain from China preferably back to the USA and in turn reduce their reliance of China-made goods. The bill included primarily tax incentives and reshoring subsidies. However, the bill has not been passed in Congress yet and now with the leadership change in the USA, it is expected that president Biden may follow a more diplomatic strategic route with regards to China in comparison to his predecessor.

In addition to individual country efforts, in September 2020, Japan, India, and Australia together launched an initiative to achieve supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region and reduce their trade dependence on China. The partnership aims at achieving regional cooperation to build a stable supply chain from the raw material to finished goods stage in 10 key sectors, namely petroleum and petrochemicals, automobiles, steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, marine products, financial services, IT services, tourism and travel services, and skill development.

Similarly, the USA is pushing to create an alliance called the ‘Economic Prosperity Network’, wherein it aims to work with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to restructure global supply chains to reduce dependence on China.

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China by EOS Intelligence

Is it feasible?

While these efforts are sure to help companies move part(s) of their supply chain out of China, the extent to which it is feasible is yet to be assessed. Although the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted and exposed several supply chain vulnerabilities for companies across sectors and countries, despite government support and incentives, it will be very difficult for them to wean off their dependence on China.

Companies have spent decades building their manufacturing ecosystems, which in many cases, are highly reliant on China. These companies not only have their end products assembled or manufactured in the country, but also engage Chinese suppliers for their raw materials, who in turn use further Chinese suppliers for their inputs. Therefore, moving out of China is not a simple process and will take tremendous amount of time as well as financial resources.

While companies such as Google or Microsoft are looking to shift their assembling plants out of China, they are still dependent on China for parts. This is all the more relevant in case of high-technology products, such as automobiles and telecommunication infrastructure, where companies have made significant investments in China for their supply chain and are dependent on the nation’s manufacturing capabilities for small, intricate, but technologically advanced parts and components.

Moreover, despite significant efforts and reforms from countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand, they still cannot match China in terms of availability of skilled labor, infrastructure, and scale, which is required by many companies especially with regards to technologically advanced products. That being said, more companies are looking at a strategy where they are maintaining their presence in China, while also developing relatively smaller operations outside the country to have a fallback and to reduce total dependency on China. This is also dubbed as the China + 1 strategy.

Another reason going in China’s favor has been its capability to bounce back from the pandemic and resume production in a short span of time. While production had been halted in January to March 2020, it ramped up April onwards and was back to normal standards within no time. This reinforced the faith of many companies on Chinese capabilities. Therefore, as some companies are already cash-strapped due to the pandemic, they are not interested in investing in modifying their supply chains when in most cases normalcy resumed in a relatively short span of time.

EOS Perspective

Companies have been looking to diversify their supply chains and reduce dependence on China for a couple of years now, however, the trend has gained momentum post the coronavirus pandemic and growing US-China trade tensions. The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak exposed several vulnerabilities in the supply chain of global manufacturers, who realized the extent of their dependence on China. Moreover, several countries realized that they relied on China for key medicines and medical supplies, which cost them heavily during the pandemic.

Given this situation, several nations such as Japan, India, and the USA – together and individually, have started giving incentives to companies to shift production from China into their own borders. While this has resulted in several companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Sanofi, Samsung, etc., to expand their manufacturing operations out of China, it does not necessarily mean that they are moving out of China. This is primarily due to heavy investments (in terms of both time and money) that they have already made into developing their intricate supply chains as well as the inherent benefits that China provides – technologically skilled labor, sophisticated production facilities, and quick revamping of production after a calamity.

That being said, it has come into the conscience of companies to reduce their over-reliance on China and while it may not impact the scale and extent of operations in the country in the short run, it is quite likely that companies will phase out their presence (at least part of it) in China over the coming decade.

A lot depends on the level of incentives and facilities provided by other nations. While countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand can offer low cost production with regards to labor and utilities, they currently do not have the technological sophistication possessed and developed by China. Alternatively, while Japan and the USA are technologically advanced, without recurring incentives and tax breaks, cost of production would be much higher than that in China. Thus, until there is a worthy alternative, most companies will follow the China +1 strategy. However, with growing trade tensions between China and other nations, and ongoing efforts by other nations to encourage and support domestic production, China may risk losing its positioning as the ‘factory of the world’ in the long run.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture

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In the first part of our series on agritech in Africa, we took a look into how IT and other technology investments are helping small farmers in Africa. In the second part, we are exploring the impact that potential application of advanced technologies such as blockchain can have on the African agriculture sector.

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, is already finding utility across several business sectors including financial, banking, retail, automotive, and aviation industries (click here to read our previous Perspectives on blockchain technology). The technology is finding its way in agriculture too, and has the potential to revolutionize the way farming is done.


This article is the second part of a two-piece coverage focusing on technological advancements in agriculture across the African continent.

Read part one here: Agritech in Africa: Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture


State of blockchain implementation in agriculture in Africa

Agricultural sector in Africa has already witnessed the onset of blockchain based solutions being introduced in the market. Existing tech players and emerging start-ups have developed blockchain solutions, such as eMarketplaces, agricultural credit/financing platforms, and crop insurance services. Companies, globally as well as within Africa, are harnessing applications of blockchain to develop innovative solutions targeted at key stakeholders across the food value chain.

Blockchain to promote transparency across agriculture sector

The most common application of blockchain in any industry sector (and not only agriculture) is creating an immutable record of transactions or events, which is particularly helpful in creating a trusted record of land ownership for farmers, who are traditionally dependent on senior village officials to prove their ownership of land.

Since 2017, a Kenyan start-up, Land LayBy has been using an Ethereum-based shared ledger to keep records of land transactions. This offers farmers a trusted and transparent medium to establish land ownership, which can then further be used to obtain credit from banks or alternative financing companies. BanQu and BitLand are other examples of blockchain being used as a proof of land ownership.

This feature of blockchain also enables creation of a transparent environment where companies can trace the production and journey of agricultural products across their supply chain. Transparency across the supply chain helps create trust between farmers and buyers, and the improved visibility of prices further down the value chain also enables farmers to get better value for their produce.

In 2017, US-based Bext360 started a pilot project with US-based Coda Coffee and its Uganda-based coffee export partner, ​​Great​ ​Lakes​ ​Coffee. The company developed a machine to grade and weigh coffee beans deposited to Great Lakes by individual farmers in East Uganda. The device uploads the data on a blockchain-based SaaS solution, which enables users to trace the coffee from its origin to end consumer. The blockchain solution is also used to make payments to the farmers based on the grade of their produce in form of tokens.

In 2017, Amsterdam-based Moyee Coffee also partnered with KrypC, a global blockchain, to create a fully blockchain-traceable coffee. The coffee beans are sourced from individual farmers in Ethiopia, and then roasted within the country, before being exported to the Netherlands.

This transparency can help food companies to isolate the cause of any disease outbreak impacting the food value chain. This also allows consumers can be aware of the source of the ingredients used in their food products.

Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Blockchain-based platforms to improve farmer and buyer collaboration

Blockchain can also act as a platform to connect farmers with vendors, food processing, and packaging companies, providing a secure and trusted environment to both buyers and suppliers to transact without the need of a middleman. This also results in elimination of margins that need to be paid to these intermediaries, and helps improve the margins for buyers.

Farmshine, a Kenyan start-up, created a blockchain-based platform to auger trade collaboration among farmers, buyers, and service providers in Kenya. In January 2020, the company also raised USD$250,000 from Gray Matters Capital, to finance its planned future expansion to Malawi.

These blockchain platforms can also be used to connect farmers to other farmers, for activities such as asset or land sharing, resulting in more efficiency in economical farming operations. Blockchain platform can also enable small farmers to lease idle farms from their peers, thereby providing them with access to additional revenue sources, which they would not be able to do traditionally.

AgUnity, an Australian-start-up established in 2016, developed a mobile application which enables farmers to record their produce and transactions over a distributed ledger, offering a trusted and transparent platform to work with co-operatives and third-party buyers. The platform also enables farmers to share farming equipment as per a set schedule to improve overall operational and cost efficiency. In Africa, AgUnity has launched pilot projects in Kenya and Ethiopia, targeted at helping farmers achieve better income for their produce.

A Nigerian start-up, Hello Tractor uses IBM’s blockchain technology to help small farmers in Nigeria, which cannot afford tractors on their own, to lease idle tractors from owners and contractors at affordable prices through a mobile application.

Smart contracts to transform agriculture finance and insurance

Less than 3% of small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have adequate access to agricultural insurance coverage, which leaves them vulnerable to adverse climatic situations such as droughts.

Smart contracts based on blockchain can also be used to provide crop-insurance, which can be triggered given certain set conditions are met, enabling farmers to secure their farms and family livelihood in case of extreme climatic events such as floods or droughts.

SmartCrop, an Android-based mobile platform, provides affordable crop insurance to more than 20,000 small farms in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda through blockchain-based smart contracts, which are triggered based on intelligent weather predictions.

Netherlands-based ICS, parent company of Agrics East Africa (which provides farm inputs on credit to small farmers in Kenya and Tanzania) is also exploring a blockchain-wallet based saving product, “drought coins”, which can be encashed by farmers depending on the weather conditions and forecasts.

Tracking of assets (such as land registries) and transactions on the blockchain can also be used to verify the farmers’ history, which can be used by alternative financing companies to offer loans or credits to farmers – e.g. in cases when farmers are not able to get such financing from traditional banks – transforming the banking and financial services available to farmers.

Several African start-ups such as Twiga Foods and Cellulant have tried to explore the use of blockchain technology to offer agriculture financing solutions to small farmers in Africa.

In late 2018, Africa’s leading mobile wallet company, Cellulant, launched Agrikore, a blockchain-based digital-payment, contracting, and marketplace system that connects small farmers with large commercial customers. The company started its operations in Nigeria and is exploring expansion of its business to Kenya.

In 2018, Kenya-based Twiga Foods (that connects farmers to urban retailers in an informal market) partnered with IBM to launch a blockchain-based lending platform which offered loans to small retailers in Kenya to purchase food products from suppliers listed on Twiga platform.


Read our previous Perspective Africa’s Fintech Market Striding into New Product Segments to find out more about innovative fintech products for agriculture and other sectors financing in Africa


And last, but not the least, blockchain or cryptocurrencies can simply be used as a mode of payment with a much lower transaction fee offered by traditional banking institutions.

Improving mobile internet access to boost blockchain implementation

While blockchain has shown potential to transform agriculture in Africa, its implementation is limited by the lack of mobile/internet access and technical know-how among small farmers. As of 2018, mobile internet had penetrated only 23% of the total population in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the GSM Association predicts mobile internet penetration to improve significantly over the next five years, to ~39% by 2025. Improved access to internet services is expected to boost the farmers’ ability to interact with the blockchain solutions, thereby increasing development and deployment of more blockchain-based solutions for farmers.

EOS Perspective

Agritech offers an immense opportunity in Africa, and blockchain is likely to be an integral part of this opportunity. Blockchain has already started witnessing implementation in systems providing proof of ownership, platforms for farmer cooperation, and agricultural financing tools.

Unlike Asian and Latin American countries, African markets have shown a relatively positive attitude towards adoption of blockchain, a fact that promises positive environment for development of such solutions.

At the moment, most development in blockchain agritech space is concentrated in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Ghana. However, there is potential to scale up operations in other countries across Africa as well, and some start-ups have already proved this (e.g. Farmshine was able to secure the necessary financing to expand its presence in Malawi). Other companies can follow suit, however, that would only be possible with the help of further private sector investments.

Still in the nascent stages of development, blockchain solutions face an uncertain future, at least in the short term, and are dependent on external influences to pick up growth they need to impact the agriculture sector significantly. However, once such solutions achieve certain scalability, and become increasingly integrated with other technologies, such as Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, blockchain has the capability of completely transform the way farming is done in Africa.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Agritech in Africa: Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture

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Agriculture technologies in Africa have been undergoing significant development over the years, with many tech start-ups innovating information and communications technologies to support agriculture at all levels. While some technologies have been successfully launched, some are in initial stages of becoming a success. Private sector investments have been the key driving factor supporting the development of agriculture technologies in Africa. In the first part of our series on agritech in Africa, we are examine what impact and opportunities arise from the use of these technologies in Africa.

Agriculture plays a significant role in Africa’s economy, contributing 32% to the continent’s GDP and employing 65% of the total work force (as per the World Bank estimates). Nearly 70% of the continent’s population directly depends on agribusiness. Vast majority of farmers work on small scale farms that produce nearly 90% of all agricultural output.


This article is the first part of a two-piece coverage focusing on technological advancements in agriculture across the African continent.

Read part two here: Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture


Agriculture in Africa has been under the pressure of many challenges such as low productivity, lack of knowledge and exposure to new farming techniques, and lack of access to financial support, especially for the small-scale farmers. These challenges are prompting investments in newer technologies to enhance the productivity through smart agriculture techniques.

Lately, there have been an increased use of various technologies in agriculture in Africa, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Open Source Software, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and Big Data Analytics. Many tech start-ups have developed solutions targeting various aspects of agriculture, including finance, supply chain, retailing, and even delivering information related to crops and weeds. These solutions are accessible to farmers through front-end devices such as smart phones and tablets, or even SMS.

Agritech in Africa - Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Start-ups lead agritech development in Africa

Many agritech start-ups in Africa have come up with solutions that have led to a rise in productivity of the farms. Drones have been a breakthrough technology, helping farmers oversee their crops, and manage their farms effectively. Drones use highly focused cameras to capture picture of crops, soil or weeds. This, coupled with big data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), provides insights to farmers, saving their time and effort, while also helping them find potential issues which could impact the productivity of their farms.

There are various agritech start-ups that are developing such drones, and providing them to farmers for rent or lease to analyse their crops and farms. A South African agritech start-up, Aerobotics, offers an end-to-end solution to help farmers manage their farms using drones, through early detection of any crop-related problems, and offering curative measures for the problems using an AI-based analytics platform. The company partners with drone manufacturing companies such as DJI and Micasense to deliver these solutions.

Acquahmeyer, another start-up based in Ghana, also provides drones to its farming customers to help them use a comprehensive approach to apply crop pest control and plant nutrition management for their farms.

Advent of advanced technologies such as IoT is also helping farmers to adopt smart farm management through the use of smart sensors connected in a network. This helps every farmer to get granular details of the crops, soil, farming equipment, or livestock, enabling the farmers to devise appropriate farming approaches.

Kenya-based UjuziKilimo provides solution for analyzing soil characteristics using electronic sensor placed in the ground. This helps farmers with useful real-time insights into soil conditions. The solution further utilizes big data analytics to guide the farmers, by offering insights through SMS on their connected mobile phones or tablets.

Hello Tractor, a Kenyan start-up, provides an IoT solution, through which farmers can have access to affordable tractors which are monitored virtually through a remote asset tracking device on the tractor, sharing data over the Hello Tractor Cloud. Farmers, booking agents, dealers, and tractor owners are connected via IoT. The company is also collaborating with IBM to incorporate artificial intelligence and blockchain to their solutions.

AI has also witnessed a rapid growth in adoption across agriculture sector in Africa. Agrix Tech, based in Cameroon, has developed a mobile application that requires the farmers to capture the picture of diseased crop, which is then analyzed via AI to detect crop diseases, and helps the farmers with treatment solution to save their crops.

AI is also helping Kenyan farmers with the knowledge on planting the right crops at the right time. Tech giant, Capgemini, has teamed up with a Kenyan social enterprise in Kakamega region in Western Kenya to use artificial intelligence to analyze farming data, and then send insights about right time and technique of planting crops to the farmers’ cell phones.

There are other agritech solutions that include mobile applications which use digital platforms such as cloud computing to reach out to farmers, and provide them with apt agriculture solutions. Ghana-based CowTribe offers a mobile USSD-based subscription service which enables livestock farmers to connect with veterinarians for animal vaccines and other livestock healthcare services using cloud-based logistics management system. The company focuses on managing the schedules, and delivering the right service to the livestock farmers, to help them safeguard their animals from any health-related problems.

Several agritech investments are also impacting the financial side of agriculture. Kenya-based Apollo Agriculture provides solutions related to financing, farm inputs, advice insurance and market access through the use of agronomic machine learning, remote sensing, and mobile technology using satellite data and cloud computing.

Another Nigerian start-up Farmcrowdy has developed Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform that provides financial support to the farmers by allowing those outside the agriculture industry to sponsor individual farms.

Several other agritech start-ups across the continent, such as Ghana-based Farmerline and AgroCenta, and Nigeria-based Kitovu have also launched data-driven mobile application for farmers. These technology solutions are proving to be a boon for agriculture sector in Africa, helping improve the overall efficiency and productivity.

Agritech in Africa - Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Agritech development is concentrated in Kenya and Nigeria

But, when it comes to first adopting the newest technologies and starting an agritech business in agriculture, Kenya and Nigeria have been leading in the adoption of new agritech solutions, accounting for a significant share of agritech start-up across Africa. Kenya has played a pioneering role in bringing agritech in Africa since 2010-2011, when the first wave of agritech start-ups began to bring new niche innovations. Currently, Kenya accounts for 25% of all the agritech start-ups in Africa, and the development is progressing rapidly, thanks to the country’s advancement in technology, high smartphone penetration, and relatively widespread internet access.

Similarly, Nigeria too has sailed the boat of success in agritech start-ups since 2015, and now it accounts for 23.2% of total agritech start-ups in Africa, with include major players such as Twiga Foods, Apollo Agriculture, Agrikore, and Tulaa. The growing inclination amongst Nigerian farmers towards using digital tools in agriculture sector has further pushed the rapid development in agritech sector in the country.

Other countries have also shown potential for agritech development, though it is still in the initial stages of becoming mainstream in their agriculture sectors. Ghana has encouraged several start-ups to launch different technology innovations for making agriculture more sustainable, while South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe have also witnessed the rise in agritech start-ups over the years with newer technologies for agriculture sector.

Recent investments highlight the agritech potential

The agriculture technologies in Africa got the boost from the increased private funding. According to a report by Disrupt-Africa released in 2018, there has been a total investment of US$19 million in agritech sector since 2016. These investments have largely focused on funding agritech start-ups working on bringing innovative agriculture technologies. Also, according to the same report, the number of agritech start-ups rose by 110% from 2016 to 2018.

Some of the recent investments in the agritech sector include Kenya’s Twiga Foods, a B2B food distribution company, which raised US$30 million from investors led by Goldman Sachs in October 2019. The company aims to set-up a distribution centre in Nairobi to offer better supply chain services, while also expanding to more cities in Kenya, including Mombasa.

In December 2019, Kenya-based agritech start-up Farmshine, also raised US$25 million in funding from US-based Gray Matter’s Capital coLabs (GMC coLabs), to expand its operations in Malawi. GMC coLabs also invested US$1 million in another Kenyan B2B agritech start-up Taimba in July 2019. Taimba provides a mobile-based cashless platform connecting smallholder farmers to urban retailers. The investment was focused on strengthening Taimba’s infrastructure and increase the delivery logistics to cater to new markets.

Cellulant, a leading pan-African digital payments service provider that offers a real-time payment platform to farmers, also raised US$47.5 million from a consortium of investors in May 2018, which is the largest investment in the African tech industry till date. Cellulant also plans to channel a significant portion of funds into its Agrikore subsidiary, an agritech start-up dealing with blockchain based smart-contracting, payments, and marketplace system.

EOS Perspective

African agritech is expected to witness high growth in future. According to a CTA report on Digitalization for Agriculture (D4Ag) published in 2018, digital agriculture solutions are likely to reach 60-100 million smallholder famers, while generating annual revenues of nearly US$320- US$470 million by the end of 2020.

Adoption and use of innovative technologies such as remote sensing, diagnostics, IoT sensors for digitalization of agriculture is steadily moving from experimental stage to full-scale deployment, contributing to the data revolution in agriculture, while also unlocking new business models and opportunities.

Apart from these, blockchain is gaining prominence, and finding applications in the agriculture sector in Africa. This technology has the potential to significantly impact the agriculture sector, which we will discuss in the second part of our series on Agritech in Africa.

However, lack of affordability and knowledge to access such technologies, especially by small-scale farmers, has restricted the growth and reachability of these solutions. With the need to educate farmers and make such technology affordable and viable, it is likely that it may take at least 5-7 years before these technologies become truly mainstream in the continent.

A disparity of investments has been observed among the countries in the region. Over the years, countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana have experienced a strong growth in terms of private investments, while other countries are left wanting. Investors have prioritized easy-to-reach markets in Africa, leaving behind the lower-income markets, resulting in agritech becoming less sustainable and scalable in these markets. However, several other African countries have shown the appetite to adopt agritech solutions, and offer significant potential.

This requires an intervention and participation from both governments and private investors, which can help improve scalability of agriculture technologies in the region. Implementation of farming digital literacy, public-private partnerships, and increased private sector investments in agritech enterprises can help the agritech industry experience a consistent and higher success rate, thus bringing the agriculture technology to a mainstream at faster pace.

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