Food for Thought from FoodPrint – June 2022

Julian here, founder and CEO/CTO at FoodPrint. I’m excited to be sending out an update on how we are progressing as an AgTech startup. FoodPrint is a digital food supply chain platform connecting producers, buyers and consumers. At FoodPrint, we believe in short, sustainable and transparent supply chains – they are the answer to fairer and more sustainable food systems across the globe.

I’m especially excited about 2022 as we have been setting structure and process to the business – our team has grown and going forward we will send out regular updates such as these.


Funding
2021 was a good year for us. We won the Inqola FEED Innovation Prize (South Africa), which was followed by funding from the Algorand Foundation (Singapore). With this funding, we have been able to grow the team, build our WhatsApp chatbot and anchor our supply chain solution on the Algorand Blockchain to bolster trust in the supply chain data.

We are looking to raise some seed funding in the near future, if you are an investor and would like to chat, reach out here.


Team and Partnerships
The FoodPrint team is growing, and in particular, our tech team is firing on all cylinders. We have an immediate need for a Community Manager – someone with expertise in agriculture, connections to farmers and cooperatives, entrepreneurship and community building. In addition, we are also seeking to partner with more AgriHubs/food cooperatives and bulk produce buyers/retailers – we would like them to hop on board as early adopters of our platform. If you can assist with either, drop us an email here.


Product Updates
WhatsApp Chatbot
At the end of 2021, we started work on our WhatsApp chatbot, and I am excited to say that we are almost ready to pilot this. Using our low-tech WhatsApp chatbot, farmers can register to the FoodPrint platform, and everytime they harvest and sell produce, they record this on the chatbot – creating a digital record (anchored on the blockchain) that links them to potential buyers and finance service providers (in future). The WhatsApp chatbot will be free
to use for smallholder farmers.

If you are a farmer, and would like to try out our chatbot, send a WhatsApp message to us here – https://wa.me/+27711463479 –  and you will be notified once the chatbot is live.

FoodPrint QR Codes for Track and Trace
The FoodPrint platform also supports product-specific QR Codes for consumers to scan, and read the claims or the story behind the food they are buying or about to consume. Here is an example – scan with your mobile device – and see what a provenance record looks like.

If you are a food retailer or business, and wish to provide a unique experience for your customers
(a digital touchpoint to drive consumer engagement), or a farmer wishing to tell the story about
your farm, get in touch here.

Harvest Box
We have partnered with PEDI AgriHub in Philippi Cape Town, and are piloting a fresh produce harvest box in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town! We are especially excited about this as this is an immediate way for us to add value to local farmers and provide the farmers they support with market access. The harvest box contains fresh, quality seasonal produce. If you would like to purchase a weekly fresh produce box, you can get in touch here.


Visit to University of Zurich Blockchain Center
And lastly, last month, I had the opportunity to share how FoodPrint is bringing blockchain technology to food supply chains in sub-Saharan Africa at a blockchain workshop in Zurich, arranged by the University of Zurich Blockchain Center and University of Cape Town. This was well received and networks established – innovation and collaboration feed and build upon each other!


That’s all for now. Until the next update, eat your greens!

Julian Kanjere
Founder
https://www.foodprintlabs.com

CBDC in Africa Symposium Invite 2022

Central Bank Digital Currencies in Africa Symposium 2022

Last month, I attended the Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) in Africa Symposium at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business (GSB). The event, which was put together by the Algorand-UCT Financial Innovation Hub, comprised of a diverse audience which included central bankers, policy makers, financial technology (FinTech) professionals and academics. The panel discussion had two sessions, the first discussed CBDC projects being carried out by African central banks (notably the Central Bank of Nigeria and the South African Reserve Bank), and the second took a broader view on not just CBDCs but ongoing payments innovation.

What are CBDCs?
CBDCs are an especially hot topic at present, particularly amongst central bankers and the fintech community across the globe. Central Banks are harnessing the technology used in crypto assets to develop CBDCs. But what are CBDCs? CBDCs are a new and digital form of sovereign currency on an alternative and more efficient payment rail – a rail that is typically based on distributed ledger technology (DLT) e.g. blockchain – and not available in cash form. Essentially, CBDCs are akin to traditional fiat currency (footnote – fiat currency is government-issued currency that is not backed by a commodity such as gold.), albeit on a different payment rail. The promise of CBDCs is reduced frictions in financial services and payments e.g. cheaper and faster payments (especially since there is no need for multiple intermediaries between the source of a transaction and its destination – as is currently the case), as well as increased interoperability and programmability (which unlocks innovation) within financial services.

Central Banks and their digital currencies
Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana are some of the African countries that gone beyond research and launched CBDC pilots in one form or another. Nigeria, which is arguably leading the charge, launched the e-Naira project. South Africa launched the project Khoka pilot and recently participated in project Dunbar. Ghana launched the e-Cedi project. Other countries such as Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have hinted at exploring the use of digital currencies, and are presumably in research stage – see the BCG CBDC tracker.

A recurring theme from the discussants was the cautious approach adopted by central banks as CBDCs are unchartered territories that will require amendments to policy and legislation, which they would want to get right. Another topic of discussion was privacy preservation – the need by citizens to maintain a level of transactional privacy (restrict a state’s oversight into an individual’s transactions) – something afforded by cash. The consensus here seems to be affording privacy for small value transactions and providing quasi-privacy or the ability to inspect – on-demand – large value transactions for regulatory purposes.

The first session ended with a thought-provoking question – whether proceeding slowly and cautiously by central banks is of more negative consequence than moving fast and being wrong – food for thought.

Q&A with the panel of central bankers
Q&A with the panel of central bankers

CBDCs and ongoing payments innovation
The second panel discussion zoomed out from CBDCs and considered more general and ongoing payments innovation. Interoperability between payment mechanisms and systems was highlighted as low hanging fruit with potential upside. For example, in the case of South Africa, a number of FinTech payments startups allow scanning of QR codes for payments but are not necessarily interoperable (e.g. Zapper and SnapScan), which would be a plus for merchants and a boost for commerce. Similar to QR Code payment apps, a comment was asked about why loyalty points are operated behind closed silos instead of being opened up and becoming tradeable across different providers and merchants (e.g. FNB eBucks, Standard Bank uCount, Pick n Pay smart shopper points etc). The rapid payments program (RPP) by BankServ Africa was highlighted as an innovation enabling interoperability initiative. The RPP is an interoperable payments platform that will bring together banks and non-bank FinTechs as service providers, and offer easy to use payment options for South African’s.

As in the first session, the theme of regulation reared its head again – with the sentiment being that although regulation moves slower than innovation, it is necessary. But of course overregulation can kill innovation altogether – there is a risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water!

One of the panellist’s took a necessary step back and put across a cornerstone notion that the problem we are trying to solve with CBDCs and payments innovation is not necessarily a problem of a broken past (i.e. present day financial infrastructure is relatively robust and functional) but more of what can we do for the future (from a technology, people and policy perspective) to improve from where we are. Ultimately, the focus should not be the payment rail but what it enables.

Lastly, one of the open questions arising from this session was whether CBDCs and current payments innovation will make a huge dent in solving the problem of financial inclusion – another piece of food for thought.

UCT FinTech grad students and James Wallis (VP of Central Bank Engagements & CBDCs at Ripple)
UCT FinTech grad students and James Wallis (VP of Central Bank Engagements & CBDCs at Ripple)

Summing up the conference, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in payments innovation and infrastructure, but fundamental shifts can be hard to recognise. The benefits of using blockchain as a payment rail are hard to ignore – faster transaction speeds, lower costs and programmability – all of which increase efficiency and participation and unlock innovation. CBDCs promise to be the next evolution of money, and not only central banks but fintech players need to be adaptive, agile and anticipatory.

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VAT Included @ 14%

VAT Rate Increase in South Africa and its impact on Software Systems

On the 21st of February 2018, the then Minister of Finance in South Africa (Malusi Gigaba) announced the increase of the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate from 14% to 15% during his budget speech, the first increase since 1993. This increase is effective 1 April 2018 meaning businesses that charge VAT for their products/services will need to make the necessary adjustments before then.

I am interested in the effect this increase has on businesses that charge VAT and are heavily reliant on software systems for their sales, billing and reporting processes. The two primary considerations for these software systems that come to mind are – the original Software Design and the resulting VAT related adjustments which I will call the VAT Update Software Project.

1. Original Software Design

I imagine that questions such as “How easy and quick will it be to update the VAT rate” have been asked of development teams following the budget speech. Such questions are related to the original software design – whether a software system was designed to be flexible and future-proof. For example, can a privileged user of the system update system-wide parameters (such as VAT rate) from the system’s front end instead of requiring a change to the source code by the software development team? However, in this particular instance, I can understand how a VAT rate that has not changed in 20 years could have been hardcoded* instead of made configurable (perhaps due to an oversight by the software development team or the result of pressure from business teams/users to turn around development tasks speedily).

2. VAT Update Software Project

Regardless of whether the VAT rate was hardcoded or made configurable, updating it will require some analysis, development/user update and testing which constitute what I have called the VAT Update Software Project (one does not simply search and replace 0.14 / 1.14 / 14% with 0.15 / 1.15 / 15%). Given that the amount of time between the announcement during the budget speech and the effective date of the VAT increase is just under two months, it is most probable that the knee-jerk reaction by many of the affected businesses has been that of commissioning VAT Update Software Projects on the fly. Execution of such project requires agility in undertaking the resulting project management tasks, impact analysis, software development / VAT rate configuration update, system testing and release planning among other activities.

At present, we are just under two weeks from the effective date of the VAT rate increase. This, coupled with the public holidays on the horizon make for some pretty tight project timelines for software teams looking to deliver on VAT Update Software Projects by 1st April 2018. Here’s to holding thumbs for them!


Footnotes
  1. Hardcoding in Software Development means that updates to a variable such as VAT would require a change to the source code by a Software Developer. The opposite of this would be making it configurable by an end user such that they can login to the system and update it perhaps from a Configuration menu.

Luxury Bamboo Socks, Impeccable Service and Niche Retailing

Over the last few months, I have had a string of conversations with different friends about bright coloured and bold socks commonly referred to as happy socks. In particular, I was trying to understand the rationale behind purchasing them as they are on the pricey side, wearing them as they are rather daring and ofcourse the business mechanics and success of the different fashion brands making these kind of socks. Ironically, following on from these conversations, just over two weeks ago, I was lucky to attend a talk where the stylish Nic Haralambous was sharing the journey he has been on, building his luxury men’s style brand – Nic Harry and some thoughts on e-Commerce in South Africa. I thoroughly enjoyed the talk as I found it to be very practical and quite relevant especially as I have a handful of friends with small businesses that have a retail component to them. Hence I decided to pen this article.

The Why and How

One of Nic’s motivations in starting the Nic Harry brand was that he felt that the sock space in South Africa was boring and lacking in imagination. Typical retailers stock bland or plain coloured socks for the most part, hence the bright coloured, fun and bold Nic Harry socks provided (and continue to provide) a fresh and exciting alternative. To differentiate the brand from other similar sock brands, Nic Harry opted for bamboo instead of cotton for the fabric and local South African production as compared to mass production in China. Bamboo has advantages of being organic, eco-friendly and anti-bacterial whilst local production meant job creation in South Africa. Over and above this, Nic Harry have zeroed in on providing exceptional and personalised service, something that typical traditional large retailers and other service providers have spectacularly failed at. For example, the Nic Harry sales team do not wear shoes inside their stores. Why? To stoke the potential customers imagination and make them see, first hand what it looks like to wear the socks and presumably how comfortable they are.

Read more

Varsity Podcasts

The Varsity Podcasts Story

The Beginning

Breaking into radio and television is ridiculously tough, the industry is cutthroat. This holds true not only at a national level but university level too. Consider the case of a South African university with 5000 students (conservative estimate), the university radio station club will have say upto 50 active members. That translates to approximately 1% of the student population, leaving so much potential radio talent untapped and undiscovered.

Considering my personal experience, the first university I attended did not have a radio station during my era. However, some friends and I attempted to put together a podcast show and unfortunately the rigmarole of getting approval from the university administration stopped us dead in our tracks. The next university that I then enrolled into did have a radio station which I auditioned for, but unfortunately the demands of my studies did not afford me the luxury of time to make a meaningful contribution thereof. However, both of these experiences did lead me down a path of questioning whether something could be done to tap into undiscovered university radio talents, bypass the formal structures and admin that are part and parcel of traditional university radio stations as well as create curated online content available on demand. Read more

4 Thoughts on Excellent Service

Most individuals, whilst going about their day to day life and engaging with various service providers, can attest to experiencing customer service with varying levels of excellence. In some cases, the service has been so amazing and memorable, that they could not stop raving about it to their friends and family. In other cases, it has been average (just okay, nothing to write home about) and in cases not worth remembering, the service has been horrible, to say the least. I have experienced these different scenarios myself and began to reflect on what made a particular service interaction superior over another, especially when it involved two different service providers in a similar line of work. Read more