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Netflix founder, others back African solar irrigation startup for $27m

The co-founder of Netflix, Red Hastings, alongside former chief executive of Alphabet, Eric Schmidt, through his foundation, took part in a funding round for an African solar irrigation startup in Kenya.

The startup said the two billionaires are among investors who have invested US$27 million in Nairobi-based SunCulture alongside others such as InfraCo Africa and Acumen Fund.

According to a report by Bloomberg on Wednesday, the company supplies small solar-powered water pumps, the cost of which is subsidised by the sale of carbon credits, to small-scale farmers, allowing them to replace diesel-powered pumps in some cases and boost yields in fields that weren’t previously irrigated.

SunCulture operates in Kenya, Uganda and Ivory Coast and has distribution agreements in Ethiopia, Zambia and Togo.

“SunCulture helps farmers grow more food, which is exactly the kind of business that prospers,” Hastings was quoted as saying, according to the irrigation company.

The startup estimates that, of the 700 million Africans living on small-holder farms, only 4% have access to irrigation, meaning that they have significantly lower yields and are vulnerable to dry weather.

The company has sold 47,000 units, powered by solar panels that can be mounted on small buildings or shacks and in some cases batteries. They use as little as 310 watts of power, equivalent to that needed for about five standard size incandescent light bulbs.

“We’re the largest small-holder solar irrigation company in Africa. We use financial services and carbon revenues to make the cost of solar irrigation 50 per cent cheaper than diesel and petrol pumps,” said Samir Ibrahim, SunCulture’s chief executive officer. “Irrigation is just like old very unsexy technology but it could increase your yields by up to five times.”

The Series B funding round brings to US$65 million the company has raised to date and goes some way toward its aim of raising US$219 million to install 274,000 of its systems in Kenya alone. That funding would come from equity, debt, grants and carbon financing, according to SunCulture.

Ibrahim added that the company also plans to expand across the continent with pilots currently being run in a number of countries. It’s also seeking to branch into facilitating the provision of other farming services such as soil tests and insurance.

Investors in earlier funding rounds included EDF International SAS, DPI Energy Ventures, Equator Africa Fund and Energy Access Ventures Fund.


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