Naspers Foundry, Naspers’s start-up fund, on Wednesday announced a R100 million investment in agritech business Aerobotics due to its “world-class technology solution” in food security. Aerobotics is a subscription-based artificial intelligence (AI) company that provides intelligent tools for the agricultural industry to manage its crops.

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, the chief executive of Naspers’s South Africas unit, said: “Food security is of paramount importance in South Africa, and the Aerobotics platform provides a positive contribution towards helping to sustain it. This importance has been highlighted further in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with agriculture considered globally as critical infrastructure.” Naspers said the investment was pending approval by local authorities.

Aerobotics, founded by James Paterson and Benji Meltzer in 2014, is a leader in the application of artificial intelligence in agriculture.

The insights Aerobotics provides to its clients include tree counts, the identification of missing trees, and the size and health of trees. The company has progressed its technology to engineer fruit counts, and to provide data on fruit size and colour. Farmers use the intelligence to manage their farms, trees and fruit more efficiently. Aerobotics delivers the insights through their proprietary Aeroview platform and Aeroview InField mobile app.

Mahanyele-Dabengwa said the young, all South African team, had produced a world-class technology solution in South Africa and also successfully entered the US market where they were gaining momentum. “This type of tech innovation addresses societal challenges, and is exactly the type of early-stage company that Naspers Foundry looks to back, ” she said.

Naspers Foundry, launched at the end of 2018, is a R1.4 billion initiative aimed at strengthening the South African technology sector by providing funding to talented and ambitious technology founders and entrepreneurs.

James Paterson, Aerobotic, the co-founder and chief executive of Aerobotics said: “The intersection of agriculture and technology has always been my passion and it has been incredible to work with a talented team, and leading agricultural groups, to contribute towards the future of agriculture. We are proud to be building quality technology in South Africa and delivering it to customers around the world.”

Paterson said Aeroboticis had seen great support from commercial-scale farmers and, more recently, crop insurance companies in the US who required accurate tree-level information about their clients.

“We are excited to have Naspers as a partner, bringing proven skills in building global technology companies together
with the capital required to continue building for, and with, the agricultural industry,” Paterson said. –