Have you heard of Aquaponics? No? Well, it involves using the same resources to farm plants and fishes too. AgTech startup, Save our Agriculture , based in Cameroon is taking full advantage of this model to feed both Cameroon and Senegal, and in subsequent times, Nigeria.
TechMoran chats with a co-founder and CEO, Flavien KOUATCHA where a whole lot about the startup was shared. Right from the previous experience in Agriculture, to why they chose Aquaponics, their business model and also how they first raised funds for the startup.
Have you had any experience in Agriculture prior to launching “Save our Agriculture”?
I was born in an agricultural family. I’m from the 4th generation of farmers in my family but the only one to be involved in agriculture among my brothers and sisters. So, I have an experience in agric since my birth. In the 90s, my parents owned a poultry and rabbit farm where we were all invited to participate on a daily basis.
Why the special bias towards Aquaponics?
Based on my first experiences in agriculture and reinforced when in 2014, I resigned and decided to get back in this domain which is my passion, I realised that supply chain and transport are one the most expensive budget lines in farmers accounts.
As an engineer, I wanted to find an innovative way to help farmers to grow food directly on the sales point to avoid these logistics problems. At this moment, I needed to implement not only something new but also useful. Urban agriculture all over the world is facing an issue of space availability. With aquaponics, we first use only 10% of the water consumed in traditional agriculture. Then, we obtain a much more important production than with the other processes.
In your own view, what is the greatest challenge of the agricultural sector in Africa?
It’s difficult to proritise the two I always have in mind. First, african agriculture stakeholders should regularly be trained to adapt their techniques to the world movements. We have an outdated and tired worforce, that’s why I’m always calling available youth to get involved and use our digital aptitudes to improve yields. Then, we need more roads. Without appropriate logistics infrastructures, a country will never pretend to develop its agricultural sector.
Tell us about your competitors, if any. How have you been able to deal?
As a particularity, we do not only sell vegetables, we also sell fishes that are raised in our aquaponics units. So adopting a products classification, other companies involved in primary agriculture are generally in 2 parts but they have the same characteristics. They generally do not take care of the quality of their products.
Focused on turnover and quantities, they most often use too much chemicals to return on investment rapidly. Nevertheless, we aren’t taking them as competitors since we are developing a solution that can help them to improve the way they produce food. We want to be considered as an AgTech company which works as a support for traditional agric stakeholders.
How is Save our Agriculture funded?
At the moment we were lauching the company, I had been working for three years at high positions in multinational companies in the central african area. So, I used to sell my car and a land I had acquired. With my collaborator’s savings, we raised a global sum of $4.500 and we made a lovefunding operation that helped us to have an additional $2.500. Honestly, this couldn’t allow us to be paid from the first months but only from March 2016 when our first product got into the market.
Today, Save Our Agriculture is funded by the day-to-day activity.
Tell us about the team behind Save our Agriculture.
The company began the research and development process earlier in 2014. At this moment, we only had 3 collaborators : my mother, my cofounder Leslie and I. We were joined 2 months later by Romuald, our head of sales and progressively by our many other collaborators. We officially registered the company on October 2015 and launched our first product in the market on March 2016. What make our team exceptional is our common passion for agriculture, our common will to be involved in a domain that can deliver better than what it’s actually doing, and the strength we can have together when it comes to help millions people to have a better life. Our profiles are diversified, I’m an aquaponics expert with a 4-year practise.
My cofounder is a finacial specialist. Our business development manager Hélène is 61 and has more than 40 years in the conventional agricultural fields. Everyone is particular at Save Our Agriculture and together, we are raising a stronger voice to change millions lives.
Let us in on your business model too.
We make money by charging our customers either on purchasing the aquaponics units or for our final products (fishes or vegetables : in one year, we respectively produce 2 tonnes of fishes and 5 tonnes of vegetables in a 150 m² urban greenhouse). During our first year in the market, we made around $24.000 and we are expecting more that $115.000 for the current year. Above all, we are planning to be profitable later on 2018 and have bright ambitions for the future.
How do you feel pitching your startup at the Seedstars Douala event ?
In 2016, our first Head of sales Romuald passed away in a train accident while coming back from our customers living in Yaounde, he was 23 at this time and was the 4th worker that had agreed to dedicate his time and energy to Save Our Agriculture only for passion.
Neither for money, nor recognition, but only the proud to build something amazing and useful to a community. Seedstars Douala is the place to be for us this year. 11 start-ups will pitch during the Seedstars Douala event, but I’m in trust that we are one of the best teams in the world.
We have a long-lasting plan for our business, we have the right human resources, strategies and mentors. We are talking about what we plan to do, but also what we already did until now. It’s not only about business, we are creating a story for us, for our existing customers.
We have an exciting traction and bright ambitions. So finally, we are not only bringing an astonishing story to amaze people, we’re writing it with them. We are going to change your life. May the best start-up win!
How big is the current market share the startup controls?
Moving on from the inventory made by one of our local partners, we consider that we are actually providing primary food to 8% of our first target which is restaurants and hotels in Douala. But the whole organic food market in Central Africa is worth $3+ Billions. Making it to the next step of Seedstars is certainly the opportunity to get closer to this large market.
Share with us your long and short term goals as a startup.
We are currently operating in Cameroon and Senegal. In the next 3 years, we are also planning to enter the Nigerian market. Before this step, we want to diversify our activities on the food supply chain. We recently opened our first organic restaurant in Douala. Our team is planning a first open training session in October to create 50 new aquaponics farmers and bargain the food process in Cameroon.
Do you think Africa has scratched even the surface of Agriculture? Why?
Humbly, I think no. Because I do not see Africa as a continent that has to be autonomous. But as the granary of the world in the true sense of the word.
Africa has all the prerogatives that would enable it to effectively support other nations in terms of food. It’s at the moment that we have reached this point that we can be proud of our work. For now, we need to set priorities and take action to solve existing problems