Very recently, in the African continent, AgriTech start-ups have been placed under the spotlight. This isn’t unconnected to the realization that technology can play a highly central role in improving and achieving food security in our continent.
Emeka Nwachinemere, who founded and heads and AgriTech company, Kitovu was our guest on chat some days back. Kitovu is a mobile based inputs/produce supply system that uses soil and geolocation data to match soils to the right soil and crop specific fertilizers and improved seedlings, while connecting farm produce to offtakers, to increase crop yields while reducing post harvest losses.
Emeka does not think we are just facing an unprecedented increase in AgroTech start-ups in Africa. In fact, he thinks it is something more and the way we are doing business in the continent is evolving.
In his own words, “I wouldnt just categorize it as a surge in the number of Agro-Tech Startups in Africa; I would rather point you to the rise of a new kind of business and business men; the social enterprise and the social entrepreneur. CSR as we know it is dead; it is no longer enough to make tons of money and then try to give back to society.”
“We are in a new era; one where the entire business is built around solving problems that faces society, which is the core foundation of social enterprise. Africa’s agricultural space is attractive to a lot of social entrepreneurs because it has a lot of behemoth like problems facing it; from post harvest losses to sub-optimal yields. Some of these problems can be solved effectively by leveraging emerging technology. That, I believe is the dominant reason why there is a rise in agro-tech startups; but as I mentioned its not limited to agriculture; Africa is witnessing the birth of a new kind of businessmen, and they are entrepreneurs who believe that we can transform Africa by solving problems profitably. I call them Africapitalists.”
Agreeing with the fact that a lot of smallholder farmers, which Kitovu addresses, are not usually tech savvy, Emeka and his team have devised a perfect way to bring these farmers on board. Giving an answer to our enquiry, he said,
“Thats a question I have heard a lot, and it was the same set of questions we kept asking ourselves till we pivoted to a business model that works. The majority of farmers falls into the category smallholder farmers and not only are they not literate; they are often located in distant pocket locations where internet connectivity is a huge problem.
“To bring them on board, we train young people in every location we onboard farmers and they serve as last mile interphase with the farmers, who most times have at least a feature phone they can be reached through. This solves that problem for us.”
Read the rest of the interview below:
Since the launch of Kitovu, how well have you grown? How many farmers have you impacted?
Kitovu was legally incorporated in July 2016, but we didnt begin actual operations in March 2017. In the span of that time, we have carried out pilots of our project in three states of Nigeria; Bauchi, Niger, and Oyo States. We set up a demonstration farm in collaboration with the International Fertilizer Development Center, where we were able to achieve over 200% increase in yields; going from a National yield average of 1.3 tons per hectare for maize, to 4.2 tons per hectare. We were able to reach over 3000 farmers as well.
Tell us in clear terms how you “reduce post-harvest losses and wastages”.
Our platform leverages on soil and geo-location data to not just reduce post harvest losses, but also increase crop yields. First, we are able to match the right soils to the right soil and crop specific fertilizers, improved seedlings and agro-chemicals. This guarantees soil-crop-inputs fit and increases crop yields because not only are the crops receiving the nutrients they need, but we also ensure that only what is best for an area is grown.
Secondly, with the geo-location of farms captured, we are able to create market access for farmers by connecting their produce to offtakers like processors and commodity exporters who partner with us. This way, produce in remote locations have more visibility and less likelihood of getting wasted due to no one knowing such areas exist, and ultimately, market access for farmers translates to reduced post harvest losses.
In your own view, what is the greatest challenge of the African AgroTech sector?
The average age of farmers in Nigeria is 64 years. And they have at least been in the agricultural sector no less than 15 years. Thats 15 years of doing things one way, even if it hasn’t been optimal. As such, it would take a lot of time and sensitization through demonstrations and engagements to get them to make the switch. Time is money.
Unfortunately, the AgroTech Entrepreneur has neither time nor money because patient capital is almost non-existent, and its only a matter of time before he runs out of money. The second challenge is not limited to the agricultural sector but to business generally; the paucity of data necessary for effective decision making.
Tell us about your business model.
We collect, analyze, and aggregate soil and geo-location data, working with micro-entrepreneurs we train. We call them Kitopreneurs. Kitopreneurs interphase with farmers providing extension and advisory, while aggregating farmers produce. We sell inputs like soil and crop specific fertilizers, improved seedlings and agrochemicals to farmers, and commodities to partnering offtakers. We also offer an inputs-produce swap service to farmers who do not have money to buy inputs; they pay us with produce.
How have Kitovu been funded since launch? Bootstrapped, or you have investments?
Kitovu has largely been bootstrapped. However, we were helped along the way by a 10,000 Dollar grant from Total as part of our Total Startupper Awards 2016.
There are some other start-ups that are leveraging technology to operate in the Agricultural sector. Do you think all of you put together have even scratched the surface of attaining food security in the continent?
I think the situation is very grave because despite having the larger proportion of arable lands in the world, Sub-Saharan Africa contributes the least to global food production. So, considering the huge task ahead, I think we have not done anything meaningful at the moment, and we must keep working because the goal to transform Africa into the hub that feeds the world isnt one that is achievable by one man, nevertheless it is achievable, and we would achieve in this generation.
Share with us your long and short term goals as a startup.
In the short term, which for us is the next 12 months, we plan to reach about 200,000 smallholder farmers in six states of Nigeria as well as train and empower 250 Kitopreneurs. By 2028, our vision is to be the name brand in Sub-Saharan Africa for inputs and produce such that, if you require high quality inputs or produce, you would have to Kitovu it!
Tell us about your team, or is it just you at the helm?
The Kitovu Team comprises of young people who are passionate about transforming African agriculture into the hub that feeds the hub by leveraging emerging technology with skills that span extension, web and mobile development, business development, financial intelligence, and strategy. They Include Nwachinemere Emeka, Chief Innovation Officer, Adegbola Adedotun, the Head of Operations, Akam Divine-Love, the CFO, Nduka Miracle, the Head Business Development, and William Udousoro, the CTO. They are the best team in the world.
In two words, what has kept you going since the very beginning?
Purpose and Passion!