Technology farming opens up global markets to over 3,000 Kenya smallholder farmers

Technology farming opens up global markets to over 3,000 Kenya smallholder farmers

Bob Koigi

As farming moves to phones and computers, Kenyan farmers are taking advantage of the impressive internet connectivity to gain new markets and expand their produce portfolio. The burgeoning demand for frontier crops is also opening up small holder farmers to new farming ventures.

One Kenyan startup is now pointing more than 3,000 farmers in the country to 17 markets across the world, through as it seeks to remedy the numerous problems. This has also reduced post-harvest losses while connecting buyers to ready produce that meets international standards.

The model, spearheaded by fresh produce startup Selina Wamucii, has courted mobile phones and the internet to pool together 3,156 farmers cumulatively growing 48 produce types ranging from fruits like avocados and mangos, vegetables like snow peas, herbs like basil and chives on 9,152 acres. This, in just two years since the company was formed, positioning itself to become the single largest provider of fresh produce in Africa, without owning a single farm.

And with majority of the small growers cultivating an average 2.9 acres of land, Selina Wamucii’s focus is geared towards choice of high value crops that would deliver high farm gate prices and ensuring farmers in close proximity plant the same crops for ease of aggregation and service delivery.

The model is timely, coming at a time when numerous studies have found that dismal farm gate prices, poor quality of produce that don’t meet international standards and post-harvest losses that now account for 50 per cent of produce from the farm, are responsible for locking smallholder farmers from access to key markets.

Deciding what farmers under the Selina Wamucii model will plant and when it is harvested is based on real time data and guided by market forces.

To become part of the network, farmers across Kenya sign up for a Selina Account either on the Selina web-based platform dubbed Growersoft or on mobile phone via USSD.

The system captures information relating to the geographical locations of smallholder farmers, what they are producing, the various stages of progress throughout the season, harvest timelines and projections and actual volumes at harvest.

This information makes it easy to estimate expected volumes in a year for different produce, which then enables buyers around the world to plan in advance. This means that a smallholder, has the market secured by the time they harvest.

It also streamlines the sourcing process, making it faster and less expensive with digitalized traceability. Buyers on the other hand specify what they want and are guaranteed consistent quality, fair price and volumes.

 

Selina Wamucii works with locally trained agents referred to as Produce Agents who guide farmers on good agricultural practices covering growing, harvesting, grading, collection and the eventual transportation of the produce to designated zonal warehouses. The produce agents run fully-fledged businesses that guarantee profitable returns while offering an important service in the value chain.

 

“Our tech based model now heralds a new era of farming where our farmers will be able to practice smart farming. This is a refreshing departure from the ‘guesswork farming’ that has troubled millions of smallholder farmers here in Kenya and across the African continent. We’ll utilize the mobile phone, big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to transform Africa’s smallholder farming into a profitable business for all farmers in our system”, says John Oroko the Co-Founder of Selina Wamucii and the company’s Chief Operating Officer.

Gathering market data has also assisted the company understand market dynamics allowing it to make reliable projections and avoiding uncertaininities along the entire chain that would affect the farmer earnings.

“ For example, we noticed that our Hass avocados, which are very popular in the European market gain roughly 60 grams or so every week while on the tree after onset of the season and a delay in harvesting by 3 weeks leads to a larger fruit that better meets market requirements, since it is slightly bigger with a higher percentage oil content, and enters the market when the avocado season in Spain’s province of Malaga has just ended, leading to a very good market reception”,  says Mr. Samuel Wanyoike, the company’s head of production.

With Africa looking up to its smallholder farmers who manage up to 80 per cent of its farmland to feed a burgeoning population estimated to reach 2 billion by 2030 even as the rest of the world look to the continent for food supplies, Selina Wamucii is looking at tapping into this demand by leveraging on the projected number of Africans working in agriculture, which is estimated to exceed 580 million, according to World Bank, and combine that with the ubiquitous power of technology to spur food production.

“How technology is used to efficiently intergrate Africa’s land resource and labor force into global food supply is the next frontier in matters food. We have embraced technology to ensure that we keep the chain efficient and pass the benefits of an efficient chain to both the farmers and fresh produce buyers,” said Kariuki Gaita, the CEO of Selina Wamucii.

The company now has its eyes trained on duplicating the model across the rest of African countries with a target of getting one million acres under its scheme. The start-up’s mobile technology makes it possible for the  smallholder family farms to work in harmony, just like one huge farm.

“We have a very smart and dedicated team of young people working at Selina Wamucii, all born and brought up here. The team is working hard to see that Selina becomes the single largest provider of fresh produce in Africa – without owning a single farm,” Mr. Oroko added.

 

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