Startups make up some of the most innovative companies the world has ever known. Some of them more innovative than others. Kitovu is one of such startups as it is right on the edge tackling a very infamous issue: Africa’s agro problems.
Agriculture in Africa is a big industry; it employs more than 50% of the continent’s workforce and represents 15% of Africa’s GDP or $100bn annually. In Nigeria, agriculture accounts for 21.21% of the country’s GDP. Yet, it is bedeviled with challenges. As a matter of fact, agriculture is grossly underdeveloped in Nigeria and across Africa.
In low-income countries, #agriculture can generate new #employment opportunities, especially where strong backward & forward linkages are created btn primary production and non-#farm activities and btn #rural areas and small cities and towns. #UNFAO #ZeroHunger @FAOWestAfrica pic.twitter.com/ho7hNv3BdJ
— FAO in Africa (@FAOAfrica) March 13, 2018
What Exactly are these Agro Problems?
The challenges of agriculture in Africa have been widely talked about. In fact, there are a host of books covering these issues from different angles. But there are a few major problems that stand out.
Firstly, farmlands in Africa are highly fragmented. This makes it harder for farming to become mechanized and severely affects crop yields.
Secondly, agriculture requires high level extension services that support farmers with knowledge on global best practices. These services are to help in providing solid post-harvest support such as storage facilities and market access.
Thirdly, the absence of sustainable and supportive Government agro policies continues to make agriculture tough in Africa.
Thee problems are clear indications that agriculture in Africa remains under-invested and under-developed.
Kitovu to the Rescue
Kitovu is one company that appears prepared to disrupt the Nigerian and African agriculture industry. Founded in 2015 by a young entrepreneur, Nwachinemere Emeka, Kitovu has devised innovative ways to address the issues in Nigeria’s agro industry. It is quite laudable when you get the full picture.
The startup is tackling three important issues: poor crop yields, post harvest wastage, and market access for farm produce. Although it appears quite similar to what FarmCrowdy does, Kitovu has a somewhat unique approach.
So here’s how it works. Kitovu developed a unique geo-location technology that matches crops with the right soil types. In the developed world, such soil tests is pretty basic procedure. However, “the sad reality is that at present, agriculture practiced by most smallholder farmers in Nigeria is survivalists in nature. Most of them, though they would love to, cannot afford soil tests,”
Kitovu’s soil tests are an affordable alternative for farmers and helps to considerably boost their crop yields.
Our repository of market demand data also enables us tell farmers what to grow, the right variety and specifications to guarantee offtake of commodities they produce at fair prices. That's how we help farmers make more money; produce more from less land and sell all they produce.
— Kitovu Technology Company (@KitovuT) May 16, 2018
The company also has a mechanism to address issues of post harvest losses and market access. The startup developed a service called eProcure, that connects farmers directly to buyers for their farm produce. eProcure is like an inventory management system, with an algorithm “that guarantees delivery of high quality produce when and where you need it.”
This removes the “unnecessary chains of middlemen who hoard and inflate the prices of inputs,” Emeka said.
Kitovu is Still a Work in Progress
The startup is still in its early stages and its platform is still being developed. Yet, it has successfully conducted pilot tests with support from the International Fertilizer Developement Centre in three states in Nigeria: Bauchi, Oyo and Niger states.
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These tests took Kitovu’s innovations to about 3,000 farmers, and has opened the doors to further growth possibilities into Africa’s $100 billion agro-sector.
Kitovu is now looking to expand across Nigeria and Africa over the coming years. Its aim is to reach as many as 200,000 farmers over the next few years.
It’s not all charity; Kitovu is also in this for the money. It makes profit from selling inputs to farmers and by producing aggregation for processors and export off-takers.
When we started @KitovuT, we identified farmers who genuinely would not be able to afford inputs. So we created FarmSwap; an input credit scheme that ensures that farmers can get high quality inputs from us on credit and pay us with their produce. But we had to put in controls.
— Nwachinemere Emeka (@heirmexxy) May 18, 2018
According to the CEO, there are challenges in these areas.
“Because we have to pay for farmers produce, prior to supplying offtakers who sometimes have very long cash cycles, as well as the need for us to pay upfront for soil and crop specific fertilizer blends, we need to have a lot of funds to meet those financial obligations,” Emeka said.
To offset these challenges, Kitovu is aiming to raise funds to cover its operations. However, the startup is already getting mentorship from oil industry giant, Total. This came by virtue of being on third place at the 2017 Total Startupper Of The Year Challenge.
It may be be tough going into the agro industry with little or no government support, but Kitovu looks all setup. Its disruption of the agro-sector would go a long way in helping to develop that industry.
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