How this company is turning Nigerian Farmers into millionaires
Farmers in Africa grow what they are accustomed to; their production isn’t driven by market demand. This creates a situation where farmers produce one variety of crops, but processors require another. So, say a starch company requires TME 419 type of cassava for production, but based on fads everywhere, the farmers have grown Vitamin A fortified maize, which has very low starch content and not suitable for the starch processor. This creates a glut of commodities while the right ones for these processors are lacking. So, farmers find it difficult to get access to high value markets and the result is post-harvest losses of up to 60% in Nigeria, according to the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), depending on the value chain in consideration. For processors, it becomes very difficult to source high quality produce hassle free.
Kitovu Technology (KT) uses actionable market demand data to enable farmers grow what processors need, with greater productivity that ensures increased yields for the farmers, while providing market access to them. This is also a boost to processors as well, creating a situation where everybody wins.
Kitovu Technology is a hub that builds agtech solutions, using emerging technology that increase agricultural productivity. At present, KT has built a mobile based input and produce warehousing system that collects, analyzes and aggregates soil and geo-location data, used as a basis to match the right soils to the right soil and crop specific fertilizers, improved seedlings and agrochemicals, while connecting farm produce to offtakers.
Founded by Emeka Nwachinemere, Kitovu was created after over three years of research that followed a frustrating experience running his farm during his National Youth Service in 2013. After putting back-breaking energy into cultivating five hectares of maize with not so good a yield, he still found it very difficult to find commodity buyers who offered fair prizes. It was one experience that awakened him to the realities of agriculture in Nigeria. Nwachinemere felt that that is one reason for a cycle of poverty among Nigeria’s over 64 million smallholder farmer practitioners.
Kitovu runs a microenterprise model. Basically, young people, called Kitopreneurs, are trained as extension and advisory personnel, and they interphase directly with smallholder farmers, providing them with free extension and advisory services. The Kitopreneurs serve as last mile distributors of inputs like soil and crop specific fertilizers, improved seedlings, and agrochemicals, which the farmers pay for. At the same time, they aggregate farm produce for offtake by processors and commodity exporters, who pay for the opportunity for guaranteed supply of traceable produce hassle free. They also provide farmers with a microcredit scheme and an input-produce swap deal, which enables them to acquire inputs from Kitovu on credit and pay with their produce on harvest. Kitopreneurs make money both for delivering inputs and aggregating produce.
Speaking with Outrepreneurs, Emeka said that Kitovu presents a lot of value to the agricultural sector, but there are challenges impeding the growth of several ventures in a quest to make the agricultural sector increase its contribution to the nation’s GDP. One of such challenges is post-harvest infrastructure. “Agricultural demonstration parks and industrial processing facilities must be built and managed through public private partnership arrangements. This would help us ensure that our products are stored in conducive environments and graded to meet international standards, which in turn would drive the demand for agricultural commodities of Nigerian origin. A lot should also be invested in research and development, but not for outcomes where the results are stacked away on some shelves of research institutions. They should be translated and implemented for the benefit of all ecosystem stakeholders. The Bank of Agriculture needs to live up to its responsibilities and be able to provide farmers with financial credits when they need it, to drive improved productivity. On policy front, Nigeria has birthed several wonderful policies from Green Revolution, Operation Feed the Nation, Agricultural Transformation Agenda, and at present, the agricultural component of the Economic Recovery Growth Plan, which aims at increasing agricultural growth from 4.1% to 8.3% by December 2020, but we have been lacking in full execution and consistency. There lies our huge challenge; one that must be addressed if we are to make headway,” according to Nwachinemere.
He talked about challenges peculiar to running Kitovu. “When we set out to build a solution, our first thought was to build something at par with what was obtainable in the rest of the world. So we researched, and came up with a solution. But when we took a second look at those we were building the solution for, we realized there wasn’t product market fit. We had to build something that would work in an environment with limited connectivity, very low literacy and income levels among farmers. The low income levels meant the farmers couldn’t even pay for soil tests. But we figured it out after several pilots. Again, it’s not that easy to change people’s behavior, and that has been the case with farmers. We had to organize farmers meet-ups and run demonstration farms in partnership with the International Fertilizer Development Center. By achieving yield increase from 1.3 tons of maize, which is the national yield average, to 4.2 tons per hectare, we were able to show farmers the benefits of working with us, not just telling them what works. This helped them buy in.
“There is also the challenge of having to bootstrap your solution, which means there is a limit to the number of farmers you can serve. But we have focused on growing organically, one locality at a time, till such a time we raise enough funding to fuel our scaling plan.” He said.
Besides being part of the Royal Academy of Engineering Innovation Prize 2018 Shortlist, Kitovu is currently part of the German Government sponsored GIZ/CC Hub managed MAKE-IT Accelerator and are hopeful that this accelerator program would open opportunities for funding, as well as be an avenue to form useful partnerships that enable them scale considerably. They were winners of Total Startupper Award for Innovation in 2016 of $10,000 in grant funding, which enabled them fine-tune their solution. They are open to opportunities for collaborations, partnerships and funding.
Emeka projects a bright future for agriculture in Nigeria and is passionate about the realization of this future. “There is growing interest among young people for agriculture. And a whole lot of technology savvy young Nigerians are building solutions for the different challenges that face Nigerian farmers. In the next ten years, lots of new agtech companies that apply emerging technology would drive a new narrative for a Nigeria where agricultural productivity is at par with the rest of the world. Block chain technology would be leveraged to drive agricultural financing and produce traceability. Embedded and sensory technology would usher in the era of precision farming where smart tractors plough assigned locations and enable drip irrigation networks to drop required crop nutrients on a just in time basis, fueling productivity.
“Farms would be monitored using drones; virtual reality would fuel the rise of agro-tourism, while artificial intelligence would find answers to complex problems facing farmers in real time. It would be a Nigeria that has fully taken her place in Sub-Saharan Africa, leading her into becoming the hub that feeds the world. When that happens, the whole world would come to Africa. But unlike before, it would be for trade, not for aid,” said he.
Chiamaka Akuba47 Posts
Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry. She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic'. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.