Wednesday, May 12, 2021

AgriBORA: making Africa’s smallholders “visible, accessible, and bankable”

In the next 30 years, the African population is expected to double in size. This will bring the total number of inhabitants to around 2.4 billion people. To ensure food security, Africa’s domestic farmers need to become more productive, more cohesive, and better able to connect with global markets.

“The challenge in the African market, and the Kenyan market specifically, is that smallholder farmers are very fragmented,” says Kizito Odhiambo, CEO & co-founder of agriBORA.

Kenyan farmers are scattered all over the country, holding only small plots of land. They also suffer from connectivity constraints. These problems make it difficult for service providers, such as banks, insurance companies, and input providers, to work with them.

This is precisely the problem that German start-up agriBORA has positioned itself to solve.

“We at agriBORA are making smallholder farmers visible, accessible, and bankable,” Kizito explains — “We are looking at state-of-the-art technology and how we can mould that onto the world of smallholder farmers.”

AgriBORA provides farm monitoring solutions with real-time data insights and digital tools. The aim is to de-risk the smallholder agricultural ecosystem by addressing the issues that limit the productivity and profitability of farmers.

Listening to smallholders

To do this, agriBORA uses mobile engagement, communicating with farmers through two-way SMS and USSD services. This allows farmers to use their mobile phone keypads to complete multiple-choice surveys.

The company clusters its farmers by location and builds profiles on each of them: details such as their name, where they are, what they are planting — building a picture of the smallholder community.

These insights are collated and combined with the latest satellite image technology, IoT based farm mapping, weather prediction, crop monitoring, and analytics. This knowledge is then used to offer advice to farmers and to equip the agriBORA digital platform, where all actors in the agricultural supply chain meet.

Above all, Kizito’s aim is to ensure that smallholder farmers have a decent life and that their prospects are sustainable.

My vision is to make sure that Africa can feed itself — hopefully in my generation,” he explains.

Kizito Odhiambo

A single consolidated digital platform

For agriBORA’s subscribers, the benefits of the platform are simple. It helps them to produce more, stay alert to risky events and weather, and ultimately generate greater profits.

Farmers have access to agronomic advice derived from the best digital technologies available. They are also able to connect with the global market of service providers on a consolidated digital marketplace. There, farmers can buy input products, sell their own outputs, and even access financial services.

Digital payments are facilitated by the platform. This is how agriBORA generates its revenue, taking a 2% commission from all supported transactions.

From a business perspective, the aim is to be the preferred platform through which smallholder farmers engage with agribusinesses.

Generating confidence

Unlike China, Russia, and Turkey — Europe is a little slow in going into the African market.

AgriBORA aims to offer European businesses the ground truth, allowing them to bring their product onto its platform as a partner. This gives companies the confidence to access the East-African market, with agriBORA’s data and analytics painting a clear picture of relevant risks, as well as offering digital services, like AI-based crop yield predictions.

The income of smallholders can be unstable, coming and going with the growth and sale of crops. One crucial offering that agriBORA brings is farm data-based risk scoring: farmers can be assessed on criteria beyond the contents of their bank account alone.

Details about their previous years’ crops, the condition in their region, their typical yields — these factors and many more are collected and can be used when seeking financial services. Better data allows for better decision-making, opening the door to banking, loans, insurance, and investment opportunities for farmers.

For service providers, agriBORA transforms the scattered smallholder community into a coherent, visible, and measurable network.

The road ahead

Kizito is from Kenya, having arrived in Germany 11 years ago to study IT and electrical engineering. Despite early interest in the automotive industry, he quickly realised that he needed to do more for people back home. For that reason, he side-stepped into agriculture, co-founding agriBORA in 2018 and setting up its headquarters in Darmstadt.

The company now has 30,000 Kenyan farmers signed on with its platform. An agreement has also been made with a client in Uganda who will use the platform as a SaaS product. Farmers there will be signing on soon, starting in the next few weeks.

Kizito hopes to have 1 million farmers in East-Africa subscribed within the next 3 years. This is an ambition he believes to be feasible, so long as the company attracts new partners and investors understand the opportunities present in Africa.

AgriBora is based at the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre in Darmstadt. The company received grant funding from the Copernicus Incubation Programme and has helped the European Commission in tracking the ongoing desert locust infestations in Africa.

Kizito and his team are currently finalising a seed round of investment for a mid-six-figure sum. The company will announce full details in the coming weeks.

Mark Swifthttps://europatter.com/
Mark Swift is a Scottish freelance journalist and writer based in Paris. His work covers business, technology, European politics, and EU policy. Before writing for 4i-mag, he was a journalist for Young Company Finance Scotland, covering investment in Scottish technology start-ups. Mark's portfolio can be found here: muckrack.com/mark-swift-1/portfolio

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