Thursday, February 27, 2014

Here's to financing Kenyan farmers!

Four fourth-year University of Nairobi students pursuing Computer Science have embarked on linking farmers with financiers.
While there has been a vigorous campaign in the last two decades to get Kenyan youths back to the farms, the quartet has taken a more unconventional approach on the matter.
James Kimani, Caroline Muteti, Rita Kimani and Peris Nyaboe have created an online solution that not only profiles farmers and the type of farming they do but also allows them to connect with youths and group investors.
Their platform, Farmdrive, helps to connect individuals interested in farming — and who while finding agriculture profitable have no time for the venture — with farmers looking for money to expand their activities.
“It all started with a regional competition which placed a call through the different technology hubs in the region for agricultural startups that could address the challenge of lack of information which most farmers face, or come up with ways to boost their access (to information) through use of technology,” said Ms Kimani.
The challenge
The classmates got interested in the challenge when the Computing for Development (C4D) lab housed at the university urged students pursuing technology courses to take part in the competition.
During a brainstorming session, the four noted that there were several tools created to enhance information sharing and communication between farmers and extension workers and chose to focus on ways of making it easier for farmers to get finances.
“We all study computer science but we have our specialities which we are using to create synergy. What we are trying to do is revolutionise how farmers get access to financial services in the country,” said Mr Kimani.
Farmers can to feed their revenue and expense information in the Farmdrive application and be able to get a graphical representation of whether or not their agricultural venture has good returns or is a money drain.
“As they continue to do so they are able to build their farm profile within the system and we can analyse how their farming is doing, creating a portfolio of creditworthiness for potential investors,” he said.
Their research on information and finance access by farmers was carried out in Kikuyu, Thika and Kiambu.
The four members of Farmdrive who are keen on linking  farmers to individual financiers

“Most of the farmers we talked to hardly kept records on how much they were investing in their farms and did not track productivity. Farmers who had some form of recording systems said that accessing money from banks and microfinance institutions was too bureaucratic,” Ms Nyaboe said.
“At the same time,” Ms Kimani added, “We had also done research on individuals who were passionate about farming and who had funds to invest in farming but either did not have land or time to do it.”
Although loans are awarded to individual farmers, they are expected to form small groups of five on the platform in order to act as a verification tool and reduce defaulting.
This innovative idea saw them through to the recent Agrihackathon championship in Kigali. While Farmdrive did not make it to the top three innovations, the four were able to network and pitch their ideas to an array of venture capitalists and investors some of who are seeking to invest in their platform.
“The simple bookkeeping application that we had conceived six months ago is not what it is right now. It has undergone several coding and other verification systems to make it simpler and user friendly to farmers. We keep on improving the application,” said Ms Kimani.
Unlike other solutions available in the market which are either Android-based, Farmdrive is built on a Responsive Web Design (RWD) aimed at crafting websites to provide an optimal viewing experience.
This means that farmers interested in using Farmdrive are not restricted to a mobile phone with a particular operating system.
As long as their phone has an internet connection they can access the website whose content adjusts to the screen of connecting device.
While farmers are not charged to use the platform, Farmdrive provides an annual membership fee to investors interested in agriculture. This allows them to access information about farmers on the platform and provides a system through which they can contact them.
“We have checks and balances which ensure that investors are legitimate so that we do not expose farmers to criminals,” said Mr Kimani.
The team has been running a pilot that involves 20 farmers in Kiambu County.
While they have been receiving positive feedback from the users, they are looking to validate their business model before releasing the application to the market by end of the first quarter.
“Agribusiness is a profitable venture and also expansive in nature, for now we are focusing on connecting dairy and poultry farmers to individual investors. In the long run we hope to expand nationwide and to include more farmers, allowing an individual in Nairobi to invest in a maize farm in Trans Nzoia County,” said Ms Kimani.
Mr Kimani said that he was comfortable working with the three female students, who he described as innovative and considerate in the management of the startup.
He said that most of the business decisions are consensual.
“Since we are techies and not quite privy to agribusiness, we have sought experts in agriculture and business to be our mentors and help in validating our business models. If we cannot agree among ourselves about a decision to take ,we seek the opinion of the experts,” Ms Nyaboe said.

1 comment:

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