This is our story – a real-life experience – that inspired the Farmers Network App. Join me on this journey…
Aristotle once said: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.” Every entrepreneur needs courage, as it takes courage to pivot. Courage is the story of Farmers Network App. An app created to provide Agricultural entrepreneurship solutions to small holder farmers based on his real-time experience for ‘other farmers’ facing Similar circumstances.
When COVID-19 reared its ugly head in the early months of 2020, I had been visiting my rural homestead in the western part of Kenya. It was during this period that all local, regional and international borders were closed down for travel as part of WHO protocols to contain the pandemic, rendering many travellers like me stranded. My movement was crippled for eight months; however, I resolved that the situation would not dampen my spirit.
It was during this period of lock down that I conceived and implemented farming ideas that I had toyed with in the past, following in my fathers’ footsteps.
It began as an exciting and adventurous journey. However, I began to face the same challenges my late father and all small holder farmers across Africa encounter during their day-to-day experiences of working in their farms to increase incomes and food security.
I soon discovered that the map is not the territory.
At one point while speaking with marketing students from a local university at a talent pipeline development program, the lecturer overseeing the program cautiously told me about realities on the ground. He said in kiSwahili: “Kwa ground vitu ni different” – which could be translated as “Things are different on the ground”.
The hurdles I faced at the start of my Agripreneurship, motivated me to seek sustainable solutions that would address the disconnects in the entire supply and value chains. Armed with my global experience in the food and beverage sector, as well as electronics industries, I set out to bring the conceived solutions to life through a digital platform that supports producers on their journey from the farm to the table.
I realised that success or failure was determined by my ability to understand and being agile at localising solutions than being experienced in global best management practices that I had.
As a farmer I lived through the entire value chain, tackling the challenges – an opportunity with various levels of success. I explored how I could apply my skills and expertise – from working with global food and beverage companies and also two leading global technology companies – to develop a solution that would adequately address farmers’ pain points and improve their productivity.
Eight months in the life of a farmer is a long time. It’s long enough to experience a full season in the life of a farmer. I had a real taste of the farmer’s pain points. I experienced a dire need for funding; resources; labour force supply and capacity development; adequate and appropriate service providers; extension services; better procurement; infrastructure development like irrigation and cold chain management; logistics; value addition; marketing; weather; and sustainability.
My moment of enlightenment during the period that I was looking after cattle with my smart gadget (tablet) on my hands. I was enlightened with the solution that was all along on the palm of my hand. The solution was about leveraging digital technology to change farmers’s lives. This was the missing piece required to create the perfect day in the life of a farmer.
And so started the journey of creating a platform for farmers that would transform the small holder farming to sustainable Agripreneurship by providing simplicity, convenience of use, and SMART platform, to support farmers in focusing on what they do best: which is farming!
Based on my life at the farm, I was able to distil the day in the life of a farmer and crafted solutions for the common problems in farming.
Every day at sunset, the farmer would review his plans versus achievement. So I noted some of the critical success factors for an Agripreneur. I needed a proper farm management system. I needed a system to prepare good reports which would help me with decision making from enterprise management, sourcing, production, logistics, marketing, communication to many other services.
Management lessons came in the form of poor or inadequate reports. I had reporting gaps. Farmers find it difficult to make reports at the end of day when they are tired after a long working day. It is tedious when combined with production. This was the reason why I could not consistently update my reports adequately.
I needed a solution that would enable me display business dashboards for proactive management to improve the management of my business which would also include share of admin rights for remote management while I was off site.
I lacked proper records and reports for decision making. The reality of the message: “What you cannot measure, you cannot manage”, pushed me to persue developing the system to overcome this hurdle – updsting reports on the go!
Managing Operations was challenging. Land preparation was expensive. I sourced services from unreliable providers who provided poor quality of work leading me to rework it in some cases made farming expensive. I needed a system of selecting service providers from a verified authority or source. I needed to identify critical productivity measures to enable successful planning and selection of service providers.
Advisory services is a critical factor of success. I obtained the services from respectable authorities in Agribusiness. I needed to have affordable agricultural extension services available on demand. This was limited since the ratio of providers available were not adequate to serve all farmers.
How do I approach investment in farming? I asked myself several questions? What do I invest and what business model should I adopt? I was also asked this question once too many times from other would-be farmers. How was I to select seed variety? How to source farm inputs? Answering these questions right was critical for my success as a farmer. I needed a filter to make the right decision out of the numerous sources of advice I was exposed to. I had to build capability to make investment decision and effectively execute my plans.
Sourcing farm inputs was challenging. At one point I had to source uncommon farm inputs, from far. This required proper planning and good coordination of delivery. I recognised the need for a reliable link to service providers. An interactive communication platform for chatting with supplies to negotiate and close orders and delivery.
Knowing what was in the soil was the first step to sustainable farming. I learnt the importance of knowing the biological and chemistry of the farm by testing the condition of soil, water and nematodes. Are they right for farming? I needed to connect and collaborate with service providers including laboratories for testing.
Skilled and affordable labour force. I was challenged with getting skilled labour consistently at an affordable cost. I needed a labour market from where I could recruit labour from skilled labour force who have shared qualifications. This platform would enable me to negotiate and recruit desirable workers.
“Happy worker is a happy crop”
Motivated workers provide more value to farmers. To improve business rhythm, I realised motivation plays the key role in keeping the right pool of workers. Some of their immediate needs of the workers at the farm were access to shelter, kids’ play area because schools were closed due to COVID-19 and as such mothers had to bring their children to work. I put up a Banda. Workers also needed data for mobile phones. I learned to motivate my workers by providing free Wi-Fi . The workers would use the Wi-Fi at the end of the day to access the internet, download messages and engage on social media. I realised the importance of providing affordable data to small holder farmers and labourers in the development of the entire industry. I thought of providing farmers with affordable data while accessing the app for business.
I built capability for both farmers and workers access data bundle at no cost for them while resting on the shed during breaks. Children were also able to play using parents’ smart gadgets – this contributed to developing digital literacy.
Enterprise success depends on sound extension services. I needed a built-in end-to-end Agricultural Enterprise Support provider digital platform.
Tosh, my consultant on seeing the bounteous vegetables yield from the land exclaimed: “Bloti mafuta!” – this could be translated as “fat land”. He saw the fruits of the organic indigenous vegetable harvested from the farm by the woman vendors for resale in the local market. Post-harvest, what was to be the right “go to market strategy”? Right Channel? Right partner?
How to make more money by adding value to products was another topic? How to sell beyond farm gate? What was to be my margin growth strategy? Built-in Connection to value addition service providers. Built-in Connection to market Packaging, Branding and Quality assurance.
I learnt that marketing starts before cultivation and runs through the season. I had to focus on strategic channels and develop the right marketing communication tools and platforms. Built-in platform for marketing goods and services from the farm. And also goods and services from support providers.
I experienced the harsh effects of weather on his crop. Hailstorms and heavy down pours were common. Planning with reliable weather forecast for rain fed agriculture was very important. See how this onion nursery bed was destroyed by hailstorm and flooding. I needed a platform that could integrate weather forecasting, update and communication capability as a solution to farming.
Networking being an important support structure, I sponsored fish farming in the Lake Region Economic Bloc to leverage support available, resource mobilization and marketing of produce. I thought that this was a good strategy to build my enterprise.
I required a robust networking approach to Individual-to-individual interaction using chat and communities, also Individual to organizations using chat and Community message or social media.
What other revenue streams could I tap into as a farmer? How to leverage Business Development Opportunities – Eco / Agri & Cultural Tourism? Business opportunity sensing also came in the form of farm visits by people who were interested in Agriculture, Culture or ecotourism. This became a good revenue stream that had to be tapped into. I recognised the need to use social media to share awareness about the tourism potentials. Built Social Media Links for farmers to post to communities and to own social media accounts.
Partnerships and collaborations
Why do I need partners? To get support, resource mobilization and marketing. I developed the digital feature to enable farmers’ access to partners and Collaborators as farming Support providers to be available on the app.
Finally, after setting up, what next? How to manage the Enterprise off-site.
Many farmers work off site to raise investment capital which they deploy to build the farms in their rural homes or at a different location from where they are working. How do they successfully manage the farm while away? The smart farmer requires a system for management while off-site. And so the feature of sharing administrative rights was included in the App.
Versions of the App
There have been various versions of the Farmers Networks App. The original version was a Web-based App for collection of data and sharing information. More features were added with new User interface & User Experience (UI/UX), and the App was further developed into Web and mobile to be used on Android and IOS.
Farmers Networks App : Social media
For more information, please contact us on –
Mobile: +254722718511/+27647566059 Email: Info@FarmersNetworks.Africa