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    By George Munene

    Johannesburg/ Lagos/Nairobi, 31 January 2023—Heifer International announced the 2022 winners of the AYuTe Africa Challenge that supports agritech innovators. These include Botwana-based Brastorne Enterprises, ThriveAgric of Nigeria, and Kenya’s DigiCow.

     

    Brastorne Enterprises-- Botswana 

    Co-founders of Brastorne Enterprises Stimela Martin Thato, CEO, and Naledi Magowe, CGO, who both grew up in farming families want to improve internet access across the continent with a commitment to connecting 760 million Africans who lack meaningful internet access—through their basic-feature phones. 

    Brastorne’s apps, such as mAgri, give farmers access to farming information, markets, and short-term finance using the capabilities of any feature phone, such as SMS and interactive voice technology. The Brastorne mobile service Mpotsa (“Ask me”) provides rural unconnected mobile users with localized information, and Vuka harnesses USSD technology to allow users on any phone to create profiles, add friends, create chat groups, and more.   These technologies have helped farmers realize a 250 per cent increase in yields and achieve 85 per cent savings in communication and information access. The company also boasts 100 per cent youth employment.

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    Brastorne has already connected more than 1.8 million people across Africa, who pay an average of US$1 per month for connectivity. 

    The company’s success in building its network and supporting farmers in accessing a range of financing options and information through mobile technology prompted its selection as a winner of the 2022 AYuTe Africa Challenge.

    Despite the rapid rise of Africa’s digital economy, the digital divide is wider and deeper than many people appreciate. Across the wide expanse of rural lands, internet connectivity is the exception, not the rule. Today, 80 per cent of Africans cannot afford smartphones or data—which is 55 per cent more expensive in Africa than in Europe or North America—placing the benefits of digital access beyond reach for most of the population.

    “Innovation is a constant in Africa,” says Thato. “But many have been innovating the wrong way, focusing on solutions that mirror what happens in data-hungry first-world countries. We as Africans need to develop solutions for African problems. Our app has done so well because it addresses a basic need: low-cost communications without data.” 

    Thato points out that it will be many years before Africa’s large rural areas are covered by digital infrastructure. In the meantime, Brastorne has figured out how to use mobile technology to provide equitable access to markets, information, and community using basic USSD technology and feature phones. The technology connects the user’s phone to the phone company network, which then creates a real-time connection that can be used for a two-way exchange of data. Based on USSD, Brastorne has developed three apps that are revolutionizing access to information for people in rural areas. 

    mAgri provides farmers with access to farming information, markets, and short-term finance. It allows farmers to market their products and services across the country, using any cell phone. Mpotsa (“Ask me”) is an SMS-based question/answer platform that aims to provide users with information on almost anything. It provides rural unconnected mobile users with relevant, timely, and localized information and even legal services. Vuka allows users of both low-end phones and smartphones to create profiles, add friends, create groups, chat, broadcast messages, and more. It’s like Facebook without the internet.  

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    “Until now, the digital gap between those with and without access to the internet inevitably has reinforced existing social inequities,” Magowe said. “It leaves people disconnected from tools, opportunities, and services. Our service seeks to close that gap and connect farmers and people across the community. We’re trying to level the playing field.”

    Magowe explains that the services are geared toward the average person, not large-scale commercial farmers. Brastorne seeks to connect the people who want to feed and economically sustain their families through agriculture.

    In partnership with telecommunications companies, Brastorne has reached over 1 million users in Botswana, with 350,000 monthly users. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it has reached over 800,000 users since its countrywide launch in May 2021. Some 80 per cent of users are youth between the ages of 24 and 35, and 60 per cent are women. To date, farmers on Brastorne’s platforms have seen a 250 per cent increase in yields. 

    Expansion plans have sights set on Madagascar, Guinea, Conakry, and other countries as well.

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    Fm7MoQ6XEAUdFj7 1 85

    By George Munene

    Lagos/Nairobi/Johannesburg, 31 January 2023—Heifer International announced the 2022 winners of the AYuTe Africa Challenge that supports agritech innovators. These include ThriveAgric of Nigeria, Kenya’s DigiCow, and Botwana-based Brastorne Enterprises.

     

    ThriveAgric-- Nigeria

    ThriveAgric addresses a key challenge for small-scale farmers in Africa—a lack of access to finance, technical advice, business skills, and market opportunities. It does so by using a proprietary Agriculture Operating System to help a team of 2,000 field agents supports some 500,000 farmers across 22 Nigerian states with insights to improve their production and profits. 

    The challenges facing small-scale farmers who produce most of Africa’s food are well known: lack of finance, technical advice, business skills, and the market opportunities to earn income from their work. Just solving one of these problems would be a significant success. But that wasn’t enough for the young team at the Abuja-based agritech start-up ThriveAgric. Co-founders Uka Eje, CEO, and Ayodeji Arikawe, CTO, made the audacious decision to develop a powerhouse agritech innovation that allows the company to confront all these challenges at once.

    “We’ve developed the technologies, strategies, and partnerships to build the largest network of productive, profitable farmers Africa has ever seen,” said Eje. “ThriveAgric’s farmers already are producing and earning more than the average Nigerian farmer. Now we’re eager to engage farmers across the continent.”

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    The company’s proven capacity as a problem solver and profit producer for African farmers, along with its ambitious but realistic growth strategy, has prompted the selection of ThriveAgric as a winner of the 2022 Heifer International AYuTe Africa Challenge. 

    ThriveAgric already has assembled a network of over 500,000 farmers—40 per cent of them women and about a third of them youth farmers—across 22 Nigerian states. It has provided over US$150 million in financing to support 200,000 tons of grain production and the raising of 4 million poultry birds across the same areas. In a recent growing season, ThriveAgric’s rice, maize, and soybean farmers recorded harvests that were about three times the national average. The company now has its sights set on expanding to new countries and growing its network to 10 million farmers by 2027 while adding thousands of new field agents.

    The heart of ThriveAgric’s business model is its proprietary Agriculture Operating System, or AOS, which is packed with data on farmers and potential customers for their commodities. Each of the company’s 2,000 field agents is equipped with a Thrive AOS mobile app that helps them map and record detailed data on farmer lands (noting features like soil composition and proximity to water), assess input usage and needs, monitor crop performance, track harvests, and support post-harvest handling and processing. These field agents are essential to establishing relationships and trust with farmers, and farmers are encouraged to access services and information through SMS text after they’ve signed onto the service.

    The company also has developed an agriculture marketplace platform called Tradr. Some 12,000 customers, 30% of them women, use Tradr to purchase inputs, sell crops, rent farm equipment, and monitor market prices of different commodities. 

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    Data has proved to be a key aspect of ThriveAgric’s success, encouraging providers and financial institutions to work with farmers who may not otherwise have access to their services and ensuring that they can help farmers get the most out of their farms.

    “Data is incredibly valuable in sharpening how we can help farmers and our partners who provide services to farmers,” said Arikawe. “We’re seeing significant changes from climate change and other crises like COVID-19. We want to keep growing our network so that we can expand the knowledge we provide to farmers and service providers to address those challenges. We can’t do that without building trust in communities across the continent.”

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    Digicow slide 1 1

    By George Munene

    Lagos/Nairobi/Johannesburg, 31 January 2023—Heifer International announced the 2022 winners of the AYuTe Africa Challenge that supports agritech innovators. These include Kenya’s DigiCow, ThriveAgric of Nigeria, and Botwana-based Brastorne Enterprises.

    Created by Peninah Wanja in 2014, Nairobi-based DigiCow is helping small-scale African dairy operations increase productivity with technology that provides free access to livestock management experts and links farmers to skilled and qualified veterinarians, artificial insemination providers and feed supply services—all from their mobile phones.

    DigiCow’s innovative yet practical support system for small-scale dairy farmers prompted its selection as a winner of the 2022 AYuTe Africa Challenge.

    Its core business is the development of mobile phone technologies for the agricultural sector to enable the agricultural value chain to increase productivity and profitability through data-driven decisions. In April 2019, DigiCow won the Disruptive Agricultural Technologies challenge organized by the World Bank, emerging as the most innovative agritech company in Kenya.

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    The small-scale dairy operations common across Africa—many operated by women—offer an enormous opportunity to generate income for farmers and affordable, nutrient-dense food for a region that still suffers high rates of malnutrition. But the significant challenges that come with raising, breeding, and managing healthy dairy cows have limited the productivity of Africa’s smallholder dairy farms. 

    “My mother had two cows, and they provided very little milk because they were not properly managed,” said Peninah Wanja, founder and creator of DigiCow.

    In addition to growing up in a farming family, Wanja has an MBA in finance and spent 15 years as an extension agent working with smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya. This background gave her visibility into the many challenges of running a successful dairy business—insights she used to inform DigiCow’s services. 

    “It is a passion,” Wanja said. “Eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa is no easy task, but it’s something we’re keen on achieving when we support small-scale farmers and their communities. Tech is a key part of that effort. Through DigiCow, we’re not just connecting farmers to resources and knowledge—we’re also getting farmers and providers to work together.”

    DigiCow has been successful because it helps farmers and creates demand and business opportunities for suppliers and providers who can help farmers achieve their goals and bring products to market, Wanja explained.

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    For example, in addition to providing expert advice and training services at no cost, the DigiCow Dairy app has a feature that helps farmers improve breeding by automatically tracking gestation dates. The technology provides an Electronic Record Management platform for veterinary service providers, making it easy for service providers to retrieve the health records of cows, track pregnancy, and deliver timely alerts for individual cows.

    DigiCow has already reached 60,000 dairy farmers. Wanja is confident the funding and business development guidance she receives as an AYuTe Africa Champion will help her company connect with half a million dairy farmers over the next year.

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