Two years ago, Maryanne Gichanga jumped into the technology bandwagon to help smallholder farmers cut costs, increase crop yields and reduce the negative impact of agriculture on the environment.
“I grew up in North Kinangop and my parents used proceeds from their seven hectares of land to feed and educate us. But today, the same piece of land can hardly produce enough to feed them due to climate change, poor farming practices and soil degradation,” she says.
Her parents and other small-scale farmers' problems represented an opportunity: by helping them precisely detect pests, and know the accurate amount of chemicals and input to use, a technology that will help cut costs and increase yields.
She founded AgriTech Analytics.
“We came up with a technology that helps farmers detect pests and diseases early enough and advise them on the inputs, chemicals to use, prices, and exact location of the farm via their mobile phones,” she says.
The innovation which has since received local and global recognition has onboarded 3,880 farmers in Nyandarua, Uasin Gishu, and Kiambu.
“We emerged top in the COP27 Youth Adaptation Challenge in Egypt and were awarded the best in Africa, a competition that was funded by African Development Bank and Global Climate Adaption,” says Ms Gichanga, who quit a stable job in banking to tap into the immense opportunities that lie in precision agriculture.
But unlike some African agri-tech start-ups that have attracted lots of funding and picked up fast, hers has not been a smooth path.
She started AgriTech Analytics with her savings and bootstrapping. Besides investors being hesitant to invest, she says they also require additional due diligence to understand the technology and market potential.
Globally, venture capital investments into agritech and foodtech start-ups plunged in 2022 amid rising interest rates and questions over their business models.
Last year, venture capitalists globally mostly backed a wide range of start-ups developing biological fertilisers, vertical farms and robots, as well as alternative proteins such as plant-based or lab-grown meat, PitchBook, an emerging technology analyst says.
But there are many upcoming agritechs like Ms Gichanga that she says are finding it hard to catch the eye of equity financiers who are yet to understand precision agriculture.
Precision agriculture involves collecting and analysing data to give farmers the ability to more effectively use crop inputs including fertilisers, pesticides, tillage and irrigation water.
“Equity financiers are yet to understand the precision agriculture industry, thus reluctant to commit. We plan to raise capital through equity and debt financing, crowdfunding, revenues, and grants even though we lack collaterals for loans,” she says.
Agri-techs, seen as the solution to boost food production in Kenya, are also costly to start.
Ms Gichanga says that at the beginning, her main challenge was the high initial investment costs because her innovation relies heavily on technology, which is expensive to acquire and implement.
“The other high cost is data collection and analysis because for our technology to succeed, a significant amount of data needs to be collected and analysed and this requires specialised skills and equipment that may be difficult to acquire,” she says.
Adoption and integration were also problematic because the adoption of precision agriculture may be slow, and integrating it into existing farming practices was challenging.
Also, their target users, rural farmers have limited exposure to technology which made adoption slow in the initial phases of roll-out.
“Since our technology relies on internet connectivity and related infrastructure, which may not be available in some remote areas, this proved problematic too,” she says.
To overcome the challenges, the techpreneur has opted for a partnership model with other organisations to share costs and hire specialists.
She also opted for revenue-sharing agreements to make their innovation more accessible and affordable to farmers.
“I am a go-getter and whatever I put my mind to achieve, I will reach no matter what challenges I face along the way and have eyes on the goal,” she says.
“It’s not about perfection, it’s about effort. When you bring effort every single day is when transformation happens and that's how change occurs. That’s how AgriTech Analytics has grown to impact thousands of smallholder farmers’ lives.”
The 33-year-old entrepreneur says that their innovation has the potential to revolutionise smallholder farming by improving crop yields, reducing resource wastage, and increasing profitability.
However, several challenges hinder wide technology adoption.
“We need technological advancements in sensors, drones, and satellite imagery, big data analytics and machine learning algorithms, government incentives and policies supporting precision agriculture, and a growing interest in sustainable farming practices, just to mention a few,” she says.
On advice to aspiring agri-tech entrepreneurs?
“Consistency is the key to success. It may sound like a cliché but it’s the truth, an analogy that is very hard for our microwave generation. There is no secret to success because we are living in a very dynamic and evolving world,” she says, adding, “What looked like a secret to success yesterday is today redundant.”