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Technology

App promises to save tea farmers billions of shillings

John Wanjiku
Innovator John Wanjiku with Ann Miles, Financial Inclusion director, Mastercard Foundation. PHOTO | COURTESY 

While growing up in rural Murang’a, John Wanjiku was not amused coming home from school and heading straight to a tea collection centre to wait for a lorry to pick the family’s tea produce.

“At times I would wait until three in the morning waiting for the lorry,” says the graduate of Bachelor of Commerce in Informatics from University of Pretoria.

This, he says, affected his education and that of his age mates in Kihoya village, Murang’a County.

Farmers would also lose millions because the more you keep tea at a collection centre, the more it will burn in the sun and lose its quality, he adds.

Years later, after completing his university studies, Mr Wanjiku would seek to find a solution to this problem which still persists up to today.

He has developed a mobile phone application dubbed Ukulima Halisi that he says can save tea farmers at least Sh33 million monthly and enable children to focus on their studies without having to waste time waiting for lorries to collect the tea.

The app, which can be downloaded from the Google Store, alerts farmers on the date and time when tea will be collected and delivered to the factory.

With his business partner, Mr Kevin Lumbembe, they developed a USSD code for use in the analogue mobile phones.

“Farmers can use the service regardless of the type of phone they have, and they will be alerted on when the lorry will be at the tea collection centre,” he says.

A grower sends a notification to the system before picking his tea, and also uploads the expected volume of crop he will pluck. The information from all farmers is aggregated and sent to the factory through the platform.

“We send this information to the factory to let them know the amount of tea expected from a particular collection centre,” says the innovator.

The factory then dispatches lorries to collect the produce on time. The farmers are notified once the lorries are dispatched.

The whole process is efficient and speedy, ensuring that no crop goes to waste and farmers. This also saves farmers as they are not sure the time it will arrive.

According to research, each farmers loses an average of 40 kilogrammes of tea leaves yearly because of delayed collection of the produce. There are 54 tea factories in Kenya at the moment. “The yearly loss is estimated to be over Sh10 billion ,” he says

The application has been piloted and a number of factories are upbeat that the app will address most of their challenges.

A farmer pays Sh600 subscription yearly to use the service.

Mr John won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge for the app at the Mastercard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg in 2017. The competition rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth.

Thanks to the award, he earned a fellowship that included seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue the project.

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