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How we use tech to connect farmers to buyers abroad

By James Wanzala
Some of the staff members of the Selina Wamucii company in the factory.(James Wanzala,Standard)

A personal drive to change the fortunes of rural farmers and an interest in technology have been the driving force for John Oroko, the co-founder of Selina Wamucii, a company linking up farmers with the international market.

Selina Wamucii is a Kenyan social enterprise that in four years of operation, has assisted over 7,000 small scale food producers access markets in what has seen it named among companies to inspire Africa by the London Stock Exchange Group.

Facing firsthand realities that rural farmers grapple with, in accessing markets and earning decent household incomes, John, who was brought up in a smallholder farming family, made a resolve to transform farmers’ earnings and found an ally in technology.

Upon graduating and after a short stint at employment, John quit to start Selina Wamucii, a company named after his mother and his co-founder mother’s as a way of honouring them for their hard work as smallholder farmers which saw them raise their families from their farm’s proceeds.

“The story of our mothers as rural smallholder farmers is that of tens of thousands more across the country and this inspired me to start Selina Wamucii. I believe every human being who works hard deserves to have access to opportunities that enable them to live a life of dignity. Smallholders are among the hardest working people on the planet, yet remain a majority of the world’s poorest,” says Oroko.

He adds: “It matters to me because I believe we have the best opportunity to transform Africa’s agricultural value chains while passing the benefits of an efficient chain to producer communities across the continent.”

Since co-founding the company in June 2015, he has enlisted over 7,000 farmers across the country, who grow high-value food among them fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, spices and other agro commodities which find their way across markets in Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.

To be part of the network, farmers sign up to join Selina through their mobile phones via a USSD code.

The system captures information relating to the geographical locations of smallholder farmers, what they are producing, the various stages of progress throughout the season, harvest timelines and projections and actual volumes at harvest.

This information makes it easy to estimate expected volumes in a year for different produce, which then enables buyers around the world to plan in advance.

It also streamlines the sourcing process, making it faster and less expensive with a digitised value chain.

Buyers, on the other hand, specify what they want and are guaranteed consistent quality, fair price and volumes. The company has improved farmers’ ability to meet global market standards such as organic and good agricultural practices.

Selina Wamucii has also been working with locally trained agents referred to as produce agents who guide farmers on good agricultural practices covering growing, harvesting, grading, collection and the eventual transportation of the produce to designated zonal warehouses.

The produce agents run fully-fledged businesses that guarantee profitable returns while offering an important service in the value chain.

“Our main strength is utilisation of technology to shorten and transform the agricultural supply chain while passing the benefits of an efficient chain to buyers and the producer communities across Africa. The vision is to build strong, sustainable value chains for all Africa’s producers, the majority of who are smallholders, enable their produce to meet standards and access the best markets in the world,” Oroko added.

The company is now looking at having the services offered in local languages for easier communication with farmers.

The success of the Kenyan operation has inspired a regional scale with Selina Wamucii having conducted soft launches and featured smallholder produce from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique.

He now has his eyes trained on scaling to the rest of Africa with a target of being in every African country across East, Southern, Central and North Africa.

The company’s journey with farmers hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year Selina Wamucii was recognised by the London Stock Exchange Group, which named it as a company to inspire Africa in its annual profile of Africa’s most dynamic growth businesses.

To further their reach and point more farmers to global markets, Oroko says he is looking at building a fluid value chain where smallholders are equipped enough to produce what markets will accept and absorb by ensuring they have the right inputs.

“Our main goal is to help millions of smallholder producers live off their farms comfortably,” he said.

Some 60 percent of food produced by smallholder farmers in Africa never reaches the market due to supply chain inefficiencies.

Selina Wamucii was founded by John Oroko and Gaita Kariuki, both of whom were born and raised in smallholder families.

The company is named after the co-founders’ mothers.

Smartharvest@standardmedia.co.ke   

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