My Kitovu Story is the first piece of our “Behind the Proposal” series. It tells the story of team Kitovu, from Nigeria, the winning team of the 2017 Ideas for Action Competition. It highlights the team’s creative approach to problem solving, and their resilience in implementing their project from scratch, which ultimately won them their first place at this year’s Competition.
My grandmother was a smallholder farmer, and so were several generations before her; who struggled to survive in the face of low crop yields and high post harvest losses. Having acquired an education, it was a reality that almost became lost on me, but as it turned out, not for long. In 2013, I had the good fortune to have been posted to Oyo State Nigeria, to serve as a corps member as part of the mandatory National Youth Service; where a lot of emphasis was laid on the agro-allied scheme. Encouraged by the free provision of land to willing corps members willing to farm, I got into my first commercial farm; a five hectare maize farm. But at harvest, I found it difficult to find buyers who would offer me a fair price, and with no post harvest infrastructure, it was certain that I was going to lose everything if I didn’t do something about it. So I built a dryer to dry my maize, so I could store and sell when the rates were better. These attracted some local farmers to me; a very crucial window for me to understand how bad the plight of smallholder farmers were.
The reality is that most of the world’s poorest people are smallholder farmers. At least 570 million farms worldwide are smallholdings, with more than 475 million of those farms owned by families who cultivate less than two hectares of land. In Nigeria, 70 percent of the working population, or about 121 million people, are farmers. In Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, agriculture accounts for 64 percent of the labor force and 75 percent of the people who survive on less than $1 per day work in the agricultural sector. This level of poverty results primarily from very low yields, compared with global yield averages, as well as from very high postharvest losses. Annual postharvest losses range between 40 percent and 60 percent, depending on the value chain being considered. I believe that improving the use of inputs by farmers has the potential to lift millions of smallholder farmers out of poverty. But for that to be feasible, a system must be in place that matches the right composition and quantity of fertilizers, good quality or improved seeds, and other inputs to farms’ actual soils and sites. These practices would improve yields and consequently increase farmers’ incomes. It is these problems that inspired me to start Kitovu Technology Company.
Kitovu is a web/mobile based inputs warehousing system that collects, analyzes, and aggregates soil and geolocation data, which it uses to match the right soils to the right soil and crop specific fertilizers, improved seedlings and agrochemicals, while connecting farm produce to produce offtakers so as to increase crop yields, while reducing post harvest losses. We have carried out series of pilots, including carrying out a demonstration farm in collaboration with the International Fertilizer Development Center, where we were able to achieve over two hundred per cent increase in yield for maize, proof that our concept works. What this translates to is increased income for smallholder farmers in every locality Kitovu would be deployed, but beyond that, it would help reduce youth unemployment through our model, where Kitopreneurs—independent entrepreneurs who work with the Kitovu team—collect and synchronize the farmers’ data to the web portal, and generate income through direct sales of inputs to smallholder farmers.
Last year, I and my team applied for the Ideas for Action Competition, and as part of the application process, we were required to send in a one page concept note of our project. This was coming at a time when we had several ideas as to which direction my solution would take but nothing concrete; writing this down in a one page concept note really forced me to distill the solution, thinking in terms of what was really relevant. After that, we had to submit a full proposal, with requirements to make the jury understand the problem, the solution and how it fits the problem and its relevance to the target audience. But it also required that the steps towards a pilot and what happens thereafter be articulated. This was a very great opportunity for us, as we worked on answering all the posed questions; it helped us identify the gaps in our solution and ensure product-market fit in the long run.
Several months down the line, I received a mail that was both thrilling and humbling for me and the team; we had won the Ideas for Action Competition, out of 743 teams from 118 countries. In itself, it helped strengthen our resolve with the knowledge that some people clearly thought that we were unto something; that we could indeed make a difference. Been placed first in the 2017 World Bank Ideas for Action saw me visit the World Bank headquarters in Washington Dc, where I engaged with lots of people who shared their unique insights with me in the course of several presentations. It also afforded me the opportunity to network with a lot of bright minds while creating some visibility for our work; which I hope would in the long run attract funding to help us fully commercialize Kitovu and help better the lots of smallholder farmers.
This competition is rightly named the Ideas for Action; and in consonance with that, I and my team would be working to go beyond the pilot phase. To achieve this, we are looking to raise funds, form useful partnerships with inputs manufacturers, and produce offtakers, as well as have some more passionate young people join our team. In two years, we expect to be serving about 4 million farmers in six states of Nigeria. We would fund our expansion and growing operations through retained earnings from commissions on sales of inputs (fertilizers, agrochemicals, and seedlings), and subscriptions by processors and produce buyers. As we grow, we plan to use our knowledge, experience, and data on agricultural producers and end users to provide agricultural logistics services.
We are open to advice, feedback, and suggestions from the public, ecosystem stakeholders, and experts in the agtech space, even as we commit to our big hairy audacious goal of transforming Africa into the hub that feeds the world; one locality at a time. Ten years from now, it wouldn’t matter if you are a farmer, a processor, or input manufacturer; if you require high quality inputs and produce that is traceable in Sub-Saharan Africa, you would just have to Kitovu it!
Kitovu Technology Company
4B Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority, Iseyin, Nigeria