Nigerian agri-tech startup Kitovu has a dual purpose, to help farmers increase their crop yields while providing them with access to markets.
The Kitovu platform uses geo-location to match soils with the right crops, with chief executive officer (CEO) Nwachinemere Emeka telling Disrupt Africa this helped farmers increase yields. At the same time, through its produce offtaker network, it creates guaranteed markets for farmers.
“The sad reality is that, at present, agriculture practiced by most smallholder farmers in Nigeria is survivalist in nature. Most of them, even though they would love to, cannot afford soil tests. Extension and advisory services are also non-existent, and last mile interaction with farmers as well as flow of information from them to ecosystem stakeholders is lacking,” Emeka said.
“There is also the challenge of very long chains in the supply of inputs to farmers, which creates unnecessary chains of middlemen who hoard and inflate the prices of inputs, making them unattractive to farmers. The same endless middleman chain contributes to inflated prices of agricultural commodities, making some processors prefer importation.”
Kitovu looks to fix all this with its dual purpose platform, helping the farmers on the ground and then matching them to buyers. So far, the startup has carried out three pilots in Bauchi, Niger, and Oyo States, working with the International Fertiliser Development Centre to set up demonstration farms.
These pilot programmes saw farmers using Kitovu achieve an increase of over 200 per cent in crop yields, and have already reached over 3,000 smallholder farmers. Emeka is planning significant expansion.
“Next year, we plan to expand to six other states of Nigeria, reach over 200,000 farmers and train about 2,000 micro-entrepreneurs. Our long-term objective is to eventually scale operations across Nigeria, and beyond to other Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
The startup makes money in three ways: by selling inputs, by giving farmers inputs on credit, and by producing aggregation for processors and export offtakers. Yet this has its challenges.
“Because we have to pay for farmers produce, prior to supplying offtakers who sometimes have very long cash cycles, as well as the need for us to pay upfront for soil and crop specific fertilizer blends, we need to have a lot of funds to meet those financial obligations,” Emeka said.
“Unfortunately, it has been difficult accessing financial instruments that are not crazy or totally unreasonable.”
Kitovu is, as a result, seeking funding to help it with this process, as it embarks on its ambitious Nigerian growth plan.