Kenyan agri-tech startup Lentera is raising a US$560,000 funding round to build out crop-specific versions of its climate smart solutions for African farmers.
Lentera began life in 2017 as a soil health and crop nutrition company, formulating and manufacturing a range of organic fertilisers. But after serving thousands of farmers across the country, it realised that in addition to high quality inputs, farmers also needed advice on subjects such as what crops to plant, when to plant them, when to irrigate, and when to scout for pests and diseases.
“In response to this, we launched our precision agriculture services, that offer farm software, weather sensors, drone and satellite imaging as well as automated advisory services on market conditions,” Moses Kimani, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Lentera, told Disrupt Africa.
Right now, the startup is piloting two main services. Its farm mapping platform uses a drone to provide farmers with a baseline of their crops’ health, pointing out areas of concern such as irrigation and nutrition problems, and providing pest and disease scouting data.
“Thereafter, we collect satellite data of the farm every five days to monitor progress. We also install ground weather stations for selected farms. Our algorithm highlights problems with the growth in crops and provides insights on areas that need chemical soil analysis,” said Kimani.
Lentera also provides soil health advisory and inputs, based on the information provided by the crop health maps.
“We provide farmers with advice and supply them with organic inputs that rectify problems with soil acidity as well as poor nutrition levels,” Kimani said.
Bootstrapped with a small amount of capital raised from family and friends, Lentera is currently on the fundraising trail as it aims to build out its platform.
“We are currently raising US$560,000 that will see us develop crop-specific models that will integrate data from our ground sensors, drone and satellite imaging, and to automate data collection and processing. We want to expand our algorithm to include data from key food crops and commercial crops across East Africa,” said Kimani.
The challenge the startup is looking to overcome with its advice service is, interestingly, the large amount of advice that is already out there. Kimani said there is a plethora of information available to farmers, but most of them overwhelmed when it comes to making decisions. Lentera’s platform provides a digital farmer assistant, available as an app or via USSD, to simplify the process of obtaining information.
“There is also a need for improved inputs that work with nature rather than against it, enabling farmers to attain a higher yield. We complement existing extension services and service providers. Although there exists competition in the market, we see a tremendous opportunity to grow with our farmer customers,” he said.
Lentera already has a track record of building a user base, having sold inputs to more than 4,000 farmers. Its new agri-tech solutions are still in the pilot stage with four active customers, but Kimani says he has been pleasantly surprised by the interest in precision agriculture solutions.
“One of our customers, a large export farm was able to save US$.0.05 per kilogramme of vegetables exported by using our recommendations. For a farm that sells hundreds of thousands of kilos every year, this is quite a substantial saving,” he said.
“By using satellite and drone scouting, farmers are able to free up valuable time and spend it on building relationships with customers as well as with their families.”
The startup charges for its drone and satellite imaging services, and also makes money from sales of its climate smart inputs. In October it will launch a subscription model for its app, with Kimani hoping to be cashflow positive by the end of the year. Active in Kenya and Uganda for now, Lentera wants to expand into the wider East Africa region, and to some West Africa countries, by mid-2020.