Data-driven farming to tackle food insecurity in Africa
Brian Bosire, a Kenyan Africa Prize and Leaders in Innovation Fellowships entrepreneur, created UjuziKilimo ('smart farming') to help farmers make better decisions through access to data. Here he talks about his inspirations, and the growth in his business since participating in RAEng's programmes:
What inspired you to create UjuziKilimo?
Growing up in rural Kenya, I was motivated by the struggles of my farming parents to earn enough to pay school fees. They invested all their savings in the farm, but still faced poor harvests each season. Drawing inspiration from my background, I founded UjuziKilimo, which in Swahili means ‘smart farming’.
At 19, I imagined a simple device that my mother could stick into the soil and instantly know what crops could offer her maximum yield, the amount and type of fertilizers she needed and the best seed varieties to use to reduce the risks involved in traditional trial-and-error farming.
I discovered that there are more than 319 million smallholder farmers in Africa, like my parents, who produce up to 80% of the continent’s agricultural output. These farmers lose an average of 30 kg of macronutrient per hectare every year (equivalent to $4 billion worth of fertiliser) due to poor application practices. Consequently, many farms produce only 30% of their potential capacity.
This is driving continued hunger and food insecurity in Africa.
What is Ujuzikilimo?
At UjuziKilimo, we’re building Africa’s first Agritech company to combine IoT (Internet of Things), data analytics and artificial intelligence to inform the farming industry. We collect and analyse farm data using sensors, GPS, satellite imagery and mini weather stations. The data, including soil macronutrient levels, PH and market data, helps farmers and agriculturalists make precise decisions.
UjuziKit is our patent-pending solution – a GPS and internet-enabled device with sensors to monitor the levels of macronutrients, weather, pH and moisture content. It then informs the user about the best water, lime and fertiliser nutrient application, based on local requirements.
What impact did the Africa Prize have on your business?
In 2015, we were honored to be among the 12 shortlisted innovations for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Over the six months, our innovation significantly transitioned into a business, thanks to the training and mentorship.
Being shortlisted for the Africa prize created visibility for UjuziKilimo. The media exposure brought mentorship and funding opportunities, and we managed to raise $100,000. The feedback from mentors caused us to significantly change our business model, from selling the devices to offering a subscription-based service to farmers, which fit better into their spending patterns.
We have grown our farmer base from barely 100 to over 10,000. Now we are growing fast and set to hit 50,000 by the end of 2018.
You are one of a few entrepreneurs who have been through the Africa Prize training, and are now participating in LIF. Can you tell us about your LIF experience?
I came to London for LIF in March 2018. The training provided a great opportunity to interact with researchers and innovators from different countries, and to exchange new ideas. I met brilliant people developing technologies that complement UjuziKilimo’s services, and so found opportunities to collaborate.
Importantly, through LIF, the Kenya National Innovation Agency has officially acknowledged our work and awarded UjuziKilimo a commercialisation grant of $40,000, which will enable us take our solution to more farmers this year.
What one tip for success would you give to your fellow innovators?
Innovation happens at the intersection of different skill sets, so go out and reach out to people with different skills necessary to take your innovation to the people who need it most.
To find out more about UjuziKilimo, visit their website.