These Local Women Farmers Are Empowering An Entire Community – And It All Began With The Slice Of A Pineapple!

Nzekwe Henry December 5

It’s a typical hot and sunny afternoon in Marafa; a small village buried in a canyon-like valley in Kilifi County, known to be the home of the Waata community. Scores of women can be seen bent at the waist and hard at work, totally mindless of the scorching sun that is driving daytime temperatures to the high side of forty.

With brows laden with sweat and bodies glistening from the heat, a group of local women can be seen making small chatter as they amiably go about the task before them. These women are carefully harvesting pineapples from their open gardens, and what makes this quite an interesting sight to behold is the clockwork precision and seriousness that is about them as they get on with this activity despite the ‘not-exactly-friendly’ weather condition.

With ‘Kangas’ (rectangular pieces of cloth) fastened around their waists, they go about deftly picking the ripe fruits and stuffing them into sacks. With the efficiency displayed by these women identical to a ‘German train schedule,’ it doesn’t take long before a sack gets filled with the fruit, set for shipping to the solar dryer.

Now, slow down a bit – let’s take a moment to figure out what thoughts the scenes described in the paragraphs above evoke. Well, if you put your money on these women being small-time farmers who take their jobs seriously, you’ll probably be in the running for the jackpot. Yes, these Marafa Women appear to be making a living off growing pineapples and selling them – pretty straightforward stuff, right? Except that it’s not.

Go six decades back in time, and you will find the Waata hunter-gatherer community perched up in the forest, migrating from their established settlements to newer ones from time to time, depending on which area served up better game prospects to the male population who were predominantly hunters.

This nomadic lifestyle was more or less their way of life until the 1940s when things began to take a turn thanks to the arrival of British colonial wildlife conservation laws. The enactment of these new laws laid the groundwork for the establishment of national parks in Kenya. Just like that, with the scribble of a pen and the sound of a gavel, the Waata people had lost their lands, as well as their way of life.

Until then, the Waata people had led a conservative life in the forest, but ironically, conservation laws were now pushing them away from the only place they knew as home. Before long, they were evicted from the forest to make room for what came to be known as Tsavo East National Park.

They did find a new home on the periphery of the new park but as what has always been their way of life had now been suddenly outlawed, they had to figure out a new way to fend for themselves, and just like that, slingshots and spears were given up for hoes and machetes. This former community of hunter-gatherers now had to face the stark reality of adjusting to a new way of life which had farming as the only means of survival.

With very little or virtually nothing by way of agricultural skill, this community struggled with the new set of tools that had been forcefully shoved into their hands. Accustomed to chasing and throwing to capture game, they now had to bend and till. Those first few years, they grew barely enough to survive. With no farming skills, they had to take a gamble on growing maize, but in the midst of unfavorable weather patterns, they were always going to come up short. Thus, life became a whole new kind of tough for this small community.

To augment the communal effort, the women resorted to making extra contributions by providing casual labor for other farmers in other communities for pay. This didn’t do much good as the women had to toil for hours and even days for meager sums, and sometimes, they didn’t also get paid at all.

This life of squalor and privations continued for several years until the year 1999 which marked a turning point. That was the year some of the women of the community decided to start growing pineapples as a sole cash crop. The decision which was more or less a last resort at the time appears to be paying off immensely as the crop now provides the entire community with a steady income. But this improvement in fortunes didn’t come without significant toil.

As is common with many women living in rural Kenya, the women who resolved to embark on the pineapple-growing venture had no claims to the land of their own or access to credit when they got started on the project. But this didn’t deter them from getting on with their plan. Their choice of pineapples against other drought-tolerant crop is said to have been motivated by the need to grow a crop that didn’t require a long time to mature, thus, guaranteeing quick and steady income flow. And that ultimately proved a shrewd decision on their part.

“Ours was a small beginning,” Boru, one of the women farmers, told News Deeply. Boru currently chairs the 47-member-strong Hajirani Women’s Group of Pineapple Farmers. “With small plots of land we obtained from the community, we used a burn and plant method,” she offered.

These farmers adopted a technique which involved cutting down and burning vegetation. This practice is known to leave behind a layer of nutrient-rich ash that helps fertilize crops, hence, improving growth rate and yield. But even though the women had gotten it mostly right so far with their choice of crop and farming practice, they were yet to face the biggest challenge yet which was, unfortunately, waiting for them at the business end of things.

Sure, growing pineapples was the right call for these women since the crop didn’t need much tending to or fussing over. But that doesn’t mean they had it easy. Finding a reliable market for the pineapples was a big challenge.

Due to a combination of factors bordering on the perishability of the crop aggravated by the insanely high temperatures in the region, the women resorted to panic-selling the pineapples for as low as KSh 5.00 (USD 0.05) each, which was a far cry from substantial.

The middlemen smelling blood were there to pounce. They knew the women were desperate to get the perishable crop off their hands and they took full advantage – sometimes even ripping them off by buying up to three for the price of one. This essentially saw most of the efforts of these women farmers go down the drain, and as things stood, they were toiling for nothing.

But all that was to eventually change in 2010 when Boru attended an agricultural show in Mombasa, off Kenya’s coastline. There she caught wind of the idea of a solar dryer which could help increase the shelf life of the fruits and eliminate the ‘Shylocks’ in the middle who were prospering off of their sweat.

Boru may have stumbled upon the idea, but she knew there was no way she and her fellow women farmers could afford such a technology. But it appears the idea was all she needed and not the device itself as she took the idea back home and before long, the women started peeling the pineapples, cutting them into bits, and drying the slices under direct sunlight. Then they proceeded with selling it to consumers directly at the local market.

Now, make no mistake about it; dried pineapple slices are not as nutritious as its ‘fresh cousins,’ and perhaps not as hygienic given the women’s makeshift drying method. But by adopting this practice, these women were able to sell the fruits at higher prices than the fresh fruits. They were now beginning to make decent profits off of the venture.

“Compared to selling raw fruits to the middlemen, dried pineapples became a solution to my financial problems. I could now take my two children to school, feed them and insure my future,” revealed Agnes Wakesho, a single mother. And things were going to get even better.

The Solar Dryer Provided By World Vision
Source: Robert Kibel (News Deeply)

The small pineapple-growing venture of these women soon caught the attention of World Vision; a Christian humanitarian NGO that runs development programs in the region. Through the efforts of the NGO, a solar dryer was made available to the women. This greenhouse-like structure opened the women up to the possibility of drying the pineapple slices under more hygienic conditions. By drying efficiently and hygienically, the women are now able to get more money for their pineapples.

Through its local office in Magarini, Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, which is known to collaborate with the NGO on some economic projects that can be linked to smart agriculture, also weighed in with support. The women received training from the Ministry on some agronomic practices and market-focused production.

Amos Rukwaro, Magarini Sub-County Agribusiness Officer, told News Deeply that the women now get more for their dried pineapples. The women used to earn around KSh 250 (USD 2.50) for 5 kg of fresh pineapples. But these days, they get more than twice that amount for the same amount of fruit processed into 1 kg (2.2 Ibs) of dried fruit.

“The women can now make more profit, which translates to a higher income and better livelihoods,” Rukwaro says. “As the business opportunity grew and a readily available market [arose], they have now expanded their farming plots to increase productivity.”

Since the arrival of the solar dryer, the production capacity of the women farmers have increased significantly, and this turnaround in fortunes has seen them expand beyond the local market. Not quite long ago, they bagged a deal with Kenya Fruits Solutions Company, a supplier of packed, processed fruits to foreign markets. By selling solar-dried pineapples to the company, these women are believed to now rake in as much as USD 914.00 every week!

And there are even talks of the pricing go higher sooner than later as their solar-dried pineapple venture appears to be flourishing. Their dried pineapples now sell for KSh 50 apiece; a ten-fold increase from what they once knew as the norm.

The funds generated from the venture are split amongst the members after a given sum is set aside for reinvestment into the business. Through these earnings, some of the group’s members are known to have set up small businesses to diversify their income stream, and they are doing quite nicely.

“Since I became part of this success, my life has changed,” remarked Eunice Daria, the group’s Secretary. “As a mother, I do not solely rely on my husband for basic needs. I can clothe myself and the children, but of [most] importance is the ability for me to maintain health insurance for my family using the revenue.

From humble beginnings, these women are well on their way to creating an economically-empowered community. They are finally reaping the fruits of their labor. And it all began with the slice of a pineapple!

Egypt’s Nawah Scientific Gets USD 1 Mn Funding Boost From Endure Capital

Nzekwe Henry December 10

Egyptian research startup, Nawah Scientific, has secured an investment worth USD 1 Mn in a pre-Series A round led by Endure Capital, with 500 Startups, Averroes Ventures, Egypt Ventures, and angel investor, Dr. A. Abdelhamid, also joining the funding round. This is the first time the startup is raising external investment.

Nawah Scientific is a Cairo-based startup that appears to be carving a niche for itself in the area of scientific research. The startup which was founded in 2015 by Dr. Omar Sakr; a PhD holder in the field of Pharmaceutical Sciences, boasts a collection of advanced equipment that is suited to the research and development needs of both natural and medical sciences.

Nawah Scientific helps scientists and universities who do not have access to sophisticated equipment and facilities carry out critical research tests that would be otherwise improbable or too much to ask.

The startup goes about this by receiving experiment requests via its online platform. Through a courier, the test samples are moved under prime conditions from the address of the client that made the request to premises of the startup.

A team of competent in-house scientists then take the reins from that point onwards as the required tests are carried out and the test results are relayed to the client via the startup’s online platform. Through this simple but effective mode of operation, Nawah Scientific is able to cater for the needs of researchers as it affords scientists access to top-notch research facilities, whilst fostering scientific research in both Egypt and beyond.

Having been established barely three years prior, Nawah Scientific claims to have offered its services to clients within and outside Egypt. So far, the startup claims to have analyzed as many as 15,000 samples from 32 universities. But the services of the startup do not stop at scientists and academia as it also carries out complicated research projects and simple analysis for chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

Commenting on the development, Dr. Omar Sakr, Founder and CEO of Nawah Scientific, tethered his motivation for establishing the startup to the need to make access to cutting-edge research and high-tech equipment more available.

He also noted that a lot of time that should otherwise be put into meaningful work is spent by scientists shuttling between cities and universities to have their samples tested. And in the process, yielding unreliable research projects that are shallow at best. According to the CEO, this has put a strain on the trust between industry and academia resulting in a poor ‘research-to-product’ conversion rate. He, however, believes that the startup is now better poised to fix these problems.

With the latest development, Nawah Scientific has now become one of the first life sciences startups in the MENA region that has achieved success in raising significant investment. Since its inception, the startup has posted an impressive year-on-year growth and this can be thought to have gone some way towards attracting and closing the investment deal. And this bodes well for other science-based startups in the region as the company appears to have broken the proverbial glass ceiling.

Speaking with regards to the investment, Tarek Fahim, Managing Partner of Endure Capital, opined that biotech startups share a lot in common with software startups before AWS and rapid development tools. He also stressed the importance of infrastructure players who can push boundaries to the growth and sustainability of biotech enterprises, stating that they can help “lower cost for starting and increase the speed of prototyping.”

Egypt Ventures; a VC that was launched recently by Egypt’s Ministry of Investment, is believed to be the biggest investor in this round. Hema Ali, Managing Director of the newly launched VC, expressed the company’s excitement at being part of the startup’s journey as it looks to scale its offerings and expand into new markets.

It was this time last year when Nawah Scientific clinched the grand prize in the pitch competition at the 2017 RiseUp Summit. Having emerged winners of the competition, the startup roped in a USD 50 K cash prize.

Now, barely a year on from that night of blitz, the startup appears to be holding its own quite well, and the latest investment worth USD 1 Mn (which is quite substantial given that the startup is raising external capital for the first time) is a testament that Nawah Scientific is on the right track, as this connotes investor confidence.

Plans related to expanding the startup’s services and growing its marketing activities outside of Egypt are expected to get most of the attention with the latest capital injection.

 

 

Feature image CourtesyNawah Scientific

Egyptian Healthtech Startup Vezeeta Raises Investment From IFC

Nzekwe Henry December 10

Egyptian healthtech startup, Vezeeta, has secured an undisclosed amount of investment from World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). This development sees Vezeeta become the first Egyptian technology company to bag a direct investment from the IFC.

Vezeeta is one of the leading healthtech startups in the MENA region and the latest investment from IFC into the Cairo-based company follows a previous announcement which saw the startup close a Series-C round worth USD 12 Mn. That round was led by STV; a Saudi-based investment firm.

Vezeeta was launched in 2012 by Amir Barsoum. The startup makes it possible for patients to search, compare, book, and consult with doctors in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Lebanon. Vezeeta also assists medical personnel with practice management solutions that help in better management of medical appointments and patient data.

Up to 2 million appointments are believed to be facilitated by the platform on a yearly basis, and that’s according to the startup. More so, Vezeeta claims to have over 10,000 healthcare providers signed on to the platform, providing services to at least 2.5 million patients in the region.

With regards to the development, Amir Barsoum, Founder and CEO of Vezeeta, offered that the investment from a “global power” like the IFC will help accelerate the growth of the startup, as well as buoy its plans of building a formidable global network.

Chief Executive Officer of the IFC, Philippe Le Houerou, also commented on the development expressing his confidence in the ability of Vezeeta to drive innovation in the MENA region. The CEO also expressed delight at the prospect of African entrepreneurs harnessing their creativity and drive with the power of novel technologies to address some of the continent’s most pressing problems.

Vezeeta’s Chief Technology Officer, Adel Khalil, also rendered his voice in support of the development reiterating its importance in helping the startup keep up with its mandate of empowering millions of patients in the region, and making sure patients and healthcare providers are seamlessly connected by leveraging data and new products in healthcare.

Mohammad Elmougi echoed, Vezeeta’s VP North Africa, echoed the thoughts of the CTO when he hinted at the commitment of the startup to pulling down all accessibility barriers and improving the quality of healthcare experienced by patients in the region through the elimination of all the bottlenecks that currently bedevil quality healthcare service accessibility.

While this is undoubtedly the IFC’s very first direct investment in an Egyptian technology venture, it would, however, not be the first this investment arm of the World Bank Group is throwing about its financial weight in the MENA region. Over the course of the past few years,  the IFC is known to have made funding commitments worth over USD 100 Mn in startups, venture funds, and accelerators across the Middle East and North Africa, including such Egyptian ventures as Flat6Labs and Algebra Ventures.

 

Feature image courtesyMENAbytes

Ugandan Startup Swipe2pay Swipes Away USD 40K At BRIDGE East Africa Startup Pitch

Kevin Gachiri December 10

Swipe2pay, a Ugandan startup was picked as the winner of BRIDGE East Africa Startup pitch and secured USD 40K at Weetracker’s first flagship conference event held at Crowne Plaza on 7th December in Nairobi. The announcement was made by Takuma Terakubo the CEO of Leapfrog Ventures whose joint partnership with Weetracker made the event possible. Leapfrog Ventures will add Swipe2pay to its roster of startups, it is funding in East Africa. Other startups that took part in the pitch included Yusudi, Talklift, Zumi and Asilimia.

The Selection of Swipe2pay came as a surprise considering that each of the 5 startups had delivered convincing pitches in front of the panel that comprised Japanese investors on tour in Africa, some for the first time. Solomon Kitumba, CEO Swipe2pay, had come from pitching at #slush18 in Helsinki arriving in time to make his pitch as the last participant for the day. Swipe2pay makes it possible for informal businesses that accept cash from customers to be able to accept digital payments as well as credit card transactions. The startup which was founded in 2017, is already integrated with Visa and Mastercard.

In an interview with Weetracker, Solomon intimated that “We are already active in Uganda with a majority of our customers coming from Mbarara and Jinja. We have built a regular customer base of 550 regular users on our  platform with transactions sometimes growing upto 3,500 per day when we get very busy.”

According to their website, the solution they provide to customers also includes their provision of daily, weekly and monthly reports. The fintech startup has integration with Kenya’s MPESA making it possible for them to venture into the local Kenyan market as well.

Solomon is assisted by a team of six who play different roles in driving the business forward and the funding they have received will go into product development as well as strengthening its talent pool which would be necessary for looking at how the product can be polished, refined or extend its features. Having grown in rural Uganda, Solomon had observed how informal market traders mostly women fail to access finance since they don’t keep records or any form of payments they receive from clients.  This makes it difficult to get credit reference. The need to accept funds from clients who wish to pay by cards also means that they usually turn away clients from this customer segment. Swipe2pay, therefore, helps in attracting more customers.  It is this discovery that made Solomon devise a method of bringing a better solution to these informal traders.

Weetracker’s BRIDGE East Africa, held in Kenya drew a substantial crowd of investors from Japan as well as attendance of local investors, venture capitalists and seasoned entrepreneurs. The event hosted startup pitches that were held in between the panel discussions and fireside chats with selected guests. Leapfrog Ventures announced at the event that it is looking at making 200 investments in Africa in the coming 3 years.

What You Should Know About Google Hangouts’ Rumored Shutdown

Andrew Christian December 9

Sources familiar with the tech giant’s product’s internal roadmap have reported that 2019 will be the last year for Google Hangouts, as the company plans to shut it down by the year 2020. The development, to nearly no one’s surprise, is a reiteration which accompanies the company’s apparent decision to hold off on further developments on the app more than a year ago.

Google had previously announced its pivot for the Hangouts brand for enterprise use scenarios with Hangout Chat and Hangout Meet, so it has been telling for a while that the consumer app would soon cease to exist. With the abandonment of Google Hangouts concerning development and its presumed final extinction, many entrepreneurs have begun charting a course away from the app, even though it will remain a prominent official chat option in Gmail on the web – continuing on the Google Play Store even now. In line with recent reviews, the app has shown signs of ageing which are evident in its display of bugs and performance glitches.

Hangout as a brand will remain with G Suite’s Hangout Chat and Hangouts Meet, with the former tailored for Slack app-comparable team communication and the latter as a video meetings platform. In the same line, Google Voice calling, which was initially independent and then integrated into Hangouts, was restored to its own redesigned app earlier this year.

Worthy of interest is that in spite of its inevitable axing, Hangouts was one of the few apps to receive early support for Android Auto’s new MMS and RCS functionality, alongside Whatsapp and Android Messages.

Nonetheless, Google’s Scott Johnson has chimed in on this development and denied any decision being made about the timeline of legacy Hangouts’ shutdown. He did confirm that users of consumer Hangouts will somehow be upgraded to Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, both of which have been presented as enterprise-focused products that fill different needs. Scott also confirmed rather explicitly that Hangouts Classic, which is the subject of this development, will eventually be “shutting down’. Meanwhile, there are sources which corroborate the initial report, informing that decisions have been made for the depreciation of legacy Hangouts.

Most of us consider the Chat and Meet to be more business-focused products, and these plans make the situation seem as though they could have more of a consumer-facing component in the future. For entrepreneurs who have continued to use Hangouts, and who are now coming to rely on Slack or Discord style at-mentions, having such features in Hangouts may be somewhat snazzy. If the rumour of Hangouts’ death or transition are true or have been exaggerated, it wouldn’t matter so much if the new upgrades come with those new features.

Meanwhile, another source reports that Google provided an update on its current efforts, and now focuses moving towards a simpler communication experience. Starting on the consumer front, Google has “decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages.” In April this year, Google only noted that it was “holding off investment” on Allo, but the tech giant confirmed that the service is about to get the sunset. Allo will be available until March 2019, with the service continuing to work until then; disregarding today’s downtime. Google has furnished us with details on how users can export existing conversation history from the app.

Google Hangouts, for as long as it has been in use, hasn’t disappointed entrepreneurs, as it can be a great asset to a company of any size – even more ideal for smaller businesses and startups. The app allows you to connect with employees easily, business colleagues and clients via calls and video chat making it seamless for those who travel or work from home. Hangouts also afford companies the flexibility of connection form virtually any smart device. Users can also, during chats, share files via Google Drive, stream live broadcast, participate in webinars and hold staff meetings amongst many more.

As customers will be able to review your business as an accessible one that cares about customer satisfaction, using Google Hangouts is a marketing strategy with all the makings of greatness. With weekly/monthly question and answer sessions, customer chats and feedback reception, you can not only appeal to customers but receive immediate interactions that can help you develop a more robust marketing strategy. Taylor Swift hosted a Google+ Hangout to announce her new album, and with the medium, she was able to reach fans from all over the world – making her song hit number one right after its release.

This goes to say that Hangouts is a great way to make business announcements such as funding rounds, product launches, expansion or any other news that customers may be interested in. The app is also useful in holding online staff meetings, and conference calls with important clients even while you are in transit.

We are yet to find out the actual features that will come with the storied Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet as replacements to the authority-building, customer-gathering, engaging, and collaborative Google Hangouts. 2020 is more than a year from now, so while Sundar Pichai and his team of techies decide the fate of this G Suite member, we still have no less than 12 months to enjoy the existing chat room app.

Nigeria’s Logistics Startup Kobo360 Raises USD 6 Mn From World Bank’s IFC

Andrew Christian December 7

Nigeria’s Uber-like trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised USD 6 Mn in its second investment round this year. The equity financing which was gained from World Bank ’s sister organization IFC, will help the company upgrade its e-logistics platform and spread its tentacles to Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast.

This recent investment for Kobo360, which also involved efforts from other platforms such as TLom Capital and Y Combinator, will be used by the startup to become more than just a transit app. The founder, Obi Ozor, told Techcrunch that the company broke into the logistics market as an app that connects truckers and companies with freight needs, but now looks to build a global logistics operating system and become a full-fledged platform.

While bridging the gap between truckers, producers and distributors, Kobo360 is now chomping at bit to build the platform that will offer supply chain management tools for enterprise customers. In a statement, Ozor revealed that large firms are now demanding for movement, tracking and sales-related specific features, which is why the startup is looking to leverage two options – integrate other services such as SAP into Kobo or building the solutions directly into the e-logistics platform.

With this new investment round, the startup will sally forth with the said upgrade by developing its API and opening it up to for the use to large enterprise customers. With the intent for clients to use Kobo360’s dashboard for everything from moving goods, tracking, sales and accounting, the platform wishes to tackle the challenges faced by its customers.

It is also reported that the company will forge a more physical Nigerian presence in order to serve its customers better. Concerned about truck movements and monitoring, helping operation’s collect proof of delivery and accessing trucker owners more closely for inspection and training purposes, Kobo360 is poised to launch 100 hubs before the end of 2019, according to its founder.

The startup, remaining “aggressively” focused on reducing logistics friction for large enterprises and SMEs alike, alongside connecting new markets and unlock better community wellbeing, will add more warehousing capabilities to support its reverse logistics business. By matching trucks with return freight after they drop their loads, Kobo360 will bring down prices and eliminate the return-empty challenge facing its customers.

In a statement, the IFC enthused that the company currently has over 5000 trucks empanelled on its platform, from more than 600 small fleet owners, serving some of the largest enterprises in Nigeria. Kobo360 told Techcrunch in January that it is looking to add 20,000 trucks to its platform and latch on to the expansion which is now made possible by its USD 6 Mn raise. According to the founder, the expansion, which is scheduled to take off in 2019, will be with existing customers – one in the port operations business, another in FMCG and the last in agriculture.

As a matter of strategic priority, the funding, which was announced by both parties on the eve of the opening of the IFC’s Next 100 African Startups Initiative, will be used by the startup to also expand programs and services for its driver members. Along this line, Ozor remarked that neglecting drivers would crumble the company to a pile of issues while iterating that the same loophole hinders ride-hailing companies from becoming trillion-dollar enterprises.

Because owning trucks may be too cumbersome to handle, Ozor opines that the best scalable model is to aggregate trucks, while handling more volume at cheaper prices to leverage the startup’s asset-free digital platform and business model to outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria.

According to a Weetracker report, Kobo360 raised USD 1.2 Mn in June this year from U.S venture capital firm Western Technology Investment and became a Y-Combinator cohort, while receiving USD 120 K equity investment from the seed fund. The logistics startup, which has served 900 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 8000 drivers and moved 155 million kilograms, is welcoming IFC’s regional head for Africa, Wale Ayeni and TLcom’s senior partner Omobola Johnson to take seats at its board.

Kobo360 also offers training and programs on insurance, discount petrol and vehicle financing to its drivers. The startup has also created an HMO for drivers, alongside an incentive-based program to afford education, which is monikered as KoboCare. The company’s top clients include Honeywell, Dangote, Unilever, Olam and DHL.

 

Featured Image Courtesy: Macktrucks