A mobile-driven business to business sourcing platform for fresh produce from smallholder farmers is changing Kenya’s small-holder farmer’s fortunes for the better, one farmer at a time. Selina Wamucii is a startup that was founded two years ago by two enterprising Kenyans who have a lifelong history with agriculture, Kariuki Gaita and John Oroko. Both engineers by training, the founders were raised and educated from proceeds of small-holder farmers. In this case their mothers.
And this is how the name Selina Wamucii came about. Selina is the late mother of John while Wamucii is the name of Kariuki’s mother. The company represents the solution to problems they saw growing up, and the choice of name is a way of honouring their parents.
Small-holder farmers’ problems lie around the supply chain, and thus developed a platform to make sourcing easy and efficient..
Selina Wamucii was founded in June 2015 with a plan to deal with the challenges that small-holder farmers have of accessing markets. They realized that most of the problems lay around the supply chain, and thus developed a platform to make sourcing easy and efficient. According to John, solving a problem for this group would involve the mobile phone, they bank on the high access to mobile phones and with basic USSD technology they would reach them.
Farmers just need to dial the USSD code and when called back they can share their details including name, number, location, type of produce, size of land, volume of produce and when produce will be ready. This gives them information when sourcing for produce and they don’t go blindly like many resellers do. It also enables them to find out what volumes of produce they have when clients make orders and they are able to confirm whether they can meet client demands. Their clients are distributors and vendors, and their product is centered around efficiency.
“Efficiency is very important, and that’s why we have almost 60% of produce from small-holder farmers not reaching markets due to wastage or lack of information on availability which is a big deal,” says John. He adds that resellers seek produce and exhaust where they know it can be found, while at the same time there are farmers who’s produce is going bad. Visibility would ensure that the produce would never miss going to market.
Selina Wamucii started with avocados and went on to add other produce like mangoes, pineapples and custard apples. First market was the Middle East, but they have since gone on to supply Europe, the Far East and some African countries like Morocco and Egypt. They deal in smallholder-sourced fruits, vegetables, herbs and processed products (example being extra virgin avocado oil).
The team which has an address in Rongai in the outskirts of Nairobi comprises of 11 permanent staff, about 200 casual staff and 40 produce agents who co-ordinate sourcing of products in the counties. With this team they are able to organize information according to county and type of produce, all the way down to specific variants of produce. The produce agents are able to provide an updated report of the produce situation on the ground, including expected numbers at harvest, even with consideration of challenges to farming that may arise in the course of the season.
Their backend also enables them figure out how many farmers and in what location that it would take to satisfy needs of a certain client when orders are made, even for those who want a regular supply.
Management of payments to farmers is also automated by the system as soon as an order is delivered, such that they get paid on the spot by Selina Wamucii. Agents are paid separately for their services. Once produce is delivered they grade it and ship it to the clients.
Selina Wamucii has already reached break-even, and they already run from their revenues, but the situation they have is that they are only able to serve upto 2 percent of the orders made by their clients. This is brought about by limitations in working capital, their business is capital intensive, since only some of their clients will pay up-front for their orders, and some would want really big orders.
..they are looking to raise first round of funding..
This brings up the need for fundraising to increase their business capacity. John tells me that they are looking to raise their first round of funding. This is intended for acquiring facilities like cold rooms to store produce in, talent acquisition, working capital so that they can increase their ability to grow their ability to process more orders from the current 2 percent to 28 percent and upgrading their information system so that they can further automate processes and have smarter decision making.
Selina Wamucii also engages farmers in training to that they can improve on product quality by sharing why the market prefers certain products a certain way and not another way. This is done to get farmers to benefit more from their work. In future, with access to funds, they hope to get more aggressive with farmers training since these are their partners in the value chain.
To support more farmers, the company is working on increasing its order acceptance rate from the current 2.4% to at least 18% in 2018 which would translate in revenue of several million dollars. By using the mobile phone to shorten and transform the agricultural supply, the company hopes to become one of the largest providers of fresh produce in Africa, while passing the benefits of an efficient chain to both the farmers and fresh produce buyers.