Kenyan mobile app could save tea farmers billions of shillings
By Pius Sawa
A 23-year-old Kenyan youth has developed a mobile phone application that will save Kenyan tea farmers over 33 million shillings (USD$330,000) per month.
The family of John Wanjiku from Kihoya village in Murang’a County is among the 565,000 tea farmers in Kenya who lose over 40 kilograms of tea yearly because lorries from the factory don’t come on time to collect the tea.
“There are 54 tea factories in Kenya, and the yearly loss is estimated to be over 10 billion shillings (USD$100,000,000),” said John.
He said the money lost is enough to build better roads, improve healthcare systems, provide piped water, and build more schools for the communities.
On several occasions, John would come home from school and find one of his family members still at the tea collection centre. He would take his turn to wait with the tea and allow the family member to go home and attend to other duties.
“At times I waited until three in the morning. The more you keep tea at the collection centre, the more it will burn and lose its quality. That means that you can’t sell that tea to the tea factory. And the farmer will have to discard the tea, meaning wasted labour and wasted tea,” said John.
This has affected education rates among local youth, as most students sleep outside guarding the family tea instead of studying. Others develop chronic coughs and chest problems due to the harsh cold and rain, ending up in hospitals.
“There are also risks of attacks by thugs when people come back home late from the tea collection centre,” said John.
John won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge for his work on a project called Ukulima Halisi, at the Mastercard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg in 2017, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.
Called Ukulima Halisi, John’s project offers tea farmers the possibility of increased family savings, healthier living, and potential improvement in their children’s education outcomes. Farmers will be encouraged to download an application on their mobile phones that will alert them to the date and time when tea will be collected and delivered to the factory without delay.
“To do this, we are using USSD codes on feature phones, whereby the farmer will be able to call using any type of phone that he has, and then he will be alerted as to when the lorry will be at the tea collection centre.”
This, according to John, will eliminate the waiting period because a farmer will notify the system before he starts picking the tea.
“He’s going to notify our system that he’s going to pluck tea today and that he’s expecting to pluck a certain amount. When we get all that information from the farmers, we then send it to the factory. The factory is then aware that they can expect this amount of tea today from the tea collection centre,” said John.
The number of lorries will be dispatched according to the amount of tea collected and farmers will be notified once the trucks leave the factory.
“Then we will in turn notify all our farmers that the truck is about to come to a tea collection centre and it’s safe to take your tea there. The farmers would take about 30 minutes to take the tea there and be done with the whole deal in less than 30 minutes,” explained John.
Ukulima Halisi transforms what was once an insecure, lengthy process down to a matter of hours, ensuring that crops do not go to waste and, thus, better revenues for the family.
John and Kevin Lumbembe, his friend and business partner, have completed testing of the application and are ready to start implementation as soon as John returns to Kenya from his studies at the University of Pretoria, where he is one of nearly 3,500 university students studying in Africa or overseas as part of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, chosen specifically because of their academic talent, social consciousness, and leadership qualities.
“The app has additional functions, including expert advice on the tea farming process. We’ve also improved some aspects of the app after testing and consulting with farmers.”
John explains that to maintain the service, a farmer will pay an affordable annual subscription fee of Ksh 600 ($6).
“If a farmer makes 200,000 shillings a year, then 600 shillings will make sense for him,” he said.
John said that the revenue generated will create jobs for support staff and help with maintenance, as more farmers in the country start using it.
Already, Ukulima Halisi has approached several tea factories, which have welcomed the project and are willing to partner with it and receive its services.
“My family has been very supportive. They connected me to the directors of the factory and we had to ask several neighbours to get the contact information of the factory directors,” said John.
With such a simple technology, tea farmers not only in Kenya, but in Africa at large, will benefit from a dream that John first had as a child in primary school.
“I envision a world where systems help streamline agricultural processes in Africa and where farmers can make a better living,” John concluded.