Students start-up cuts farmer losses, eases financial access – Business Daily
Storefresh founder Charles Oyamo speaking at a past event. PHOTO | POOL
Charles Oyamo grew up seeing farmers in his Kamreri village, Migoriface face challenges including a lack of cold storage facilities, digital payment solutions as well as markets.
“My grandmother, for instance, relied on her two-acre farm to grow sweet potatoes and kales. She planted and harvested at the same time as most of her neighbours,” the third-year Bachelor of Arts in Development Communication student says.
This meant that they all flooded the market with produce and inevitably prices were lower since they sold to middlemen.
To address the problem, she started Stofresh, an online marketplace for farmers to get access to cold storage, enable digital payments, and facilitate marketing.
“When we were starting about three months ago, the idea was to build a marketplace for farmers to get access to cold storage facilities and extend the shelf life of their fresh produce. So at that point, we were storing fresh produce,” he says.
The 24-year-old adds, “we have gone ahead to add value-add services such as digital payments, opened up our platform for food distributors and retailers, and enabled farmers to purchase farming inputs in installments.”
The idea behind Stofresh, he points out, came up during a conversation between four University of Nairobi students and friends.
While Kairu Karega was passionate about the stories and lives of smallholder farmers, Jecinta Sydney Mwangi had experience building other social start-ups.
“Iyvie Hellen Mboya saw Stofresh as an opportunity to change the fortunes of smallholder farmers like her mother. Three months in, Jecinta and Karega would go on to pursue other career opportunities.”
“Benaiah Wepundi joined us and together we have been able to move Stofresh from just an idea into a startup working with over 30 farmers in our private beta.”
The student founders realised that a lot of trade in the agriculture sector is informal and cash based. This means that farmers lack a way to track their sales which would enable them access financing.
“By digitising payments, we are derisking investments into the agriculture space for financial service providers. Farmers and traders can now make transactions seamlessly and track their spending,” explains Mr Oyamo.
“Since farmers are already making transactions on our platform, we are building a save-to-but feature that allows them to get quality inputs at affordable payment terms.”
To date, they have invested nearly Sh1 million in the enterprise through support from the Swiss Embassy, German Development Agency (GiZ) as well as personal savings.
They are now working with 37 farmers ahead of a public pilot in the fourth quarter of this year.
“For our private beta, we are working with farmers from Kitale and scouting for Kisii, and Meru counties.”
Presently, farmers on the platform are not being charged. However, the commission is incurred by traders who buy produce from farmers through the platform.
Mr Oyamo says, “Since our primary business is facilitating this trade, we are keeping our price as low as possible and making money on trade volumes.”
They are working closely with Safal Groups’ Bouchard International. The firm is also in supplier conversations with two food distribution start-ups.
Since launching three months ago, they have created 12 indirect employment opportunities.
The company, which is yet to raise capital from international and local investors, is looking for funding.
“We are yet to raise funds but are open to the conversation with like-minded people or organisations and if that leads to an investment, then well and good.”
Besides establishing a strong presence in Kenya within the next 12 months, they are looking for more partnerships besides growing a farmers base.
“Afterward, we intend to go to the Southern parts of Tanzania and the Eastern parts of DRC.”
One of the lessons Mr Oyamo has learned is to celebrate the small wins “because they will take you through the tough times.”
“Nobody has figured everything out. If you believe in your solution just do it. There has never been a better time to start,” he adds.
One of the biggest challenges is getting accurate data. “Secondly, it is next to impossible to solve the agricultural inefficiency alone. That is why we are pursuing partnerships. “
“Having these conversations while we are still at an early stage becomes challenging but we are slowly learning how ‘the ecosystem work’,” he reckons.