Listening is the first step to addressing the challenge of rural transformation and zero hunger.
For half a century the aid industry has tried to impose their solutions to poverty without success. NINAYO was founded after the founder spent three years straight (2009-12) living in the rural farming village of Lilondo, Tanzania, with no agenda other than to listen and learn. Listening to farmers who struggled to know when to plant due to climate change. Listening to farmers who were exploited by middlemen. Listening to farmers who could not afford agricultural inputs and were stuck in a cycle of poverty.
After years of listening and conducting dozens of formal surveys and interviews in 2015, NINAYO.com was launched as an online trading platform for farmers and markets to connect. Shortly thereafter, the cofounder of Uber, Garrett Camp, recognized the opportunity to help innovate this inefficient marketplace with modern technology, similar to what he had built in the ride sharing space. Garrett invited NINAYO to join Expa Labs in 2016 and helped build the roadmap and strategy.
To explain how NINAYO addresses the challenge, let's consider the example of Maria Lupagaro, a typical NINAYO user. Maria is a 33 years old maize and onion farmer in Ruvuma, Tanzania. Maria has three children. Like her mother before her, Maria depends on the size of her harvest and then how much she can sell her harvest for. NINAYO helps her in both regards:
1. Helping Maria sell her harvest: Before joining NINAYO, Maria depended on selling her crops to an inefficient patchwork of middlemen. As crops are perishable, middlemen would often delay negotiations to their advantage, and Maria was often forced to sell at prices she could barely survive on. But once she joined NINAYO, she could share the information of her harvest with a wide network of potential buyers. She contacted a buyer named Alex Goodluck, who offered her 21% more for her harvest than she was previously offered. Maria was able to connect more directly up the supply chain and earn more money.
NINAYO attracts users like Maria to the platform by sharing market data freely. Users can navigate on the website, or with the assistance of our support team via USSD, SMS or Facebook’s Free Basics App.
2. More bountiful harvests: Small-holder farmers struggle to budget for the agro inputs needed to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty. Consider the challenges they face: after a farmer makes a sale, months pass before they plant again. So come planting time, there is rarely enough savings that remain to purchase the fertilizers, drought resistant seeds or fungicides that can provide them the resiliency to grow a more bountiful harvest.
NINAYO helps farmers solve this challenge by giving users the option to pre-order their next harvest inputs with the push of a button once they make a sale. Not only that, but NINAYO is able to sell farmers their inputs at a discounted rate in certain regions by retailing directly from the warehouses. This gives us a 19% discount on the price of the goods sold in shops. We are transforming the rural agricultural space in East Africa with the first (as far as we know) e-commerce model.
We are not only solving a problem for farmers, but for Fortune 500 companies like Syngenta and Bayer. These companies have great R&D and production on the continent, but really struggle with marketing their products. As NINAYO knows when their customers have made a sale, we give them access to their “bottom of the pyramid” customers during that brief period when they can afford to invest. NINAYO is not a charity, we are an ambitious venture backed firm that believes there is a major market problem which can be solved by utilizing the nascent telecom infrastructure.
Listening is not only the first step, it's a part of every step. Our field agents are still readily available to our 35,000 rural farmers, but we also use digital tools to enhance our understanding of user research, such as Google Analytics and Metabase. These insights allow us to build a tech product that low IT literacy people can successfully navigate. We have learned so much since our launch in 2015. And we are still working to listen to our users so we can provide their path out of poverty.
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