Prosperity

30 years

Crowdfunding offers kickstart for hackathon champions

As a young man growing up in a farming household in rural Uganda, Opio Obwangamoi David often asked himself a question:
"How could agriculture, a sector that employs 80 per cent of Uganda's population and feeds every household, be so sidelined in the national planning process?"

In 2012, with a degree in economics and a postgraduate diploma in agribusiness, David started engaging with farmers from neighbouring regions. He soon realised that most farmers had difficulties in accessing markets and finance, which in turn stifled production. David teamed up with Gerald Otim with whom he had attended college, and together they worked to connect rural small holder farmers to markets and microfinance institutions.

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By early 2013, David and Otim had helped more than one thousand smallholder farmers to access commodity markets worth US$80,000 (€57,700). They had also helped 500 farmers to access agricultural loans through a microfinance institution. But lack of collateral and the high costs of accessing formal finance remained a problem. The only other alternative, Saving and Credit Cooperative Societies (SACCOs), had become tainted by fraud and lost public confidence. Revitalising the role of SACCOs in providing finance to rural smallholder farmers became the quest of the two young entrepreneurs.
Their search for a workable solution led them to Outbox, a collaborative space for ICT inspired entrepreneurs in Kampala, Uganda. It is here that they learned of CTA'sthe ICT4Ag Hackathon, planned for November in 2013, and it organized by CTA at Outbox. It was at the AgriHack Championship that an innovative solution was first conceived.

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Together with a team of developers, Otim and David came up with Ensibuuko, a mobile and web application that integrates automated SMS and mobile money services to enable SACCOs to handle savings and make loans to smallholder farmers. The system would allow farmers to register using SMS, and save, receive and pay back loans using mobile money.

The app also features an inbuilt android information management system, so that SACCOs can track the savings and credit history of members. The result is simpler, safer financial credit and savings management for producers and lower costs and greater transparency for SACCOs.

Taking part in the CTA Agrihack Championship proved an opportunity to develop the Ensibuuko app and galvanise contacts with Kiva, an online crowdfunding platform to which David and his team had turned for capital. When Ensibuuko was named winner of the regional finals, the award brought the team valuable visibility and credibility.

A pilot phase signed with Kiva has enabled Ensibuuko to provide finance to 42 rural smallholder producers, mainly model rural farmers who commit to mentoring other farmers in the community. So far, the six-strong Ensibuuko team has raised more than US$15,000 (€10,800) and is well on its way to its immediate target of raising another $5,000 (€3,600).

The goal is to enable 25,000 smallholder farmers to access financing by the end of 2015. The app developers plan to do this by setting up links with 1,000 SACCOs, as well as higher level partnerships with finance and non-finance partners, to enable them to channel financing to smallholder farmers through the Ensibuuko platform.

As well as the €5,000 prize money and smartphones awarded for winning the CTA hackathon, the Ensibuuko team has earned six months of mentorship from Outbox. Aside from providing working space, the hub offers technical support and advice to refine and improve the app and coaching on areas including finance management. It also arranges meetings with potential partners, mentors and stakeholders and invites the team to attend business development training workshops.

Winners and Outbox hub manager

David, 26, who farms his own three-acre pineapple plantation in his village, has always been confident that he and his team would find a practical solution to help farmers solve one of their biggest problems. But even this young Ugandan has been surprised at the pace of progress.

"We had expected some level of success", he said. "But after winning the CTA hackathon, we have been utterly surprised by the level of growth so far."

For more information on Ensibuuko
For more information on Outbox
For more information on Kiva