A Botswanan start-up is breaking the barriers to digital technologies for rural smallholder farmers. Brastorne Enterprises, a winner of CTA’s 2016 Pitch AgriHack competition, operates a mobile platform called mAgri to improve farmers’ access to information, markets and finance.
mAgri is a USSD (unstructured supplementary service data) based platform, which can be used on any mobile phone. The app has included underserved communities in the remote villages of Botswana by connecting them to a communication ecosystem at an affordable cost.
Through the platform, which merges several mobile technologies, farmers can find a market to sell their products, but more importantly, interact and share ideas. At a cost of €0.75 (9 pula) per month, subscribers to the platform can access information on market prices, weather and best agronomic practices. Soon they will also have access to financial services and insurance cover via the mobile platform.
“We have taken a mobile phone and turned it into a trade platform,” says Martin Thato Stimela, managing director of Brastorne Enterprises.
What the Hack
In 2016, Brastorne Enterprises was invited to take part in CTA’s Pitch AgriHack competition. The competition is designed to develop the business services offered by young ICT4Ag start-ups. The mAgri app emerged as the winner from a group of 25 finalists under the early stage category of start-ups at the Pitch AgriHack final, held in Kenya in 2016.
Naledi Magowe, Chief Marketing Officer of Brastorne Enterprises, says Pitch AgriHack’s hands-on approach to training helped her company to fine-tune its pitching of business ideas to prospective investors. The training also helped the company to understand what financiers look for in start-ups that they want to fund.
“Since Pitch AgriHack, we have not done things differently, but smarter and more effectively,” says Magowe, who participated in a training boot camp as part of Pitch AgriHack. “During our mentorship session it was highlighted that we needed to expand and we are basically working towards getting out of Botswana and into other countries.”
Conferences and workshops, which Brastorne Enterprises have been invited to by CTA, have also been strategic to our business, says Magowe. At the 2017 Social Good summit in Geneva, the company met with business development executives of the multinational telecommunications corporation Orange, who helped map out Brastorne Enterprises’ plans for scaling up its services by rolling out new features to improve the mAgri service. The ICT start-up has a strategic partnership with Orange Botswana, which has given them access to a large pool of potential users.
Other networking opportunities have availed from CTA’s support for the advertising of mAgri through radio and SMS campaigns.
Forty-one new jobs created
Brastorne Enterprises invested part of the €7,500 prize money from Pitch AgriHack into a marketing outreach programme to grow more subscribers on the mAgri platform. Following Pitch AgriHack, Brastorne Enterprises has grown the mAgri service targeting 8 villages in Botswana with a particular focus on women.
“In mAgri we have created a mobile application based on actual market perspective that enables farmers to cheaply communicate trade and interact with each other, as well as with markets for their produce,” said Magowe. She said the company has created 23 fulltime jobs, which will increase to 41 by the end of August 2018.
“Brastorne is becoming a model for young entrepreneurs and they have helped us illustrate to other youths how to design a successful business model, due to the unique value proposition of their product,” says CTA’s Senior ICT4Ag Programme Coordinator, Ken Lohento, commending the mAgri services.
Connecting the unconnected farmers
“With our platform, subscribers have an internet application. The secret sauce was adding a chat platform. We have 500,000 people on our platform and 100,000 loyal monthly subscribers. We are adding 500 people on the platform every day.”
Stimela, said while it is difficult to measure the impact of mobile applications, CTA is planning to help the company to evaluate usage of the mAgri app. “We have built a community of people and an ecosystem. It has helped traders reach a market they never had before,” Stimela said. “Over 80% of users are youths and they are interacting with agriculture for the first time on our platform.”