Category Archives: Kenya ICT

Kenya’s Money in the Past: Digital Kenya

Digital Kenya, by Bitange Ndemo and Tim Weiss, charts the rapid emergence of Kenya in the world of technology. Through stories and interviews with people in the sector, you learn about risk-taking and making policy from humble beginnings back in the mid-1990’s when the whole country shared 32 kbps, and the then telecom Kenya Posts & Telecommunications (KPTC) monopoly declared internet services as being illegal. At the time, KPTC was connecting about 10,000 users to the phone network, and with 77,000 potential customers waiting, they envisioned a 5% tele-density in Kenya by the year 2015. The tele-density in 2015 turned out to be 88% thanks to rapid changes that came after fibre cables and the cheaper mobile phones emerged.

One story is a narration of how, as a peace agreement was being signed in February 2008 to end the post-election violence in Kenya, the ICT Ministry managed to secure a guarantee to enable the laying of the TEAMS fibre cable that ultimately changed the face of ICT in Kenya. This came after the ministry had stepped back from another long-discussed  bureaucratic cable project – one called EASSY. This was one of the examples of government officials circumventing red tape for a good outcome. Another was the roll out of M-Pesa which is also cited here, ahead of regulations and thanks to some  individuals in government giving it their cautious blessing. Not all of them turned out well, and one case cited is of officials at the Postal Corporation sabotaging a land deal that would have led to the establishment in Nairobi of the headquarters of a multinational telecommunications organization.

There are many other stories that show issues of privatization, race, the lack of vision & finance, tech startups, the need for skills to scale, and the disconnect between local capital & the tech sector. It also shows the disconnect of ICT with both formal banking and also with the agricultural sector, two crucial links yet to be adequately bridged in Kenya.

Thanks to the Ford Foundation, the books is available free of charge and a free book download can be obtained.

Node Africa launches

Phares introduces Node Africa

Phares introduces Node Africa

This week saw the unveiling of Node Africa, a new company led by Phares and Brian, the duo who spearheaded Angani before they left the company following a boardroom fallout that rocked the Kenya ICT startup community, late in 2015.

They have moved on from Angani, are now back with Node Africa, an information management company (that uses cloud infrastructure) and who’s tag line is we run your cloud infrastructure  so you can run your enterprises. 

It’s been an impressive turnaround in a few months; and in just six weeks after formal incorporation (in December 2015), they have launched Node Africa company and it’s up and running with a team of six, partnerships with Cisco, VMware, and Microsoft and with customers including Pesapal, Tarpo, Strathmore University, and WhatsApp Africa.

They still believe that Africa will be a cloud-first continent, and that, gmail and popular apps have  shown, companies value well-delivered services, regardless of the location, or infrastructure that’s behind them, or the devices that their customers are using – and that cloud services, backed by a dedicated team like theirs are the way of the future for local and regional companies to scale their growth, customers and services.

#WhatsNextAgTech

Nest Nairobi held its monthly entrepreneurship speaker series in partnership with the  Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC) on January 27, at the Strathmore Business School.

#WhatsNextAgTech panel

#WhatsNextAgTech panel

Hosted by Zeynab Wandati (business reporter at NTV Kenya), the panel featured Stefano Carcoforo (CEO/Co-Founder of iProcure Africa), Grant Brooke (CEO at Twiga Foods), Marion Moon (Managing Director Wanda Organic), Charles Odida (a farmer), Linda Kwamboka (Co-Founder at MFarm Ltd), Chris Kolenberg (Director Marketing & Sales at Kenya Biologics), and Munyutu Waigi (Co-Founder of Umati Capital)

Excerpts from the event sorted by subject 

Agri-Economy  Agriculture is 26% of Kenya’s GDP and employs 80% of the rural population. It comprises 40% of exports and 45% of govt. revenue and 7% of industrial raw materials – KCIC rep

Government

  • A law is coming in farming which will require all farmers to be members of an organization ,  and through that, they will be taxed  – Marion
  • I’ve no faith in the government to solve small farmer problems e.g. they allow contaminated maize imports, our borders are porous  and farmers get zero protection, just exploitation from the government – Munyutu
  • The support that governments give to farmer has very little to do with farmers interest e.g. in the choice of fertilizers sold – Charles
  • Ultimately you have to work with government. It’s not as bad as it was in the 90’s – Stefano

Cooperatives

  • We work with cooperatives, providing tech to them; while others devalue them by saying they want a cut, and there are many shady ones, cooperatives aggregate demand on behalf of farmers and play an integral role in rural societies – Stefano
  • We don’t work with cooperative, as we want to pay farmers directly. I’ve never seen a successful corporative, they are more like pyramid schemes. They may work when they are 10-15 people, but go bad when they are 200-300 members and become unions  – Grant
  • Cooperatives are very critical but don’t have farmers’ interest at heart. There is an Eldoret dairy cooperative with $10 million revenue, but it’s farmer members remain poor – Munyutu

Maize

  • Maize is a terrible crop – when you have a bumper season, the price goes down. When you have a bad year, the government imports a lot of maize – Stefano
  • Maize is a good crop. Farmers with good storage, and good planning don’t have to sell maize at throwaway prices. Ugali (made from maize meal) is one of the top foods bought in every household. Also there are institutions that buy hundreds of bags of maize every year e.g. schools to fees students – they need quality and villages don’t trust imported maize – talk to them, negotiate sales in advance and they come to check out the farmers fields, and pay more than the government – Charles

Farmers

  • The average of age of a Kenyan farmer is 62 years; they are used to a certain way of doing things right, and it is hard for them to change – Charles
  • Growing a crop does not happen overnight like the Eurobond;  Farming does not produce quick money, and farmers, by nature, are patient – Charles
  • Farmers trust each other, they trust farmers who have tried things e.g. they will try a pest control fertilizer that they are referred to by others – Linda
  • Farmers will adapt when they see something work. So you often have to give them free samples  – Chris

Finance 

  • 98% of produce is sold to the informal markets and there is little formal financing for that. Debt is about 20-30% of the market cost of foods sold as middle men and mama mboga pass on the cost of default risk – Grant
  • Cash flow in key in agriculture. When a crop needs weeding, you have no choice, you have to do it, or you’ll have no harvest. You have to schedule money for from activities. – Charles
  • SACCO’s are good for farmers, but there are also many Kenyans in the US and Dubai (where investments only earn 1-2%), and who are willing, and do lend their idle cash, to farmers they trust to earn much more (some of them are even on @twitter) – Charles
  • The government has many avenues of financing farmers e.g. AFC lends to sugar farmers at 5% – Charles
  • Bank ads for farmer loans look sexy in TV but in reality, they are too slow  for farmers – they don’t disburse money quickly enough – Munyutu

 Local Markets

  • Food is 51% of household spending – Grant
  • Food safety is the driving concern for a mama mboga as she will want to know and tell her customers which farm her produce comes from –Grant
  • Urban young farmers who want to get rich doing passion fruit and strawberry should instead grow things that you can see a market for everyday – Grant
  • It’s crazy that 100% of our local produce would be rejected at the EU – Chris
  • Processors are getting tired of dealing with brokers and aggregators and want to go deal with the farmers directly – e.g. for dairy, fruits (A company called Fresh & Juicy is working with farmer to supply Nakumatt) – Munyutu

 Inputs

  • It took 2 years to get bio-organic fertilizer approved in Kenya – Marion
  • Ultimately, what farmer can produce is declining, and those who are increasing productivity are doing so using chemicals, but that is only a short-term (5 years) measure  – Marion

Export Markets

  • Italian companies that produce canned beans and used to source them from South America,  are now looking to get them in Kenya, but are struggling to find enough farmers – Marion
  • Kenya can compete with Brazil in passion fruit; that market is big – Marion.
  • Kakuzi has 300 small-scale farmers that they used to grow their produce. They know what they spray on their own 6,000 acres, and work with 300 other farmers who they advise, but ultimately, they can’t establish exactly what inputs these farmers are adding to fruits – Chris
  • Small scale farmers wont be able to compete in future – 1st world farmers are 40X more efficient – Chris

 Logistics / Middle Men

  • Kenya is not food insecure,it is logistics insecure. A banana is Kshs 10 (sometimes  20), which is the same price as a banana in London;  that’s because we stopped investing in markets, and there are many bottlenecks, broken links and 5-7 people between the farm and the market  – Grant
  • Supply chains are longer in Kenya that they need to be – there are too many brokers, and the farmer is not visible in the farm to fork story – Charles
  • Middlemen exist because farmers don’t understand what the markets want – Linda
  • Middlemen add zero value, and that’s why the price of food is high – as they hedge against their defaults – Munyutu.

Tech

  • Farming is putting a seed in the soil, nurturing it and harvesting – it’s not phone or apps or tabs – (which only bring in efficiency) – Marion
  • Kenya has been slow to get/adopt farm smart phone apps & software compared to Brazil and South Africa – Charles
  • Kenyans don’t use Kenyan products, but use our apps so we can make them better  – Linda

 Whats the Next Big Thing in AgTech?  

  • Traceability fake products look more real than the original product – so the next big thing in agri-tech will be clever apps to provide assurance through traceability of inputs. There’s now a lack of traceability, farmers will tell you what you want to hear, and counterfeit products are prevalent – Stefano
  • Distributed Commodity Exchanges, which used to be in Chicago and Ethiopia (ECX) are now in the cloud with firms like Twiga that act as warehouses – Grant
  • Mid-size farm management as a career. There are people in this room who inherit 30-40 acres in rural areas, but want other people to profitably manage farms for them – Grant
  • Partnerships – Marion
  • Farmers specializing in certain crops and increasing their yields drastically – Chris
  • Financial capacity building – financial products in simple math, loan calculations in easy language – Munyutu

The outreach manager of KCIC said they provide entrepreneurs with an enabling environment (policy) for innovation, business advisory services and financing opportunities [for (1) proof of concept financing  and (2) a seed facility of climate change venture funding of $100,000-500,000 of  growth capital for entrepreneurs from June 2016]

BRCK Education Launches in Nairobi

It’s been just over a year, since the BRCK team launched their groundbreaking device – a rugged 3G router with Wi-Fi, and 8 hour battery life that’s built to be extended to work with other devices and uses.

From pieces of electronic junk assembled at the iHub a few years earlier, this became a consumer electronics device that has now been sold in 54 countries and the team is now back with the next variants of their device.

BRCK engineers

BRCK engineers

The initial device had been extended since with assistance from partners and feedback from users, some of who found that the in-built storage in the BRCK and its micro web server (which allowed users to share content over Wi-Fi) were unexpectedly and surprisingly crucial features.

The groups who showed the greatest interest in extending the capabilities of the BRCK were mainly in the education sector – comprising education providers who had content, but had challenges delivering it at schools around the world which had the challenges of electricity, internet, device failure etc. With the support of Mozilla Foundation, they were able to develop the BRCK pi – in which a Linux server was added to the BRCK, enabling content to be shared, even with zero connectivity.

#BRCKEducation

Nivi, who was a co-founder of eLimu learning tablets, and who’s now the president of BRCK Education spoke of the inspiration and challenges that eLimu went through in delivering digital education through sharing text-book content in a digital format – with the main problems being uploading new content and the fragility of the imported tablets. But with BRCK content cached locally, they were able to update several eLimu tablets overnight.

BRCK was launching two devices today in Nairobi that can be ordered at the BRCK Education site:

  • The BRCK Kio is a new sturdy tablet for school education. It can survive a 70-centimeter drop, is water & dust proof and is designed for kid-size hands. It has 8 hours of battery life, to last a full school day and has the latest processor from Intel. The $99 Kio is available for sale from October 1 to schools, and thereafter to the public in January 2016.
  • The BRCK Kio Kit a suitcase that has a BRCK pi (server), and 40 Kio tablets. The Kio Kit has a single charging point (and can be solar-powered in hotter areas) and wireless charging sleeves in which kids drop their tablets after school to recharge, and get uploaded with new content. The Kio Kit has a single power port and a single start button that gets the entire Kio Kit running in a minute. Erik a.k.a @whiteafricam, who’s a BRCK co-founder said that wireless charging, which is still a luxury item in many parts of the world, was an essential feature here to eliminate the need for multiple charging cables (and many sockets at schools). The Kio Kit is also secured that if someone removes (steals) a Kio tablet from the school, it won’t work and can’t be flushed. An entire Kio Kit costs $5,000.
BRCK Kio kit charging and loading Kio tablets

BRCK Kio kit charging and loading Kio tablets

#BRCKEducation has partners at JP, Intel, Pearson, Eneza education, KnowZone, eKitabu, eLimu and Kenyatta University. It also has Chase Bank as a finance partner to enable schools to acquire Kio Kits at Kshs. 46,000 ($460) per month.

More on the launch and products here and here . 

Traffic Apps in Kenya: Ma3Route vs Waze

Today Safaricom partnered with Google to launch  Waze, an interactive phone app that provides motorists with real-time traffic information crowd-sourced data from other road users.

Waze, which originated in Israel, was bought by Google for $1.3 billion in 2013. But while Waze has 3 million global users, its maps are sparsely used in Nairobi. There’s been a bit of discussion about why Safaricom is partnering with Waze when they have Ma3Route on Safari com

In Kenya, another platform, Ma3Route, has become the de-facto central point for traffic information which many people check before they start their car engines, both to see how clear the roads are and which routes are best. Ma3Route’s 300,000 daily users largely tweet or read about traffic conditions  and shares stories and traffic frustrations across its mobile apps, website, facebook and twitter.

Data Direction: Authoritative local tech blog TechMoran links the Safaricom-Waze partnership to Google using Safaricom to increase downloads and uptake of Waze. big data means a lot to both Google and Safaricom.

In contrast, Ma3Route bills itself as the twitter for traffic, taking simple text and placing it on maps with one of their objectives being to be light on battery and data bundle consumption.