80% of Tanzania’s workforce is in agriculture, and yet small holder farmers continue to struggle to purchase the agro-inputs needed for more bountiful harvests. Selling their harvests above the minimum price can also be an immense challenge, often trapping them in a cycle of poverty.
NINAYO increases small holder farmers' incomes by improving access to markets, agricultural inputs and knowledge through simple-to-use digital tools.
NINAYO is a free marketplace used by Tanzanian farmers to sell their crops. The team is currently evaluating two synergistic products. The first is a series of WhatsApp groups that enable farmers to order discounted agro-inputs and receive real-time agronomic advice. The second is a "Quick Codes" (USSD)-based system that enables farmers to own their harvests further up the value chain. These two products will benefit farmers by improving inputs, plant health and sales prices. All of NINAYO's services are available in Swahili, as well as English.
NINAYO is a Tanzania-based online trading platform for agriculture in East Africa. The start-up launched its operations in Tanzania in 2015 and in late 2019 joined the WFP Innovation Accelerator Sprint Programme, mainly to evaluate two new synergistic products.
NINAYO works with farmers in rural Tanzania to co-design solutions for them. Over 500 farmers are engaged with NINAYO’s WhatsApp groups, coordinated through group leaders with smartphones. Of these farmers, more than 25% have purchased their agro-inputs via NINAYO. Inputs are also direct from the manufacturer, which is important as the industry is riddled with counterfeit products. These benefits are then made more widely available, as NINAYO leverages its digital channels to batch orders at bulk rates, passing on the savings to the farmers.
When farmers harvest their crops in early 2020, NINAYO will be ready to pilot its digital ledger, with a "Quick Codes" (USSD) interface, enabling the farmers to own their crops in a NINAYO warehouse. Farmers know that crop prices fluctuate dramatically throughout the year. Often farmers hold a few bags back, which are stored improperly. NINAYO enables farmers to store these bags in a state-of-the-art warehouse, as well as capture the full market value of their harvests.
As a smallholder farmer, Abdalla provides for ten family members by planting on his five acres. Abdalla, however, has faced the challenges of affording the high costs of seeds and fertilizers for his land. The travel costs of going to the nearest big city of Dodoma or Arusha to find high-quality inputs also added to his struggles, and didn't make sense from a cost-benefit perspective. Enter NINAYO. By delivering agro-inputs to a warehouse distribution point in his neighboring village of Bukulu, Abdalla was able to save time and money, without sacrificing quality. During his last harvest, Adballa purchased several 2-kilogram bags of seeds at the far-off city market for 12,500 Tanzanian Shillings (about US$ 5.40). NINAYO then offered the same for Tsh 11,000/- (about US$ 4.75), much closer to his home. Adballa was thus able to get a similar or better quality of seed for less money with less travel costs, enabling him to more easily and affordably put food on his family's table.
After a successful season of providing discounted agro-inputs to over 300 farmers, NINAYO is preparing to help those farmers when they harvest. This means developing a "Quick Codes" (USSD)-based system that will enable farmers to manage the storage and sale of their crops remotely, on a basic feature phone. In May, Ninayo will begin picking up its participating farmers' harvests, bringing them to the biggest maize trading hub in Tanzania, where it will be properly stored and sold when the farmers decide the price is right for them. Once this pilot proves successful, NINAYO plans to scale to surrounding regions and make the offer available to other farmers, as soon as mid-2020.
WFP has developed a vast network of farmer groups across Tanzania, and East Africa. This serves as an excellent avenue for scaling NINAYO's services. Also, the brand strength of the WFP name carries a great deal of weight, not only with farmers, but within the venture capital community. NINAYO is planning to raise its Series A round in the Autumn of 2020, and the WFP Innovation Accelerator's Sprint Programme will be front and center in its pitch deck.
NINAYO is not only seeking investors, but also partners in other African countries to identify opportunities for pilots. While much of East Africa is similar with regards to the challenges of smallholder farmers, understanding local cultures and laws is essential for a successful market entry.