Transforming Farming in Rural Africa

Profound change is sweeping across the grasslands and vast expanses of the East African savanna. Here, amid the verdant valleys and hillsides rippling through this sea of grass, small farmers have struggled for millennia to eke out a living from the sun-baked soils.

But now, with the help of an ecosystem powered by cloud technology, new hope and opportunity are coming to one of the poorest regions, per capita, on earth. It’s an alliance that connects hundreds of thousands of small farmers with an infrastructure that can support applications developed by Intelipro, a software company based in Kenya, to help farmers develop their agricultural practices, access financial resources, sales, and most importantly, improve quality of life for them and their children.

Watch the video to learn about how a cloud-based ecosystem is transforming the lives of farmers in East Africa, then read on for details on the technology and partnerships that make this transformation possible.

An Organization for Change
According to the United Nations Development Program, agriculture employs more than 69 percent of Africa’s workforce and accounts for 32 percent of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP).

But in East Africa, more than 80 percent of the farmers are small-holder farmers. These farms are typically small plots of land, fewer than 10 acres, on which the farmers grow subsistence crops like maize, beans, and bananas. If harvests are good, they sell any surplus to help provide for their families.

Helping these farmers sustain their farms and increase their incomes is the mission of the East African Farmers Federation (EAFF). Founded in 2001, the EAFF is a regional farming organization that, in less than 20 years, has grown to represent more than 20 million small farmers across East and Central Africa.

Africa will be the ‘cloud-first’ continent because many of the companies being built right now are unencumbered by legacy infrastructure.

Phares Kariuki

A major challenge for these small farmers is that, working as individual farmers, they do not make enough revenue to qualify for financial services, loans, or insurance. The GAFF provides a solution by enabling these farmers to organize and collectively pool their revenue and resources so they can access these kinds of financial services.

In its mission, the EAFF relies on the one consistent technology shared by millions of its members: cheap mobile phones. Nearly all of the estimated 4–7 million farmers in Kenya own a mobile phone that, while not capable of internet or data access, can run an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) application—a mobile communication technology that can send a text to a program running in a network.

A Platform for Development
In 2016, the EAFF launched the eGranary project, an initiative designed to collate information about a farmer’s planting practices and harvests to help the federation assist them in planting and raising their crops, and selling them after harvest.

To help it provide financial services to its farmer groups, as well as agricultural assistance through applications built on the eGranary platform, the EAFF partnered with Intelipro, a data-science and analytics company, and its cloud infrastructure service provider Node Africa.

Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, Intelipro specializes in building data products and analytical tools for retail and financial institutions. “Through Intelipro’s software and expertise in the big data space,” says Intelipro’s CEO, Leonida Mutuka, “farmers can track their productivity and their crop cycle, along with access to external analysis from meteorological or satellite data to enable predictability.”

By mid-2017, Intelipro established a solid database of more than 25,000 farmers for whom it tracks crops from seed to harvest. This data has been instrumental in developing initial credit profiles for farmers, allowing banks to approve more than $70,000 in seeds and fertilizer to 2,000 farmers in the program’s pilot phase.

Now that the initial rollout in Kenya is complete, the focus has shifted to extending services to the neighboring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

An Infrastructure for Transformation
Making all this possible is Node Africa, a VMware cloud provider partner that’s powering the infrastructure delivering Intelipro’s applications and services. Node Africa provides cloud infrastructure and professional services that are focused “on moving companies to the cloud,” says Founder and CEO Phares Kariuki.

“VMware’s technology allows Node Africa to offer solutions to my clients that previously might have required significant investments,” says Kariuki. Node Africa’s VMware technologies include essentially “the entire VMware stack,” says Kariuki, including: VMware vSphere®, vCloud Director™, VMware vSAN™, and VMware NSX®. “NSX allows us to have an Africa-wide network and security policies for any customer on our platform,” Kariuki says. NSX also enables Node Africa to provide its customers with secure, seamless migration across public clouds.

The Cloud-First Continent
Node Africa is determined to lead a technology revolution that will help transform the continent. “Africa will be the ‘cloud-first’ continent,” says Kariuki, “because many of the companies being built right now are unencumbered by legacy infrastructure.”

“Most of the businesses that will exist here have not yet been built,” he says. “There’s a huge opportunity for any cloud provider who is focused on this region.”

Node Africa is on a mission to be that cloud provider by helping African organizations, like Intelipro and the EAFF, take full advantage of the power of a secure cloud infrastructure.

“The opportunities are limitless,” Kariuki says, “and it will be unlike anything anyone has seen before.”