A new kind of agricultural technology

In Kenya, a group of girls invent an innovative social network and mobile marketplace for farmers

The AkiraChix, an-all girls’ team, was declared a winner of the recently held IPO48 software development competition in Kenya. The IPO48 initiative brought together 100 participants from all over the country to pitch their ideas, question business models, form teams and create 17 prototypes and products which, by the end of 48 hours, were ready for the market (Afrinnovator).

mfarm1The winning girls came up with an innovative M-Farm, a mobile-based marketplace that is targeted to small-scale farmers to increase their agriculture productivity. 

Social networking at the core
Social networking remained a core theme of this endeavour. HumanIPO, one of the main organisations behind the IPO48 initiative, is based on the thesis that “successful companies will emerge through collaboration between networks of free agents”.
AkiraChix is based in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital city, using the Ushahidi platform to reach out to East Africans.
Through events like IPO48, HumanIPO connects young entrepreneurs and visionaries with mentors, sales agents and investors in social media.
A similar platform, called the iHub also exists in their native Nairobi, which hosts enthusiasts of information technology in the city and enables them to share their ideas and interests.
In fact, ArikaChix were members of iHub prior to winning the IPO48 competition. The girls applied the concept of social networking in their winning M-farm invention, which is designed for small-scale farmers to connect with suppliers, agrovets and cooperatives. (Through M-Farm, farmers can access SMS code to get weather updates, information on buying and selling of farm inputs, and connect with suppliers).

From concept to implementation
Although the concept of M-farm has been tried in other parts of Africa, the IPO48 initiative has challenged the assumption that:
i. Women tend to shy away from information technology.
ii. The digital divide is making richer countries more prone to exploiting the benefits of information technology than the poor countries.
iii. Starting a business takes time and a lot of investment.
According to allAfrica.com, the winning members of AkiraChix have resigned from their previous jobs and incorporated more women officers in their newly established firm to implement the project.

Sabina Panth

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