Solve the problems of women farmers one by one
Doreen Irungu has international professional experience – added to childhood experience – which was part of her motivation before founding the Agritech platform, Ustawi Africa – a startup that works to help rural women farmers.
The 2021 Laurette for Women in Africa and Stop Hunger Award winner spoke with us at Technext, where she shared her experience growing up in rural Kenya and why she decided to create a solution that empowers families, by especially women farmers in rural areas, to have training, technology, equipment, access to finance and a market for their products.
Growing up in rural Kenya did not stop Irungu from yearning for the best education possible. She holds an Advanced Diploma in Women’s Leadership from the European Business University in Economics at Regent Business School, South Africa.
Prior to founding her startup, Irungu spent over 15 years working with the community on women’s empowerment and gender inclusion, which includes Rural Women’s Empowerment (PEST), i.e. ie politically, economically, socially and technologically.
Irungu mentions that after gaining significant experience in community and social work, she decided to use her experience and background in agriculture to develop a solution to the challenges she saw people face during her work and of his childhood.
In 2018 I moved from community social work to developing solutions that can help women in the agricultural sector, my goal has been to empower rural women to mitigate the major threats and challenges they face in terms of change and also to convert them from workers to commercial farmers by introducing a solution to the problems that affect them.
Irungu intended to create a solution specifically focused on training and empowering rural farmers in Kenya.
“My mother was a rural farmer and growing up I saw her and other rural women working as laborers on the farm, mainly because in Kenya women did not own land unlike men. And since these women did not own land or have much else, it was impossible for banks and other financial institutions to even consider them for a loan because they were unable to provide collateral. required which, in rural areas, is mainly land.
“This cycle has kept women impoverished and unable to be financially self-sufficient. This is the problem that Ustawi Africa seeks to tackle, and every time we provide these agricultural solutions to rural women, I am satisfied because they all look like my own mother,” Irungu said.
The Ustawi Solution
Ustawi provides women with access to financial links for loans, links to markets and buyers for their produce, and access to modern, smart farming equipment.
Talking about the financial linkages for these farmers, Irungu says they use an indirect and collaborative approach to make finance available as they do not have the capacity to effectively collect loans like financial institutions do.
We do not give money to these women or these clusters, rather we work with micro-finance banks in the areas where these people live and work closely with the bank to ensure that these women get loans at the rate lowest minimum interest rate available. After ensuring that they access these loans, we also work with an agronomist who trains these women and ensures that they recoup the money they have invested in their businesses.
She adds that “we are currently building an IoT that can help women better understand their soil and save water. Smart farming reduces costs, increases efficiency, maximizes results, saves water and energy, and more. It helps growers meet the conditions needed to increase crop yield and health, contributing to sustainable agriculture.
“Critical factors such as the need to adapt food production to meet the growing demands of the population, existing threats to food security and climate change affecting agricultural production are pushing farmers to seek innovative approaches to increase food production. ‘efficiency and productivity’.
The main priorities of smart agriculture using IoT focus on weather, soil temperature, humidity, nutrients, growing conditions, Npk measurement, solar radiation, etc.
“IoT sensors provide real-time data, which is useful for both agribusinesses and farmers. They reduce manual labor, water and energy consumption, maintenance costs, and all of this is made available to farmers through the Ustawi Africa platform,” says Irungu.
Is Ustawi free?
Irungu says Ustawi runs a hybrid system as the company is “a for-profit and not-for-profit organization. We are funded by organizations like Stop Hunger because we teach rural women how to farm and feed themselves and their families. »
We also run a system where we only work with members registered on the Ustawi Africa platform and we charge a registration fee of $10 per year. We also do the propagation of seedlings, for those who are not registered with us, we charge consulting fees and we also charge for our technological equipment made available to these farmers. We have at least five channels through which we generate revenue.
Impact and memorable moments
Ustawi Africa’s impact since its inception in 2018 has been phenomenal, says Irungu.
“We have trained more than 250 women’s groups on soil maintenance (regenerative agriculture), tree planting, water harvesting, agricultural management, livestock management, and more than 3,500 are currently in commercial agriculture.
“Another key impact is that the technological equipment we provide makes farming easier. We have technology that gives farmers information about humidity, predicts pest attacks, and so much more, but if they don’t use it they keep guessing, that’s how some of these farmers sometimes lose money because their guesses aren’t often correct, but with technology you get accurate predictions.
Memorable moments, says Irungu “by winning the STOP HUNGER AWARD, which we won for helping women be on the front lines in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
“Being invited to speak in Oslo, Norway about Africa and agriculture was also very memorable for me, but most memorable is attending events and meeting, listening and interacting with women building great solutions across multiple industries, which always blows my mind.”
Challenges as a woman in tech?
Irungu argues that more needs to be done to help African women in tech access finance as this is a major challenge.
African women in tech need more venture capitalists who understand the issues that exist in Africa, funding remains a major challenge for African women in tech, the reality is we have so many programs that offer mentorship to women in technology but they don’t offer funds. We have several organizations that are willing to train and mentor us, especially as African women, but none are willing to help us raise funds that will help us bring solutions to Africa.
Irungu adds that women must face the struggle for funding and fight against “prejudice against women”.
“Women also have to deal with gender bias and sometimes bias based on skin color. People seem surprised that an African woman is solving problems using technology and there’s almost this disbelief like, how can you, an African woman, do that? Who teaches you how to use technology? I saw it unfold in Norway when I was invited to speak in Oslo, Norway.
Advice for women in tech
It’s a long process of growth, it’s not something that can be achieved overnight. As African women in tech, we must realize that we are facing a great challenge, so overcoming these challenges will require every woman to be stubborn, determined, patient and not afraid to knock on every door. available. So, I challenge every young woman to wake up and embrace the issues we face on our continent and start coming up with solutions.
Irungu strongly believes in Africa’s ability to solve its own problems, so part of his future aspirations is to see solutions to African problems by Africans.
“I believe the future is Africa, only in Africa we have over 65% arable land that can be converted to farmland so I believe Africa has what it takes to feed her children and that women play a huge role in making that happen. For me and Ustawi, we want to improve food production, we want to reduce food waste in silo farming, and we want to increase food production by training more women farmers not only in Kenya but in Africa in general, while providing solutions to the problems of climate change.
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