By Murimi Gitari
John Waweru, the Founder of Optimerce Consulting, a business that digitizes the process of produce collection at farm-gate through mobile apps was announced as the AYuTe Africa Challenge Kenya Winner by Heifer International.
Joshua Gitonga, the founder and CEO RafikiPay, a company that deals with the processing of sunflower, groundnuts, soya and canola oil from the hybrid seeds was announced as the 1st runner up winning a cash grant of Ksh 500,000 while Grace Kyarimpa, Managing Director of Agrodiverse Ltd Kenya, a business that coverts insects, earthworms into sources of protein in animal feed and high-quality organic fertilizers, emerged as the 2nd runner up walking away with Ksh 250,000.
The three winners of the Agriculture, Youth and Technology (AYuTe) Kenya Challenge will receive a cash grant of up to $20,000 and a three month mentorship programme from Heifer International which recognizes the most promising young agri-tech innovators across Africa with affordable solutions to support its goal of helping more than six million smallholdr farmers in Africa to earning a sustainable living income.
The Champions of the inaugural $20,000 Heifer International AYuTe Africa Challenge Kenya were chosen from an impressive field of young agri-tech innovators from across the country and were announced during Heifer’s gala awards ceremony held in Nairobi, early September.
The competition design targeted companies must have developed a tech solution to address smallholder farmer challenges with strong potential to scale. Besides the top three innovations, other finalists included Azma Foods Ltd, Digital Farmer, Ento (insects) Solutions Ltd, Farm Mall, Farmerline Technologies, Limachain, Nalima Digital, Shambaline Ltd, Soluvax, Stofresh Africa, Toothpick Company Ltd and Vermi-Farms Initiative Ltd.
In June 2022, Heifer International Kenya launched the AYuTe Africa Challenge Kenya to promote and reward agriculture technology innovation across different agricultural value chains in Kenya. The applications for the challenge run from 14th June to 14th July 2022, while the proposal evaluation pitching and judging were concluded by 31st August 2022.
The top 15 finalists were competitively selected through a rigorous judging process and got a chance to do their final pitching where three winners were selected.
While congratulating the winners during the gala ceremony, Heifer International Kenya Country Director Ms Esta Kamau, affirmed the organization’s support to the winners noting they will walking the jounery together with the involvement of other partners.
“Having worked with farmers for very many years we see the AYuTe challenge as an opportunity to identify exciting young innovators who have wonderful ideas to be able to walk with them through the journey of fine-tuning those ideas as well as providing linkage to the opportunities to scale up those ideas,” said the Country Director.
She further noted that the AYuTe Africa Challenge Kenya competition has affirmed their understanding as an organization that many young tech companies require a combination of significant investment and expert guidance.
“I am confident that we have filled that need, not just for the top three winners but also for those who made into the top 80.”
Having been launched in 2021, the programme gives grants annually of up to USD 1.5 million to the most promising young agri-tech innovators.
In the same year, two companies, Hello Tractor and Coldhubs Kenyan and Nigeria-based companies respectively won USD 1.5 million for being at the forefront of driving youth engagement in agriculture.
Young agri-tech innovators bring new energy to African agriculture and Heifer International conceived the idea for AYuTe Africa Challenge based on four decades of work as a trusted partner of African farmers and seeing first-hand the stark difference between local farms that have access to technologies and those that do not.
Speaking after receiving the award, the Founder of Optimerce, John Waweru who looked overexcited thanked Heifer Kenya for recognizing and supporting youth who have ventured into innovations meant to help smallholder farmers.
“This award means much more to me than just the Ksh 1million as my business model was birthed out of a tragedy that had happened in our family and this is when I realized that every farmer need to be treated the same way all other value chains are served in the agricultural sector,” he said.
He also encouraged the other contestants of the competition saying they have all won as they also managed to get to the finalist level.
“It is not only me who is getting to the top but each every one of us and now we have been tasked to go and represent our farmers by ensuring the technologies we have developed will give our farmers more profit as what everyone is looking for is adding more coins to their pockets- for helping their children who will be the next generation and therefore this will prepare themselves in embracing and not disliking agriculture,” Waweru added.
Powered by E4Impact Accelerator, the competition aims to offer young entrepreneurs in Africa the opportunity to pitch for investment in their agritech solutions to boost the incomes and productivity of Africa’s smallholder farmers.
David Cheboryot, Director of the E4Impact Entrepreneurship Centers, “As E4Impact we were glad to have been involved by Heifer International Kenya to provide capacity building, training and mentoring of the young agri-tech innovators in the various stages of the competition on the art of storytelling to better connect the problem and the unique value they were providing, how to dissect and validate their markets, defend their revenue streams, document, quantify and share on their socio-environmental impact and justify their financial request which the finalist and the winners managed to do.”
Like the Regional Champions competition, the AYuTe National Champions competition offers prize money and mentorship, helping translate the energy and ideas of young Kenyan agri-tech innovators into meaningful impact for smallholder farmers across the country, and supporting winners to grow their businesses and profile.