Africa’s Locust Infestation and NINAYO’s Way Forward

Imagine you are typical East African farmer: You survive on what you can grow from the ground, and what you can sell that crop for. The money from that sale is what you put your kids through school with, how you pay for medicine, how you survive. Your entire tribe around you are also farmers, and it’s a tradition going back for generations.

You’ve heard stories of locusts. In the Bible. From your parents. But now you’re hearing the hum of millions of these creatures and seeing them lay waste to the fields you toiled over and depend on. Desperately you try to find a way to stop the infestation. Rumor has it that noise works, so you scream and clap and bang pots and pans together:

You drive your motorbike through the swarms. Praying to drive them out.

Tens of millions of farmers are experiencing something like this right now. The problem is real, massive and devastating. I wish I had the solution for the farmers who’s farms are wrecked by these pests. I pray the aid industry does better than it ever has before to serve those suffering.

However, I do have something of a solution to offer in the wake of this devastation: market access.

For five years now I’ve been running NINAYO, a startup that digitally connects food supply to markets in East Africa. My investors and advisors include the most talented entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, notably cofounders of Uber, FourSquare, and the former CEO of MySpace. On the ground in Africa we work with USAID, SNV, the UN and the World Food Program. We’re blessed with network and talent, but the problem we face is massive.

One of the biggest problems in African agriculture is storage. In a good year, 40% of food goes to waste during post harvest handling (there’s no telling what those figures will be this year).

There are significant barriers that farmers face financially to move their crops into proper storage facilities. That’s why NINAYO is launching a digital system that enables farmers to own their crops digitally further up the supply chain, while we move the actual crops from their farms to state of the art warehouse facilities. In a practical sense, NINAYO is advancing the cost of storage and transportation of crops, in exchange for a small commission, to the farmers.

Our system ensures that the crops which make it through this locust infested year, will be properly stored in state of the art storage facilities. We remove the financial barriers for farmers, and empower them to reap the benefits of the higher prices. This not only beneficial to farmers, but for consumers also. The prices of staple foods are going to sky rocket unless we can successfully navigate the existing supply with greater transparency.

Unfortunately it looks like we will only be able to reach a small number of farmers with the system this harvest, as there is a high CapEx to advance farmers the costs of transport and storage. But we’re pushing our resources to the max to help as much food reach storage facilities as we can. As we are not a charity we’re not seeking donations, but we would like to engage the best investors, advisors and entrepreneurs available.

CEO of @NINAYOcom, East Africa's online trading platform for agriculture. Dedicated to building great technology in emerging markets.

CEO of @NINAYOcom, East Africa's online trading platform for agriculture. Dedicated to building great technology in emerging markets.