Small Gadget, Big Impact: Young Entrepreneur Fights Food Loss with Innovation
Isaac Sesi has been curious — and entrepreneurial — since he was a child. When he was young, he tinkered with various electronics and looked for ways to use them as solutions to problems. This kind of curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit, paired with the energy and optimism of many of Africa’s youth, is shaping the continent’s future.
In Isaac’s home country of Ghana, agriculture is the foundation of the rural economy and offers immense opportunities for youth like Isaac. Seventy percent of production value comes from food crops. Yet, as much as a third of cereal crops, such as wheat, oats and maize, are lost after harvest. A critical cause of such post-harvest loss is that smallholder farmers often lack proper drying and storage. But for an entrepreneur like Isaac, every challenge is an opportunity.
In 2017, Isaac and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss at Kansas State University started a partnership that is now providing farmers and people across the food system with an affordable and effective tool to tackle this very issue.
The tool is small but mighty: a moisture meter called GrainMate. First developed by Paul Armstrong of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a researcher at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab, GrainMate measures the moisture content of maize and other grains. The main cause of post-harvest loss in grain is insufficient drying before storage because it creates conditions for fungal growth, contamination and insect infestation. After testing the meter in Ghana in partnership with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the Feed the Future Innovation Lab was looking to engage the private sector and searching for an entrepreneur who could pick up, adapt and scale the prototype.
Isaac was completing his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the time. With a small team of KNUST classmates, he learned how to assemble the moisture meters, redesigned the circuit board and built a mobile app to pair with the meter. His company, Sesi Technologies was born, and began marketing the newly-named GrainMate moisture meter.
We believe that the adoption of technology can have a huge positive impact in reducing losses and increasing productivity in the agriculture sector with smallholder farmers as key beneficiaries,” says Sesi. “With GrainMate, we are helping African farmers and their families come out of poverty and hunger.”
“On a continent where it may be more common to just import technology, Isaac is trying to create it and is part of an entrepreneurial generation that says — Africa can do this too,” says Armstrong, who still plays a role as an advisor for Sesi Technologies.
Sesi Technologies is now an established and growing agricultural enterprise in Ghana. The GrainMate moisture meter has received pattern approval from the Ghana Standards Authority, and Isaac and his team at Sesi Technologies are working to improve the meter and streamline its production in Ghana. Originally sourcing parts from China, Sesi Technologies has since developed relationships with Ghanaian businesses to make components locally, which creates more jobs in Ghana and reduces costs for GrainMate’s production. The GrainMate currently sells for $100, a fraction of the cost of other comparable moisture meters, making it more accessible to farmers, traders and extension workers looking for post-harvest solutions. Sesi Technologies believes that as they begin to produce at scale and optimize the production process, they can further reduce the unit price of each GrainMate.
People across the agriculture and tech industries are taking notice of Isaac’s work, including at the university Isaac dreamed of attending as a boy. Isaac was recently named one of the MIT Technology Review’s 2019 35 Innovators under 35, joining a remarkable list of past honorees, including Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
GrainMate has won a number of prestigious international awards including the iSHOW Kenya 2019, the GIST Tech-I 2019, and the Empowering People Award.
Sesi Technologies is not slowing down. “We seek to help create an Africa where no one has to go to bed on an empty stomach anymore,” Isaac says. “And it is beginning with GrainMate.”
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Post-Harvest Loss is one of 24 labs that draw on the expertise of top U.S. universities and developing country research institutions to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges in agriculture and food security. Learn more about the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss, led by Kansas State University, at www.ksu.edu/phl and about Sesi Technologies at sesitechnologies.com.