A technology company that ventured into agriculture — learning on the job

Michael K. Ocansey
Jun 8, 2017 · 5 min read
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AgroCenta is at its core a technology company empowering smallholder farmers through technology and innovations. It is normal practice for every company to do its due diligence before venturing into unfamiliar territory. We did. A lot — but as it mostly turns out, there are those tiny things we see happen so often in our day-to-day life we take for granted and make generalised assumptions. For instance, we see so many illiterate taxi drivers daily we ‘loosely assume’ all taxi drivers are either illiterate or semi-literate. We have learned a lot of lessons on the job. Some we learned early enough to straighten us up.

Are we measuring in sacks or metric tons?

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This is one of the common sense assumptions we made because — well, we have common sense. Before venturing into this we always saw commodities packed up in sacks so logically we assumed it safe to talk in ‘sack’ terms. In our interaction with the farmers we kept saying sacks and no one had a problem so sacks it was. The first day we got to sit with a client at the negotiating table we learnt they don’t speak sacks but metric tons. We started perfecting our metric tons to sacks conversions immediately we walked out of that meeting.

Re-Bagging is a full time job

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One will assume all we had to do was pick up the sacks full of maize from whoever we were buying them from. Well, Uncle Ben will do that for you if you’re buying his rice from the (super)market not here in the hinterlands of Northern Ghana. The commodities come in sacks that are not ‘client worthy’ so re-bagging into our branded sacks needs to be done. It is actually someone’s full time job to re-bag and weigh each sack. A cost element we learned on the job but learnt early enough to factor into our pricing model.

Professional sack sealers

The loading boys

Council tickets

Fu*k the cheque. Give me cash

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We once jokingly asked a truck driver, “Boss you dey take cheque?” (That’s Pidgin English for boss do you accept cheques). Hahaha was his response. That is mostly the response you will get from those we deal with in this value chain. You cannot pay the loading boys with cheques. Neither the re-baggers nor sack sealers. The farmer who makes quite a good sum of money has no bank account so cash it is (better still Mobile Money. AgroPay at best). The municipal assembly is in the best position to accept cheques but even they insist on paying council tickets by cash. This is bad for us especially since we have to stay accountable to our investors but hey — that’s just how it is.

The keyboard starts where the paper ends

Resourcing the farming community

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At the end of the day it’s our brand that suffers if we fail to deliver on time. Soon we realized the communities we worked in were highly under resourced. We had to buy scales, sack sealing machines and a few other things to enable the farmers measure accurately and bag much faster. This was for our own good.

If a feature must go — let it go

The deeper we go into this, the more lessons we learn. Not for a moment have we regretted venturing into the agriculture space as a tech company.

AgroTales

A curation of AgroCenta’s journey from crawling to baby…

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