UNB student's tech company combats crop waste in Nigeria
Damilare Odumosu found a way to make an impact helping farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa get produce to market
When Damilare Odumosu thought of food waste in his home country of Nigeria, he asked what he could do to make things better.
The 25-year-old son of a computer programmer decided to use technology to solve the problem.
After lots of failed ideas and talking to farmers on the ground in Nigeria, the University of New Brunswick master's student created All Farmers Online, a company that uses geotagging and an online store to share information on food availability and bridge the gap between farmers and buyers.
"When we ask the right questions, we are developing the right solutions," Odumosu said.
Odumosu believes in using technology to solve problems. Growing up, he sold software on the streets of Lagos and always had a love for computers.
He came to Fredericton on his first international flight last September to do a master's degree in technology management and entrepreneurship at UNB. He hasn't returned to Nigeria since.
"I was in search of a dream, I was in search of impact," he said.
The problem and the solution
In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, farmers often can't sell all of the produce they grow before it spoils. Buyers lack information on where and when food is available, and farmers' access to markets is limited.
North America has large commercial farms, but Odumosu said 90 per cent of agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa is by smallholder farms.
Waste happens when farmers grow a lot but people aren't ready to buy or don't know where to go to buy. Farmers transport the produce back and forth, never able to sell large amounts at a time.
All Farmers Online uses geotagging and another of Nigeria's problems — a rising youth unemployment rate — to solve the information breakdown.
Geotagging attaches location data to various media, from text messages to photos and videos.
The company uses social media to find unemployed graduates who are tech-savvy and gives them a chance to work for commission by facilitating crop sales.
Young people can go to farms, take photos of the crops harvested and upload them to the All Farmers Online website, making it easier for buyers to see where products are, and the quantities available.
Youth facilitators then get a five to 10 per cent share of each sale they help make. The company charges a five per cent fee of each sale.
So far, Odumosu said the farmers involved in the project have seen reduced crop waste, and it's saved them time and money travelling to sell their produce.
The company has been running for a year, but it's faced challenges like any startup.
"Trust was a major challenge, how to gain the trust of people who haven't seen the produce and make them see how they could make their purchases," Odumosu said.
But the company is gaining momentum. It won a Grandmother's Choice Award at StartupFest in Montreal earlier this month and was a finalist for the World Bank's Ideas 4 Action competition.
Odumosu has worked in Canada to find investors who believe in the same dream he does.
Work on the ground
In Nigeria, Babatunde Alayande, the liaison officer for All Farmers Online, co-ordinates farmers and facilitators.
Nigeria has four official languages: Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and English.
Alayande said while language barriers mean the company has to work to pair farmers with young people who speak their language, the response so far has been positive.
"They are really enthusiastic about it … they embrace our solution and we believe in time the whole country, and even the whole of Africa will embrace it," he said.
The company works with 50 farmers and anywhere from five to 10 facilitators. It plans to expand to more parts of Nigeria, as well as Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda.
Odumosu said verification is important to the company, which is why it has built a live-video feature into its business model.
Buyers can request a live video of the produce to ensure its quality and existence before they make their purchase.
All Farmers Online also focuses on quality assurance. The company only works with farmers who are involved in a co-op to ensure a standard of quality.
Odumosu said the support he's received in Fredericton from UNB faculty and other entrepreneurs to develop his product has been great.
"Once the people here see what you do is of impact, of value, they give you the support they give you the encouragement, everything that you need to ensure that it becomes a reality."
Dreaming of impact
Odumosu's primary focus has been on developing the company's main product, but he has plenty of other ideas in the works.
He wants to launch a product by the end of 2019 that would use animated tutorials of modern farming techniques to teach farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to grow more effectively. However, the first priority is making sure they can sell everything they already grow.
Eventually, Odumosu wants to add a resources-sharing component to the business. Geotagging would show where a farmer has excess resources, like a tractor he or she can rent for a few days, and make that information available to a farmer who may benefit from leasing that equipment.
Supporters have told him the project has big potential, but Odumosu said that's not the most important thing to him.
"It starts here, right in your heart," he said, pointing to his chest.
"My drive as a person is that whatever I do, how is that impacting people positively?"