Few years ago, my mother had visited us in the United States but was not interested in staying. She felt very bored. She wanted to return home to mentor younger women, participate in her local trade group and continued her work in the Methodist Church. After completing a dental procedure, she was off to Nigeria.
But before she left, she asked me for help – she needed a solution to accelerate farm yield and boost farm productivity. As a high school kid many years ago, I developed a technique my grandmother used in her farms and which practically quadrupled her earnings. It was a color coding system that ensured that she used the right fertilizer for the right type of crop. Relying on a table from my Agricultural Science class notebook, I encouraged her to change most of her yam farming practices focusing more on the varieties that delivered higher yields over her fixated passion on the supremacy of the yam varieties. I worked to ensure she adopted a new cassava variety after the cassava mosaic disease which ravaged cassava farmlands in Eastern Nigeria in late 1980s. I kept a notebook on farm output from the farms because I wanted to ensure they could save enough for my university education. They did and my undergraduate education was smooth.
I believed in science and I trusted the data from my high school textbooks. My mother was surprised at a time when I demanded that only improved varieties of guava, coconut, and other fruits would be planted in our new country home. I asked them to pay for them instead of the free local versions.
So, when my mother explained that she needed new solutions to help younger farming families to earn more, I knew it was a time to get back to lab. I promised her I was going to look into it. I traveled to my village in 2012 and visited farms to have a deeper understanding of the challenges. Women were working harder but yields were not accelerating. I came to the conclusion that they may need to make better decisions in the farms. And technology could be catalytic in that process with mobile connectivity readily emerging.
After eighteen months of engineering designs, I have launched the Zenvus Smartfarm. Zenvus Smartfarm is an intelligent solution for farms that uses proprietary electronics systems to collect soil data like moisture, temperature, nutrients, pH etc and wirelessly send them to a cloud server via GSM, satellite or Wifi. (Data can be manually accessed with in-built microSD). Algorithms in the server analyze the data and tell farmers on what, how and when to farm. Also, as the crops grow, the system deploys special cameras to build vegetative health of the farm for drought stress, pest and diseases etc. The cameras can be mounted on long sticks or drones. The goal is to transform farming into a business by making it data-driven over guesswork. This improves productivity, reduces waste and increases yields.
I built a satellite interface to ensure every farm could be covered as most of the farms are out of GSM/3D coverage range. As I understood during my trip that some of the farmers have become bolder, I felt they could do more to transform farming into real business. So, relying on data collected from the inserted hardware, Zenvus supports different online services:
- zManager is an electronic farm diary that helps Zenvus farmers record all phases of farming from planting through harvest to sales. It keeps all records – financial, staff, tools, etc in one secured place
- zPrices empowers rural Zenvus farmers with real-time produce prices across major cities. It provides farmers with data to effectively negotiate prices with merchants who normally pay them little.
- zCapital helps Zenvus farmers raise capital (loan or equity) by providing independent farm data from our sensors to help banks and investors evaluate overall profitability of farms.
- zCrowdfund helps Zenvus farmers crowdfund capital from local donors who they can deliver produce after harvest. Our sensors validate these farms providing partners with confidence.
- zInsure helps Zenvus farmers insure their farms by providing independent farm data from our sensors to insurers. This helps them evaluate the risks based on actual farm data.
- zMarket provides a platform for Zenvus farmers to sell their produce. It is an avenue to expand their markets by removing geographic limitations. Farmers list their harvest days and buyers connect.
My goal is to make Zenvus the Facebook of Africa’s farm data where we will have data on every farm and transform agriculture. We will help farmers reduce waste, improve yields and accelerate productivity. We have built 5,000 crop databases and have the capability to tell a farm the best crop for his farm based on many metrics which include weather, profitability, economic data, demographics and policy. It is deep machine learning and application of computational models in agriculture. I feel extremely positive because I visited my village last week and have the opportunity to on-board the devices to help the people that I love. Governments are interested and Zenvus Smartfarm will redesign African farming. Zenvus Web App works on both mobile and desktop devices.
I am looking for distributors who can expand our footprints across Africa. If you are interested, email [email protected].
Finally, to the beautiful Americans, thank you. You made this product possible via a generous USAID grant.---