Hectic yet reflective! The pilot GFAR-YPARD Young Agripreneur Project is coming to an end and in these posts, the six young agri-preneurs are pondering on their professional and personal journeys over the past twelve months. In April 2016, they all gathered in Johannesburg, where they thrilled the audiences at GCARD3 with their enthusiasm, drive and energy in describing their YAP projects. Now they are looking back at what the past year has brought them, what challenges they had to deal with, and what the the mentoring, coaching and training that came along with the seed funding through YAP, has meant for them as businesspeople and as individuals. They are also wondering what the future holds for them. It is inspiring to read how motivated they are, and how a small project has made a major difference in the lives not only of these selected agri-preneurs but in the communities where they live and work.
It was wonderful experience to be selected as one of the finalists for the Young Agripreneurs Project (YAP)! Honestly speaking, I had given up hope during the social media voting period, the competition was so tough. But in the end, I was among the chosen ones, and though I didn’t get chance to meet all of them in GCARD3 event in Johannesburg, I watched my fellow “YAPers” live on YouTube and found out about their projects.
The expectations we had when starting YAP, was mainly to get assistance with the design and development phase, as well as with scaling up our mobile-app ‘Smart Krishi’. Now, at the end of the YAP year, I can proudly say that we have worked towards these objectives, and turned them into reality.
Our project was only one and a half years old when we were selected for the YAP. From the outset, I was certain that I had to establish the brand, Smart Krishi, first, rather than focusing on revenue generation. In a developing country, for a start-up like ours, sustainability is the main challenge. Most start-ups take 2-3 years to reach the break-even point. I kept asking myself questions like ‘Are there enough users in Nepal to use your mobile app?’ ‘How will you make money on it?’
At the time, we had a beta version of our app in PlayStore and the growth in our user base was limited. But my team and I were passionate about our ideas, and we were convinced that all the features of the app would eventually work. What was required was a significant change to the mobile app, both in terms of usability and features.
The first achievement of the YAP year was the development of a business canvas and a business model. Having a business plan helped us step back and take an objective look at what we were doing and why, what we knew for certain, and what we were trying to figure out.
We spent most of the first installment of the YAP funds on developing a new version of the mobile application and on overall system improvements. Social media is the main channel by which we reach our users and other stakeholders, and so we also invested some of the funding in improving our presence on social media.
Mentorship and coaching
‘Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor’. (Lillian Gifty Akita) Looking back, mentorship is one of the things about YAP that I’ve really cherished. Cal Foulner from Australia was assigned as our mentor, and he has a wealth of experience in working in remote villages of Nepal. We sought help on how to reach those areas, we were not good with trainings or promotional activities. Cal very skilfully helped us implement our project in rural areas of the country.
We also benefitted from his experience in how to make a start-up grow progressively into a sustainable business and we asked for his advice on how to monetize a business in the agricultural domain, especially in the context of a developing country.
Apart from the continuous mentoring with Cal, the leadership coaching call with Larissa Conte was an eye opener in many respects. After that call, I started thinking differently about partnering with people and organisations who can help us in promoting new innovations, I became much more positively inclined to develop partnerships.
Adding another brick in the wall: KrishiBajar-Marketplace for agro-inputs
Although the original purpose of my YAP project was to develop a system to facilitate access to agricultural information, my team and I identified challenges that farmers were facing when trying to sell their produce, purchase agricultural equipment and find a common place for trading. We started to enlist all available machinery and tools and equipment on a website and share it via our social media channels. We linked vendors and importers so that they can build brand awareness and promote new tools. The response has been massive and users are receiving a lot of inquires, comments and phone calls as a result.
Sustainability – a key objective
Most agriculture-related projects and companies are not sustainable in the long run. I have heard and read a lot about this in different meetings and reports. Our focus is on adding more value to the service and product so that we can grow on limited revenue sources. To achieve that, we need a significant increase in number of users, as well as improved brand awareness and expanded revenue sources. We applied for a local business incubation program, Idea Studio second season. We didn’t apply only in the hope of receiving more investment money; I also needed to figure out how to scale up my product and how to reach more people.
The road ahead is not likely to be not a walk in the park, but these aspects are what makes us stronger and motivate us to move forward.
We’ve already been working in this field for two and a half years, now it’s time to scale up our product and services. We were off to a good start when we, as a part of Tech for farmer project by WINROCK International, ShreeNagar Agro Group(SAG) and three other organisations, were awarded the Project ShreeKisan Innovation Hub to work on promoting new innovations in the aquaculture and horticulture sectors. In the first year of the project, we will promote local innovations and progressive farmer’s stories using videos and blogs on social media.
From the recent “Social Media Production Tour” field trip with WINROCK team, I learned that we need to develop more partnerships at local level so that we can attract more young people and female farmers to our service. We value them as our real users (targeted audience) who will use our app on day-to-day activities to get timely information.
Our focus will be on helping farmers find markets for their products via our online marketplace and overall network. We are talking with different organisations to expand our network to grassroot levels. The overall goal is to integrate ICT with agriculture to increase productivity and improve revenues in the agricultural sector in general, and to improve food security in our country and region. Thanks to YAP we are one step closer to reaching that goal.