By Calvin Awora

Calvin Awora, our reporter in the Department of Agriculture had a one on one chat with Vivian Opondoh from Ugenya Sub County, Siaya County, a continental AgTech Innovation Awardee for her success in developing a platform (FARMULA) that enables farmers to price their produce and gives businesses the access to order directly from farmers.

AgTech Innovation Award recognizes a female providing technological solutions to various value chains. It can be a mobile app, software, electronic device, web or machinery that increases crop yield, forecasts weather, improves animal health, reduces waste, connects buyers to sellers or improves scalability. Here is a report on how the conversation went down.

Calvin: Give a brief about your age, education and career, location and Sub County

Vivian: My name is Vivian Opondoh, I come from Siaya, Ugenya, West Ugenya Ward. I was born on 29th July 1988. I mostly reside in Nairobi city where I run my businesses.
I am a tech entrepreneur and below is my educational background.

Data Science Postgraduate, African Leadership University – Johannesburg, South Africa, Graduation – 2020
Software Entrepreneurship Certificate, Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology – Accra, Ghana, Graduation – 2019
Software Development Certificate, Moringa School, Nairobi, Kenya, Graduation – 2017
B.Eng. Aerospace Engineering, Western Michigan University, Michigan, USA – 2014

I have worked in Engineering and Technology mostly and the plan for Farmula is to innovate in the agricultural space using technology and data. Below is how my career has been so far; –
Coordinator, Alumni Network Committee, Mastercard Foundation – Feb/2021 – present – Nairobi, Kenya
Co-founder, Farmula Limited – Feb/2019 - present – Nairobi, Kenya
Chief Technical Officer, The Gradient Boost – Jun/2020 - Oct/2020 – Nairobi, Kenya
Software Developer, Health-e-net – Aug/2018 – Aug/2019 – Nairobi, Kenya
Program Lead – Women in Tech, Moringa School – Aug/2018 – Aug/2019 – Nairobi, Kenya
Project Manager/Mechanical Engineer, Solar-E-Cycles – Aug/2016 – Dec/2016 – Nairobi, Kenya

Calvin: Describe the entry you presented for the competition

Vivian-: We were sent questions regarding out product and below is what we submitted; –
– We provide Farm-retail distribution service via chat commerce
– We developed a software that automates end-to-end food distribution. We have linked distributors’ dashboard to chat commerce such as WhatsApp. A retailer places orders via WhatsApp and a notification is automatically sent to a distributor near the retailer. Once the order is fulfilled, payment gets deposited into the distributor’s bank account or mobile money account.
The dashboard tracks distributors’ inventory and automatically aggregates and notifies the farmer. Upon receiving the demand via SMS, the farmer fulfills the orders weekly.

Calvin: Did you expect to win?

Vivian: Not at all. As a company we have been in operation for one and half years. We are just now achieving product market fit. I honestly thought the other nominees who work with seasoned companies were in a better position to win.

Calvin: What motivated you to participate?

Vivian: My passion for the Agricultural space, a nomination from The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the hard work my team has put into our company is what motivated me to participate.

Calvin: Have you won any awards before, if so which ones?

Vivian: As Farmula, we were listed among FoodTech 500, 2020’s definitive list of the most inspirational shortlisted businesses in the world of AgriFoodTech.
With other teams I have won;
i. NASA SpaceApps challenge – 2018, Global Nominee, Accra, Ghana
ii. NASA SpaceApps challenge – 2017, Local People’s choice winner, Nairobi, Kenya

Calvin: Do you have a background in agriculture or you’re just starting?

Vivian: I did Agriculture in High School, but I can’t say I used any of that knowledge. Back in 2015 with some friends we tried farming french beans and ended up losing the KES 300,000 we had invested due to lack of access to the market. I am involved in different agricultural groups; in 2017 I participated in Impact Jam; a program that brings together innovators interested in co-creating impactful solutions for food waste in their cities. In 2019 I was part of UNLEASH; a global innovation lab which gathers top talents to collaborate on solutions that help meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.
I can confidently say working on Farmula is what has exposed me to agriculture fully.

Calvin: What was involved in preparing for this competition?

Vivian: With this particular competition, we had to share the work we had done. So having records and documenting our farm visits with pictures and data helped. We also had to show how our product works given its software. Having a tech product that is being used ensured we were ready.

Calvin: What support did u get if any, and from whom?

Vivian: Access to individuals in the Guzakuza network. We have gotten two clients from West Africa, 1 major potential partner and 2 investors are currently doing their due diligence with the interest to invest in Farmula.

Calvin: What is the award for the win, and how are you going to use it?

Vivian: For this win there was no monetary award, just access to networks and exposure to potential investors.

Calvin: Do you plan to be more involved in Agriculture, if so how?

Vivian: Yes we do, mostly around revising agricultural policies. Our platform encourages interregional agricultural commodity trading. But our clients find it easier to export produce to Europe as opposed to exporting produce to other African countries. This is mainly due to policies that act as barriers for interregional trade on the continent.

Calvin: What have you learnt from this event?

Vivian: To always be ready, given that we had all our working material and data we just had to present them. Secondly to get on platforms that will expose our work. From this event we were able to get several individuals who were interested in working with us either as clients or partners or potential investors. Lastly when an opportunity presents itself jump on it and network.

Calvin: What advice would you give the youth who wish to venture into Agriculture?

Vivian: To the youth who wish to venture into Agriculture, do your research and understand clearly which part of the supply chain you want to be part of. Agriculture is broad, so instead of venturing into it alone from scratch ask those who have been in it for years and make learnings from them.
Ensure it is something you really want to venture into and collaborate with others instead of going at it alone. There is room for everyone to win in this space so understand your customers needs and just start.

Calvin: What benefits have you got from agriculture, if any?

Vivian: Money; as a company we have made money form linking farmers directly to market. Food; I access my food affordably.
Exposure; I have gained a lot of exposure across the continent and gotten into different tech programs where I have sharpened my tech and business skills
Networks; I currently have access to several networks across the continent which helps when we need to gain access to an organization or individual.