Seventeen years old Nicholai Rajkumar is a student of St. George’s College in Trinidad and Tobago. He is pursuing studies toward a career in IT. Nicholai at age 15, completed a Microsoft course in App Development, which aided his participation in the Caribbean AgriHack Talent Competition in 2014.
Nicholai’s passion for ITs combines with his interest for agriculture. ‘I have always loved pursuing IT, and the idea of involving agriculture makes me feel elated to be giving back to the farmers, as they provide so much for us,’ he says. The IT aspect in agriculture came initially as a surprise for him. As a young innovator in the Caribbean, he believes that there is a huge demand for agricultural based ICT applications, if released and promoted well. ‘More and more the population is becoming aware of healthy food practices and demand good quality of food from farmers,’ Nicholai says.
The application Nicholai and his team have developed for the Caribbean AgriHack Talent Competition placed them in the finals. The app is a guide for farmers in Trinidad and Tobago to increase productivity and marketing their products. ‘I could not find any app that provides farmers with easy accessible problem-solving information. Therefore, the app that we have developed allows for a wide range of features to inform farmers about crops and livestock, pest management, and irrigation,’ says Nicholai. With the support of the Community HUB Corporation – a Caribbean NGO that aims to enhance youth and communities by leveraging ICTs – Nicholai and his team designed and built the application for the local farmers to access agricultural information by the internet.
After the AgriHack Talent Competition in Suriname at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014, Nicholai’s team developed further the app by implementing a text-to-voice speech output for the weather forecast, they integrated maps to the soil management feature, and attained support from CARDI, FAO, IICA and the Ministry of Food Production in Trinidad and Tobago.
The App was designed to be simple, effective, and written and sold in farmer friendly jargon. Information on crops and livestock, soil management, pest management, fertilisation, a live weather forecasting for the week ahead, and news feeds for current events, are now all available for farmers with one click or touch. New users sign up for the app by setting up a profile – “My Profile” that allows them to log-in and sign-in to the “Messaging Centre”, which is a dialogue platform where stakeholders can meet and market their produce. A feature for “Feedback” is also available to communicate with the developers. The app is designed to run on Android, Windows and iOS platforms.
What is Nicholai’s role in the enterprise? ‘I am the marketer and designer of the application. I am responsible for the choice of colours, pictures, and the overall layout for the app.’ He adds that he represents the app in different media and in business events that are arranged by the Community HUB. He reinforces that young people must get involved in agriculture. ‘As youth, we must continue in the footsteps of our farmers in this modern age. Without agriculture we will surely cease to exist.’
Nicholai outlines that being very young at 15 years during the AgriHack Talent Competition posed major and unexpected challenges. ‘I think the judges did not believe that we could advance with the app as a viable product along with a business prospectus and to formalise partnerships, as well as our pre-occupation of being in school.’ He admits that indeed it has been quite difficult to build a business venture and recommends organisers of hackathons and other entrepreneurial events on ICT innovation amongst youth to provide a special stakeholders’ fund for supporting young innovators. Nicholai would like to see, for example, better buy-in methods from stakeholder agriculture organisations. ‘More validation could help us as young people to move into the business world and provide the appreciation for innovation across the sector,’ says Nicholai.