Naledi Magowe, a young female agri-tech entrepreneur, shares her experiences of building her start-up Brastorne Enterprises and the increasing impact her mobile app mAgri is making in Botswana and plans for expansion.
Brastorne Enterprises is a youth-owned, female-led enterprise that focuses on developing valuable solutions that are relevant in the African market and are targeted at levelling the playing field for the under-served and rural communities. Co-founder Naledi Magowe, who is passionate about bridging the digital gap for rural populations, has gained international recognition for her initiative, mAgri and as being a winner of CTA’s 2016 Pitch Agri-hack Competition.
Her renowned application mAgri is a USSD (unstructured supplementary service data) services that gives farmers access to helpful information and agronomic advice, access to markets, and low cost communication. It is proving to be an invaluable agricultural service to under-served women farming communities in Botswana. In Naledi’s words, “The decision to start mAgri came from our dream to connect the unconnected in whatever way we could. (…) There are women, for example, who like everyone else, have need for information, access to opportunities, and fast and easy communication. These same people desire to also be a part of the digital economy and have internet access but aren’t awarded that opportunity”. Moreover, Naledi particularly targeted farming communities as she realized that the majority of these ‘unconnected people’ earn their income from farming activities, yet they did not have access to digital resources that could improve their farming activities.
Naledi explained that the challenge she faced in developing this application for the farming community, was identifying a resource that was already easily available to them at the same time providing relevant information at an affordable cost. At a cost of €0.75 (9 pula) per month, subscribers to the platform can access information on market prices, recommended agronomic practices, as well as weather information. In just two years, since the launch in 2016, mAgri has attracted over 500,000 users who have used the platform at least once, and there are over 350,000 active users. While mAgri is marketed through traditional marketing channels – radio ads, TV, outreach campaigns – the platform has received the most success through SMS campaigns – attracting 10,000 users in the first month alone. She recounts “we didn’t anticipate such success; however we came to find that the service became somewhat became viral”.
Naledi recalls the difficulties in sourcing capital funding stating, “In the beginning, however due to cash flow issues, we didn’t have the funds to market the service the way we needed to”. Strategic partnerships have been key to the growth of Naledi’s business. In 2017, Brastorne Enterprises began collaboration with telecom giant Orange Botswana, who have helped establish the organisation’s plans for scaling its services and delivering new features to improve the mAgri and reach a larger pool of users. At the same time, partnership with the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture provides the organisation with relevant up-to-date agronomic advice to disseminate to the farmers.
Today, the platform has been successful with more women (55%) using mAgri than men do, and over 60% of their mobile stores belonging to female users. Additionally, Naledi told us that there are also more women involved in outreach activities than men are. The success of the mAgri platform is also because content is available in Setswana, the official language in Botswana and the language preferred by the women in the rural communities. Indeed, Naledi underscored “The app needed to be relevant for our end user, therefore it needed to be as inclusive as possible.”
The success of mAgri means that Brastorne Enterprises is now planning to expand by launching the application across West Africa and African Francophone countries, starting with Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Naledi recalls the exponential impact of participating and winning CTA’s Agrihack competition: “Winning Agrihack has had tremendous impact in our work in our vision. I have learned a lot of valuable insights that have allowed me to broaden my perspective and aim to grow the service.” In particular, she gained strategic support for mAgri’s development, “The capacity building initiatives such as the conferences and workshops have placed me on a platform to meet people who have helped facilitate the internationalization of mAgri, some of which we have formed valuable relationships with and offer advice, facilitate connections with decision makers and monitor our progress.”
Given her broad experiences, she wanted to share a message to other women interested in information communication technologies and agriculture. She said, “We are living in an exciting time and age where many of us have refused to be ignored, our voices are being heard, and we persevere despite the disadvantages that come with being a woman in a male dominated field such as ICT. Be courageous, and view the disadvantages and challenges as opportunities to be the best version of yourself and for your work to be as impactful as possible to world.” She added, “…although the world may not change in a day, this will create the platform for other woman to be inspired to believe that they too can achieve their dreams.”