This post is part of a series of stories featuring the entrepreneurs who participated in Unreasonable East Africa’s 2015 program. 

In Kenya, agriculture dominates the economy, involving over 70% of the population. Yet of the estimated 26 million smallholder farmers, each earns only an average of $700 USD a year. Often, this is not enough to provide for the basic needs of a family. Yvette Ondachi sought to change this when she co-founded Ojay Greene in 2013 with the mission to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers in Africa by linking them to urban markets.

Over 70% of Kenyans work in agriculture. Tweet This Quote

Urban markets have a growing demand for consistent and fresh fruits and vegetables due to population growth. In fact, markets often run out of stock entirely. Ojay Greene pinpoints the specific demands of these supermarkets—as well as hotels and restaurant chains—and then aggregates crops from their network of farmers to sell at a competitive rate. They currently work with 380 farmers and reach 80,000 customers a week.

Prior to founding Ojay Greene, Ondachi ran a successful farm that supplied produce to urban markets. Through this experience, she learned the needs on both sides of the equation. Ondachi says it bothered her to see so many people not profiting from agriculture because they operated in a disjointed way and didn’t have the capacity alone to produce what the supermarkets needed.

A smallholder farmer who Ojay Greene works with in Kenya

A smallholder farmer who Ojay Greene works with in Kenya

By connecting many farms together, she realized she could solve the problem on both sides by offering a steady supply of varied produce all year to a supermarket chain. This gives her company a competitive advantage compared to individual large-scale farms that only provide a limited range of crops.

Ondachi says she sees this as a win-win because it ensures that urban markets receive the quantities they require, and the farmers reach profitable markets to earn a steady income. The goal is to increase each farmer’s profits by 20% from their baseline.

“As our customers’ farms grow,” she explains, “they are able to expand their own operations and hire more employees. For example, one farmer we work with grew his team from 4 people to 12 because his revenue is now stable.”

In Kenya, the average smallholder farmer only earns $700 USD each year. Tweet This Quote

In the initial stages, agronomists from Ojay Greene visit the farms to suggest a best practice plan that is personalized to their particular needs. This includes technical support to face the new challenges posed by climate change.

“We call it climate smart agriculture,” says Ondachi. “We teach our farmers the best methods, such as how to take advantage of the rain by storing it and using it in the future.”

If needed, Ojay Greene gives farmers seeds free of charge and deducts that cost from the profit of the first or second harvest. Ojay Greene also ensures quality control measures are in place for the farmers’ produce, checking the crops before they are transferred to the marketplace.

Furthermore, Ojay Greene has designed a pilot of an innovative mobile platform that allows for real-time, ongoing support for each farm. Each week, farmers receive best practices via SMS updates and can respond with questions about the unique challenges they face.

Ojay Greene helps farmers in Kenya increase profits by 20%. Tweet This Quote

Ondachi studied biochemistry in university and has an intimate understanding of the science behind climate change that allows her to stay on the cusp of ever-changing conditions. Straddling the worlds of hard science and agriculture, Ondachi can translate her knowledge into the most useful insights for her network and the benefit of agriculture for all. By 2020, Ojay Greene plans to reach 20,000 farms across Kenya and is looking to expand into neighboring countries.

“We may never meet all the farmers we work with face-to-face, but the fact that their lives are changed positively is worth every effort,” she says. “Our interactions have just been 6 months, and I can’t even imagine what five years will be like—it’s overwhelming. We can change our nation, we can change our continent.”

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Cayte Bosler

Author Cayte Bosler

Cayte is an Unreasonable correspondent. She collects stories and lessons from and for entrepreneurs dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems. She writes on a variety of subjects including science, technology, international development, the environment and travel.

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