Uganda has the world’s youngest population with over 78 percent of its population below the age of 30. Though the country also has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, many of Uganda’s young adults have limited interest in pursuing careers in agriculture because they see it as a subsistence livelihood, or simply lack the agribusiness skills, finance and market awareness to make agriculture profitable.
Through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Project, USAID/Uganda took a step toward reversing this perception by organizing a national youth agriculture event last September called Youth and Agriculture: Exploiting Opportunities – “Go for Gold.” Inspired by the event, five youth-led ICT companies banded together to form the limited liability company Akorion, which means “farmers” in Ateso (the language of the Teso subregion in Uganda).
Akorion aims to provide up-to-date agricultural information and best practices via mobile technology which can be used to increase the productivity and competitiveness of smallholder farmers in Uganda. Akorion developed an ICT platform that serves as an input/output application. It works like this: Using their smartphone, the village agent collects a farmer’s records (bio and demographic data, production data, inputs demand, and product supply) and maps the cultivated land using GPS. Through the smartphone, the village agent also provides extension services to farmers on topics such as better agronomic practices, weather forecasts, market prices, digital financial services such as savings, transactions and credit and crop insurance. The platform also acts as a virtual trading center with electronic networks connecting producers, buyers, sellers, input suppliers, exporters, crop insurance and financial institutions with Akorion, the managers of the data.
So far, Akorion has focused on digital profiling to provide access to financial services and crop insurance. With fourteen village agents, they have grown their client base to 1,200 farmers from the NALG Area Cooperative Enterprise (ACE) in Iganga and the Bukusu ACE in Manafwa. Both will grow maize and beans in the 2015 season with the help of a new loan of 1.2 billion Ugandan shillings, which was accessed through Akorion’s profiling service. They have also signed a contract with Ankole Coffee Processors, Ltd. in Ibanda and Kabarena Coffee Growers in Kapchorwa, bringing an additional 18 village agents and 1,083 farmers cultivating over 2,200 acres. Using the soil sample training they received, the village agents will conduct soil testing along with digital profiling to encourage traceability of the coffee from “garden to cup.” Akorion will then provide the data to Savannah Commodities so that they can blend the appropriate fertilizer for the farms. Akorion will then distribute the fertilizer, thus earning a commission on both the testing of the soil and distribution. With the package of different services they offer, Akorian can earn up to $42 for each farmer they serve.
By the end of 2015, Akorion plans to build a base of 300 well-equipped village agents to create a client list of 36,000 farmers to whom they can deliver services, bringing in a projected revenue stream of $240,000. To do this, they are establishing commercial partnerships with agro-input companies such as Agrohao, Hanzou Chemicals, Balton, BrazAfric, Ensol, and Grow More Seed. They are also working with financial services institutions such as Uganda Development Bank, UAP Insurance, Jubilee and Lion insurance and Mobipay. Akorion plans to expand its client list of bankable farmers to 260,000 by 2017.
In doing so, they expect to employ 8,000 youth along the agriculture value chains they have targeted. Akorion is poised to change the image of agriculture among the youth of Uganda and prove to them that there is potential for expanded production and profits.
Robert Anyang is the Deputy Chief of Party on the USAID Feed the Future Commodity Production and Marketing Activity (CPMA) in Uganda, implemented by Chemonics.