Charles Oyamo grew up watching farmers in his Kamreri village, Migoriface, face challenges such as a lack of cold storage facilities, digital payment solutions as well as markets.
“My grandmother, for example, relied on her two-acre farm to grow sweet potatoes and kale. She planted and harvested at the same time as most of her neighbours,” says the third-year Bachelor of Arts in Development Communication student.
This meant that they all flooded the market with produce and prices were inevitably lower as they sold to middlemen.
To solve the problem, she launched Stofresh, an online marketplace allowing farmers to access cold storage, enable digital payments and facilitate marketing.
“When we started about three months ago, the idea was to create a market for farmers to have access to cold storage and extend the shelf life of their fresh produce. So at that time we were storing fresh produce,” he says.
The 24-year-old adds, “We have moved forward to add value-added services such as digital payments, opened up our platform for food distributors and retailers, and enabled farmers to buy agricultural inputs in installments”.
The idea behind Stofresh, he points out, was born during a conversation between four students and friends at the University of Nairobi.
While Kairu Karega was passionate about the stories and lives of small farmers, Jecinta Sydney Mwangi had experience building other social start-ups.
“Iyvie Hellen Mboya saw Stofresh as an opportunity to change the fortunes of small-scale farmers like her mother. Three months later, Jecinta and Karega would pursue other career opportunities.”
“Benaiah Wepundi joined us and together we were able to grow Stofresh from a simple idea to a startup working with over 30 farmers in our private beta.”
The founding students realized that much of the trade in the agricultural sector is informal and cash-based. This means that farmers have no way of tracking their sales that would allow them to access finance.
“By digitizing payments, we are reducing the risks of investments in agricultural space for financial service providers. Farmers and traders can now transact seamlessly and track their expenses,” says Oyamo.
“Since farmers are already transacting on our platform, we are creating a backup feature for but that allows them to get quality inputs at affordable payment terms.”
To date, they have invested nearly one million shillings in the business with support from the Swiss Embassy, the German Development Agency (GiZ) as well as their personal savings.
They are now working with 37 farmers ahead of a public pilot project in the fourth quarter of this year.
“For our private beta, we are working with farmers in Kitale and researching Kisii and Meru counties.”
Currently, farmers on the platform are not charged. However, the commission is incurred by traders who purchase products from farmers through the platform.
Mr. Oyamo said, “Since our core business is to facilitate this trade, we keep our prices as low as possible and make money from trade volumes.”
They work in close collaboration with Bouchard International of the Safal group. The company is also in talks with two food distribution start-ups.
Since their launch three months ago, they have created 12 indirect employment opportunities.
The company, which has not yet raised capital from international and local investors, is seeking financing.
“We haven’t raised any funds yet, but we are open to conversation with like-minded individuals or organizations and if that leads to an investment, then great.”
In addition to establishing a strong presence in Kenya in the next 12 months, they are looking for more partnerships in addition to developing a farmer base.
“Afterwards, we intend to go to southern Tanzania and eastern DRC.”
One of the lessons Mr Oyamo has learned is to celebrate small victories “because they will get you through the tough times”.
“No one has it all figured out. If you believe in your solution, do it. There’s never been a better time to start,” he adds.
One of the biggest challenges is getting accurate data. “Second, it is almost impossible to solve agricultural inefficiency alone. That is why we are looking for partnerships.”
“Having these conversations while we’re still at an early stage becomes difficult, but we’re slowly learning how ‘the ecosystem works’,” he said.