Kenyan mobile app could save tea farmers billions of shillings

John Wanjiku has developed a platform that will save farmers the hassle of waiting for hours on end for their products to be collected at tea factories

Pius Sawa @PeopleDailyKE

A 23-year-old Kenyan has developed a mobile phone application that could save Kenyan tea farmers over Sh33 million  ($US330,000) per month.

The family of John Wanjiku from Kihoya village in Murang’a county, is among the 565,000 tea farmers in Kenya who lose over 40 kilogrammes of tea yearly because lorries from the factory don’t collect tea on time.

“There are 54 tea factories in Kenya, and the yearly loss is estimated to be over Sh10 billion ($US100 million),” says John.

On several occasions, John would come home from school to find one of his family members still at the tea collection centre. He would take his turn to wait with the tea and allow the family member to go home and attend to other duties.

This has affected education standards among local youth, as most students sleep outside guarding the family tea instead of studying. Others develop chronic coughs and chest problems due to the harsh cold and rain, ending up in hospitals.  John won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge for his work on a project called Ukulima Halisi at the Mastercard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg in 2017, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth.

These young leaders earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. John’s project offers tea farmers the possibility of increased family savings, healthier living, and potential improvement in their children’s education outcomes.

Farmers will be encouraged to download an application on their mobile phones that will alert them the date and time when tea will be collected and delivered to the factory without delay. “To do this, we are using USSD codes on feature phones, whereby the farmer will be able to call using any type of phone that he has, and then he will be alerted as to when the lorry will be at the tea collection centre,” he says. This, according to John, will eliminate the waiting period because a farmer will notify the system before he starts picking the tea.

“He’s going to notify our system that he’s going to pluck tea today and that he’s expecting to pluck a certain amount. When we get all that information from the farmers, we then send it to the factory. The factory is then aware that they can expect this amount of tea today from the tea collection centre,” says John.

The number of lorries will be dispatched according to the amount of tea collected and farmers will be notified once the trucks leave the factory.

“Then we will in turn notify all our farmers that the truck is about to come to a tea collection centre. The farmers would take about 30 minutes to take the tea there,” explains John.

John and Kevin Lumbembe, his business partner, have completed testing of the application and are ready to start implementation as soon as John returns to Kenya from his studies at the University of Pretoria, where he is one of nearly 3,500 university students studying in Africa or overseas as part of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Programme, leadership qualities.

“The app has additional functions, including expert advice on the tea farming process. We’ve also improved some aspects of the app after testing and consulting with farmers,” he says.

To maintain the service, farmer will pay an annual subscription fee of Sh600 ($US6).

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