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Kenya: Now dairy farmers can order cows online

It may not be the first thing you think of. But now you can order a cow online thanks to CowSoko, a tech startup in Kenya…

“CowSoko is the first platform that offers a holistic solution to challenges facing [Kenyan] farmers,” Victor Otieno, the Startup CEO and founder tells IDG Connect.

“While the platform is famous for trading livestock, we go deeper to connect farmers to experts and products. We are [also] working with a bank to connect farmers to finance buying cows on the same platform. So when you visit CowSoko, you get everything you may need to succeed in dairy farming.”

The platform connects all the players in the dairy value chain, greatly reducing the costs associated with the market, and at the same time rendering the middlemen and other intermediaries obsolete.

“Dairy farming in Kenya has become the ‘blue chip’ in agriculture and our aim is to connect dairy farmers and investors to knowledge and a market for trading in commodities,” Otieno tells us.

The startup utilizes an easy to use web platform that features convenient tools allowing the farmer to search for what he/she needs from cows, vets, feeds to other important materials, to information. Users are able to use mobile money to make purchases on the same platform.

“We have one of the most powerful online systems integrated with automated payment mechanisms that allow transactions from MPESA and credit cards. We focus on making the system intuitive, simple and user friendly on the front end while ensuring that we have the capacity to handle the traction and security on the back end. We are looking into developing a mobile app and integrating SMS in the next few months,” Oteino informs us.

Farmers have been given raw deals in two ways: they fetch poor prices when selling their cows and part with hefty sums when buying them. The middlemen, popularly known as brokers, end up milking – pardon the pun – the farmers’ efforts.

“After university I started an internship with a dairy project implemented by SNV Kenya and my role included interacting with smallholder farmers,” explains Oteino. “Each time I went to the field, there was someone selling a cow. In my blog I had a lot of inquiries on availability of cows. Obviously there was a gap and the middlemen were taking full advantage of it.”

“The climax came when I visited a farm in Kiambu [Central Kenya] and I met a farmer who sold his cow through a broker and unknowingly, straight to his neighbor. The difference in the cost was almost double and both ended up losing,” Otieno remembers.

“Having a platform that connects the two directly was an obvious solution and since no one was doing it, we decided to do it ourselves. Working with SNV exposed me to a bigger picture and even farmers who had cows still had challenges in access to knowledge.”

Government Agricultural Extension services in the region have not been as effective as was initially intended “so we had to find ways of connecting farmers to experts,” says Otieno.

With just over four months of operation since hitting the road and a team of three, the CEO is confident that the startup is on the right track. Slightly over 150 cows have been sold through the platform. And they have over 20 pending orders for cows. They also have over 50 registered experts and over 10,000 users.  

“I am working on coming up with a criterion for valuing cows but at the moment the sellers decide the price. We only charge them marginally to place their cows on the platform. I am a great believer in free market where the laws of demand and supply determine the price,” says Otieno.

“Experts and training farms pay membership fees to list their services. Also all suppliers pay to list their products. We have an ad space that is normally fully booked. Soon we will have people selling their publications and research outputs on the platform.”

Despite the emergence of tech business incubation and accelerator programs in Kenya and other developing economies, just a few ideas “qualify” for inclusion as viable ventures. Initial funding for this startup was therefore from personal savings, but at the moment part of the money that goes into developing the platform comes from revenue.

CowSoko was a finalist in the Israel Kenya Agri-challenge whose prize was trip to Israel to attend the DLD innovation festival and meet farmers and entrepreneurs from Israel. “I was fascinated by the relationship between farmers and research centers [in Israel], something you don’t see in Kenya,” the founder observes.

“Our main challenge is that most people are looking for cows online while sellers are not aware they can sell online, so mostly we have huge pending orders. Another challenge has been the skill level of our experts.”

“If you operate an online system, you are operating on global market place. We are already in East Africa as we receive orders from Uganda and Tanzania. I have received inquiries and have a lot of traffic from America, Europe and Asia. We will definitely expand to have our presence in other countries in the future but for now, we want to ensure we take advantage of the opportunities available in Kenya.” Otieno concludes.

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Daniel Muraga

Daniel Muraga is an experienced online writer and communications professional based in Kenya.

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