In an exclusive interview with Space in Africa, as part of the special editorial series on Africa4Future2020 startups, AgriEdge’s managing director Faissal Sehbaoui and head of agri remote sensing Mohammed Hmimou discuss the company’s journey and how the Africa4Future Aerospace Accelerator has impacted their business.
Read the detailed interview below.
I understand AgriEdge was incubated at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University of Benguerir. Describe the early beginning and the inspiration behind establishing the startup.
The ambition to empower Agriculture Productivity & Sustainability in Africa through Innovation & Digitalization was the driver behind the founding of AgriEdge.
From the beginning, AgriEdge set as an objective creating a bridge between advanced R&D in precision agriculture and the farmers, as well as developing adapted digital services to the African context
After the first two years fully involved in R&D and interactive experience with farmers, AgriEdge services were deployed. We involved farmers from different regions in Morocco in field experiments to validate our services in real conditions.
Today, we have two platforms—AgriEdge platform for agronomic recommendations and AgriSoo9 the marketplace that allows farmers and cooperatives to sell their products.
What do you consider as your major milestone since the startup launched?
AgriEdge shows fast market penetration and growth. Our strategic approach of integrating interactive user experience and permanent interaction with the market since the launch of AgriEdge drive our accomplishments.
Our major milestone is making farmers efficiently use digital tools to compute how much water and fertilizer they should give to their crop and to sell their product through a digital marketplace.
Can you describe your flagship product and what a typical relationship with customers resembles?
Since the initial design, we set the objective of developing a platform which is both integrated and customizable. Our ultimate aim was, from the beginning, to tie an agile relationship with each of our customers by providing them with the solution that will meet efficiently and cost-effectively with their requirements. Thus, the Platform, including the different services that it embeds, represents itself the AgriEdge flagship product.
Why do you think a farmer or anyone in the agricultural value chain will be interested in paying for your product/service?
Agri-stakeholders have two incentives: maximum yield and low operational costs. The former allows them to satisfy the market demand, while the latter increase their income. Those incentives drive agri-stakeholders’ decision to invest in our solution. Because, since its launch, AgriEdge has set those incentives at the heart of its vision-mission. Through our services, for instance, agri-stakeholders save 20% of their costs for maximum yield.
I understand you offer satellite and drone imageries, IoT sensors, weather data and market place to farmers. In terms of business model, are you offering all these on a case-by-case basis, and how do you charge for your offerings?
One of the key competitive advantages of the AgriEdge Platform is its customizability. Depending on the expressed need, we deploy adequate technology to answer the customer’s question efficiently.
AgriEdge’s services are accessible via two options: Freemium and Premium.
The Freemium is for smallholder farmers and cooperatives. It includes access to technical recommendations (i.e. basic crop monitoring and yield estimation) and market linkage through a digital marketplace.
The Premium offering serves big farmers, agri-business companies, advisory services, institutions (including governments, NGOs) for which we are offering precise technical recommendations with high added value. The services in this category include precision irrigation, optimized fertilization, plant disease management and yield prediction; at different spatial scales (farmland level, regional, national) and temporal resolutions (daily, weekly, bi-weekly and monthly). For this Premium offer, subscriptions are charged on a yearly basis, and right now, we are working on expanding our customers’ portfolio by getting in touch with organizations such as banks and insurance companies.
The agric sector in Africa is notoriously traditional, and the use of digital technologies and processes is still nascent. While this can have a first-mover advantage, it poses a challenge in terms of driving adoption. How are Moroccan farmers adopting your precision agriculture technologies and what challenges do you face in driving adoption?
Agric sector in Africa, including Morocco, is still making its first steps toward digitalization and precision agriculture technologies, even though the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the process. Farmers, especially smallholders one, are still not ready to invest in digital solutions. From our field experience, the most efficient way to get them convinced is by proving practically the added value of our solution. For that reason, right now we are offering for free our solutions to smallholder farmers through Agric cooperatives that have opened the door to AgriEdge for collaboration, either in Morocco and West Africa. We are also mobilizing financial institutions to share the cost. We have observed that the farmers who used AgriEdge Platform continue to use it and invite their neighbours to do so, too.
Briefly describe the Agri Analytics Days and why it is vital to your business?
Agri Analytics Days (AAD) is an international scientific event that AgriEdge organizes each year. It gathers experts in Digital Agriculture from different continents to discuss the advances in Digital Agriculture Technologies through real study cases. The last edition featured one day, called Digital Farmers Day, to allow smallholders farmers coming from across Morocco, to pitch their use case of digital solutions in front of a jury of international experts invited to AAD. The three most digitalized farmers were awarded the label ‘Digital Farmers’.
AAD allows AgriEdge to bring international experience to the African context. It also helps the AgriEdge team to stay updated and on the way to innovation.
The next edition of AAD will take place in March 2021 in Morocco.
How much of your solution leverages geospatial or satellite technology? Do you see any further intersection in technology and application use cases for your solution and satellite tech in the future?
Most of the AgriEdge services leverage geospatial technology. For instance, our crop yield prediction and estimation service uses only satellite images to forecast the crop yield before harvest. Besides, we have two other services that leverage satellite imagery: the reasoned fertilization, and the precision irrigation services.
What short term milestone are you looking to achieve next as a business?
Taking into account the current context of COVID-19, we are right now helping farmers and cooperatives selling their harvest through our Digital Marketplace AgriSoo9.
As you know, in Africa, to purchase a crop product, you often need to go to the traditional marketplace, either popular markets or supermarkets. However, during this COVID-19 pandemic period, many customers prefer e-commerce rather than direct purchase in the traditional market for sanitary and security reasons.
This new way of commerce has loudly affected farmers and cooperatives revenues, especially the ones who are not familiar with the use of e-commerce. For that reason, we created AgriSoo9, the Digital Marketplace that allows farmers and cooperatives selling their product. Also, to make the target users (i.e. Farmers and Cooperatives) familiar with this tool, we frequently organize training sessions on e-commerce and digital marketing and tutorials about how to navigate within AgriSoo9.
Where do you see AgriEdge in the next 5-10 years?
In the next 5-10 years, we see AgriEdge a digital platform that integrates the whole agri-value chain and is used by the many agri-stakeholders ecosystems across Africa.
What has evolved in your business model, perspective or operations since joining the Africa4Future Aerospace Accelerator?
Operationally, the Africa4Future Aerospace Accelerator was a critical programme that allowed us to evolve our Geospatial data source by integrating high-resolution images from UP42.
As an entrepreneur, what do you consider your most valuable takeaway from the acceleration programme?
Through Africa4Future programme, we have had the privilege to see our business challenged by global players, Airbus and GiZ, from different perspectives (business and impact).
We also had the opportunity to connect with startups working in the same area in other countries. With some of them, we have an advanced discussion to collaborate and create value for all of us.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.