Words and Curation: Chanel Retief and Lillian Roberts
Art Director: Lucy Nkosi Photography: Katlego Mokubyane
Photography Assistant: Sbusiso Sigidi Studio: NewKatz Studio, Johannesburg
CNBC Africa Videographer: Thabo Mathebula
Video Editor: Chanel Retief
Styling: Bontlefeela Mogoye and Wanda Baloyi
Outfits supplied by: Kworks Design; Imprint South Africa; House of Suitability; LSJ Designs
Hair & Makeup: Makole Made
Four years ago, Brian Bosire told FORBES AFRICA that his hope for UjuziKilimo was that it would reach over 10,000 farmers. Speaking to us during the photoshoot for this feature at the NewKatz.Studio in Johannesburg, he tells us he has now reached over 26,000 farmers.
“Our vision is really to see a world of empowered smallholder farmers working at the cutting edge of technology in terms of how they make decisions on the farms, how they access financial support, and also the knowledge they need to improve productivity from the farms,” Bosire says.
Bosire’s passion for smallholder farming started as a boy in a small town in southwestern Kenya known as Kisii.
“I come from a farming village in Kenya, and my parents–their first career was farming,” Bosire says. “They were smallholder farmers, so as I grew up, it formed the core of what I understood about food production and the economy; a sole source of livelihood in our family.”
The ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre concurs with Bosire’s assessment that smallholder farmers are key to the country’s food security and economy. “Small farms account for 75% of the total agricultural output,” ESRC STEPS Centre writes in a 2023 report.
Bosire, as a qualified engineer, wanted to find solutions for these farmers that would not only be beneficial to them from an economical perspective but from a social one too.
And with that, his business was born. UjuziKilimo–which is Swahili for ‘knowledge farming’– processes millions of data points each day to create a complete soil and agronomic data pool that is both field specific and highly accurate.
Soil Pal, a handheld sensor, acts as a soil parameter to quickly and easily measure the content of the farmer’s soil, and produce the right amount of data for the farmer to receive actionable information within five minutes on the best crops that will do well on the land and the fertilizers they would need.
Part of the UjuziKilimo experience is also FarmSuite, which is a complete farm management, predictive farm analytics, intelligent insights and recommendations software to power decision-making for farmer groups, co-operatives and service providers.
“Our technology is actually ensuring that farmers are moving away from guesswork. Because traditionally, farmers have been led by intuition to make decisions on which crops will do well.”
Part of this empowerment is looking at how much opportunity lies within the African landscape when it comes to agriculture and technology.
“We also understand that unlike developed countries, Africa is the place of opportunity when it comes to the uptake of technologies that we’re seeing and developing at the moment,” Bosire adds. “The fact remains: smallholder farmers form the majority of the people producing food at the moment, but unfortunately, you still realize that a majority of those farmers are living below $2 or $3 per day.”
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s report, The Economic Lives of Smallholder Farmers, three billion rural people live in about 475 million small farm households, working on land plots smaller than two hectares. Smallholder farms in Kenya are only marginally large as they are 0.47 hectares and in Ethiopia the average small farm size is 0.9 hectares.
“Many are poor and food-insecure and have limited access to markets and services. Their choices are constrained, but they farm their land and produce food for a substantial proportion of the world’s population. Besides farming, they have multiple economic activities, often in the informal economy, to contribute towards their small incomes,” the report read.
For UjuziKilimo, it’s about seeing smallholder farmers get a return on their products as they contribute to the future of food. The data that is being collected from the soil as well as the interaction with farmers is what Bosire actually uses to ensure these farmers have access to aspects like insurance and financing, “because of the richness of the data that we have can be developed over time”.