Helping smallholder farmers face challenges on multiple fronts

72-year-old grandmother gives East African fintech startup Apollo Agriculture a try

Virginia Wanjiru Ndegwa, who lives near Nakuru, Kenya, isn’t afraid of hard work. At age 72, she’s raised ten children, is now looking after some of her grandchildren as well, and she’s still rising early every day to tend to the family farm. “Who will help you feed yourself if you don’t work? You have to sweat before you can eat. That’s what I do, that’s what suits me,” she says.

Kenya-based Apollo Agriculture is a fintech startup that seeks to help hardworking, vulnerable smallholder farmers like Virginia with the challenges they face. Apollo, an Accion Venture Lab portfolio company, offers a suite of products, including customized packages of seed, fertilizer, advice, and insurance on credit — all enabled by advanced technological solutions like satellite data and digital communication.

When Virginia first met Apollo agents in her area, she was a little wary. “I told [them] I didn’t want to risk losing my farm! But we talked some more until I understood the product,” she says. Soon convinced, she enrolled. “I paid for the registration and like a boss, waited for the fertilizer delivery,” she says. Apollo provided both fertilizer and guidance on how to use it. Planting was delayed due to drought, but once the rains came, Virginia reaped an exceptional harvest.

“Previously I would get eight to ten bags [of maize] per acre. This year I got around 23 bags,” she says. However, she explains, the selling price for the crop is low at the moment. “When prices are good, you can make money. But now prices are bad, and you are stuck with the crop,” she sighs. Knowing that this is a common problem for their smallholder farmers, Apollo is expanding into more profitable crops so customers are less affected by maize price volatility. Ever resourceful, Virginia’s thinking of how she might make some additional income as she waits to sell her maize. “Let’s do something else,” she says, chuckling. “We can have chickens, raise rabbits and the like.”

Even though her hoped-for profits haven’t come through yet, Virginia’s still glad for the security Apollo gives her to weather unpredictable harvests and markets. “Farming with Apollo has improved my life. I barely had anything in my pocket,” she says. “Get us a proper market, and we shall farm!”

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