Set up by the French NGO Rongead and its partner ETC Terra in Burkina Faso, Nkalo offers advice to farmers, in particular on the selling price of their cereals. Present in seven countries on the continent, the start-up now wants to export itself beyond West Africa.

It all started in 2010. Inspired by the model of the French company Offer & Demand Agricole Sarl, Ong Rongead is experimenting with an information and economic advisory service for cashew producers in Côte d’Ivoire. And, while this kind of initiative does not hit the streets in the region, it is a success. The designers decide to extend NKalo – which in the Dioula language means “I know”, “I understand” or “I am in the know” – to new sectors and to other countries.

At the same time, the start-up makes access to information chargeable, which does not prevent NKalo from claiming more than 3 million messages sent to 30,000 subscribers in 2016. “We disseminate information to farmers in our network for a cost of between 40 and 100 F CFA per text message depending on the duration of our campaign ”, indicates NKalo on its website

The enthusiasm seems real: the concept would have enabled 73,300 farmers in seven countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast, Chad, Senegal, Gambia and Sudan) to generate additional turnover of more than 4 million euros, according to statistics compiled by experts at Rongead.

Additional gains for farmers
NKalo’s services cover several sectors including cashew, sesame, maize, onion, shea, peanuts. But it is the cashew and sesame that bring the company the biggest gains, estimated at 1.2 million and 2.6 million euros respectively. Both concentrate more than half of the subscribers, or 50,300. According to estimates by Rongead, a cashew producer who uses NKalo would earn 61 euros more than another, against 76 euros for sesame and up to 114 euros for the onion.

NKalo sends us text messages informing that sesame prices are up, stable or down

In Burkina, where NKalo has been in place since 2012, nearly 12,000 producers registered on the platform are rubbing their hands. Yempabou Couldiaty, based in Koupela, 160 km east of the capital, is one of them. This relay, which has registered more than 200 contacts with NKalo, affirms that the service offered by the start-up is a barometer of the market.

“NKalo is sending us text messages informing that sesame prices are up, stable or down. We are receiving information on the farm gate price, “he said, assuring that before NKalo’s arrival growers had no idea what the prices for sesame were.

“NKalo has created mutual trust between buyers and producers. No more unnecessary palavers that we attended on the market, ”admits the one who sold 842 kilograms of sesame in 2016, for a profit of more than 500,000 CFA francs.

A partnership with Orange in the pipeline
NKalo offers three services oriented primarily towards market trends to subscribers. First, the e-mail newsletter is aimed at individual farmers, traders and agricultural organizations. Then, the start-up offers an SMS service that provides practical advice to producers, local processors and small traders. Finally, she also gives advice by telephone.

“The commercial information which is our primary vocation is supplemented by practical advice such as technical itineraries, the choice of inputs, weather forecasts, etc.”, adds one at NKalo. It must be said that the company has set up a network of relays in local markets, responsible for collecting data which is then transmitted to regional and national analysts.

“NKalo is now doing economic intelligence: the information we provide is not a simple description of African and international markets, it is based on a methodology of prospective analysis supplemented by advice oriented towards the management of commercial risks” , praises Souleymane Gaye, project coordinator at Rongead in Ouagadougou.

To succeed in its extension bet, NKalo entered into “advanced” negotiations with the mobile telephone operator and Orange for the distribution of its SMS. Once concluded, this partnership should usher in a new era for NKalo, which insists on the urgent need to democratize its services, and to offer them to players in sectors such as market gardening.

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