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Startups focus on areas snubbed by urban innovators

Africa , 27 Mar 2017

Startups focus on areas snubbed by urban innovators

A report by Liquid Telecom, AfriCAN Innovations 2017, states that while there are steep challenges to innovation in rural areas, the solutions introduced hold more promise in being able to solve problems relevant to these areas.

"While many start-ups focus on developing solutions for urban areas, a growing number are turning their attention on how to tackle problems in rural regions. Here the challenges are far steeper, but the rewards for local communities are much higher," the report stated.

Characterised mainly by low-income homes, Africa's rural areas have been snubbed by urban innovators due to lack of proper connectivity.

"Unlocking this potential is arguably one of the largest challenges facing the region's start-ups, as here the levels of mobile and internet penetration are at their lowest and the target customer-base has precious little disposable income," the report denoted.

One company that has successfully negotiated the challenges is MKopa with its pay-as-you-go solar connection for low-income off-grid homes. The company has over 450,000 subscribers across East Africa.

Another firm, Pula Advisors, has introduced innovative insurance products to farmers in rural areas in five African countries. The company has already netted 400,000 small scale farmers to subscribe to farming insurance products.

Pula Advisors achieves this by collecting data from weather stations, governments, private farmers, and satellites, and then using the data to generate yield estimates that can help farmers get on the insurance ladder for the first time.

The report also showed the use of drones in collecting farming and weather data in rural areas.

"DroneClouds aims to give farmers the benefits of modern remote sensing through affordable and on-demand crop insights. It does this via a cloud platform that uses aerial imagery generated through its global network of drone operators and satellites."

David Campey, Founder at Afrolabs and Cofounder at DroneClouds spoke highly of the new technology: "With imagery acquisition technology, the drones replace airplanes and surveyors on the ground. It bridges a technological divide and takes something that was once only accessible to high-tech corporations and makes it available to small farmers," he said, exploring new opportunities.

The report admits that the space for rural innovation is always subsidised by government, academia and corporate social responsibility efforts and more government support is needed to introduce innovative solutions.

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