Re:char, a startup founded by CEO Jason Aramburu, is developing SoilIQ, a US$5 plug-in for Android phones that reads soil moisture levels. Aramburu found that smallholder and family farmers in Kenya were using fertilizer, but had no method of collecting data to properly measure its benefits.
SoilIQ connects farmers, fertilizer companies, and government agencies to a database of soil readings. Eventually, SoilIQ will be able to detect other types of soil data that will contribute to a cloud-based map. Farmers will be able to subscribe to the service and the data will be sent to fertilizer companies so that each farmer’s land is treated with fertilizer according to their land’s specific data.
With mobile support from Telecom-Orange and Android, SoilIQ has potential to connect Kenyan farmers in order to raise incomes, but also grow more food. With an estimated 2.4 million mobile subscribers in Kenya as of 2012, Orange is an important player in mobile telecommunications and a key component to the growth of SoilIQ. Orange can provide the mobile paying system to transfer funds from the farmers, as well as the service to collect and transfer data. Orange’s first accelerator program, Orange Fab, will provide Re:char with an important opportunity to promote its project with potential investors. Orange Fab is a 12-week program for start-ups with products that could use greater development and international exposure. Re:char is one of six start-ups selected for the program in which they will receive additional funding, work with engineers and business analysts to adjust their product and business model, and gain access to exclusive events and workshops to share their product to the larger public.
SoilIQ is not a commercial product yet, but once made available for farmer subscription, it can allow Kenyan farmers to keep track of their data. This is just one example of how mobile technology may be an integral tool to improve crop production, and eventually income, for smallholder and family farmers in Kenya.