The CEO of CoAmana, Hafsah Jumare, a behavioural economist, aims to address the issue of poverty in northern Nigeria by offering a platform (Amana Market) that digitally links startups with bigger markets around the world. She sheds more light, in this interview, on what it entails for the agricultural industry in northern Nigeria.
Weekend Magazine: What is the story behind developing Amana Market App?
Hafsah Jumare: I’ve spent the last seven years studying the design and impact of agriculture and small business loans. I became disillusioned with both the research, which I believe was not resulting in a quick change, as well as the idea that credit was the solution to poverty and development. There is significant evidence to show that small businesses need a combination of tools to succeed, which include capital, business and technical skills, and market access. Therefore, my team and I set out to develop a platform to put the market, capital and knowledge at the fingertips of small businesses. Amana Market is an online platform where small businesses can market themselves for free as well as access necessary services like logistics, capital, and knowledge to help them build themselves.
WM: What are the biggest challenges low-income earners and local startups face, especially in the north these days and what can be done to help them?
Jumare: Both groups face challenges of skills, competitiveness and capital access. There is also the market risk issue. Poor infrastructure development, weak institutions, trade laws, and a harsh macro-economic environment has resulted in significant risks for both small businesses and startups. For instance, small agro-processing businesses and farmers face risks in terms of the inputs they use and the price of output they produce. Input and output prices vary significantly with foreign market fluctuations and the timing of input delivery can be erratic. The first thing we aim to solve with Amana Market is to limit these challenges by facilitating greater market access and linkages, helping businesses diversify their market opportunities and thus mitigate their risk.
WM: Why in your opinion has tech innovation stalled in the farming industry?
Jumare: There’s no silver bullet in agriculture. I do not think technology innovation has stalled as there are several new technology companies in Nigeria. Instead, I think adoption and understanding this new technology is the problem. How do you convince farmers to use soil testing technology? How do you convince them to invest in it? For every 100 innovations, there are 100 puzzles as to why farmers are not taking up those innovations. People need to start being creative in how they communicate value to farmers and to test several possible solutions to see which works best for which populations.
WM: One major problem faced by local startups is the lack of support and investments. How can technology help offer a solution to these challenges?
Jumare: Technology can make start-ups more visible. It can also help them to manage themselves better. Startups are now easily able to see what their competitors around the world are doing and also figure who best to target for investment or collaboration. There’s a wealth of digital information and tools that can help them design and test products, services or business models, but they need linkage and training.
WM: You are a success story of a local startup and you are from the north. What do you think should be done to encourage more young people into SMEs and technology?
Jumare: I wouldn’t classify us as a success story just yet, we only have a solution that the average small entrepreneur or producer seems to understand, so we must find the resources to scale it. I think we can encourage more young people by confronting our realities. We don’t have enough businesses or government agencies to absorb the unemployed people we currently have. What we need are job creators. The older generation, the parents, have not internalized this reality. Our best graduates end up working in government organizations which limit their capacity to innovate. The ones who don’t, leave for Canada. I think we need a collective and deliberate effort to drive innovation and local job creation. We need to leave our comfort zones and make investments in the people who are innovating here.
WM: What makes Amana Market unique?
Jumare: What makes us unique is that we went forward to execute and have persevered through the many initial challenges. Many startups don’t survive. It has been a difficult but fulfilling journey.
We are shutting down stereotypes. People often say women can’t work together, but I find that to be completely wrong. We are an Arewa startup with 3 out of 5 of our company’s leads being women, including our software engineering lead. We also have several strong, experienced female mentors pushing us forward.
We set out to build a solution knowing fully well that a startup is a risk. We also target the lower-income people who hardly can pay. So, another thing that makes us unique is that we have a creative business model that enables us to offer our services to small businesses for free.
WM: How can data and behavioural science bring tangible value to agriculture and small businesses?
Jumare: Behavioural and data science can help us understand behavioural patterns and scale. We can now understand and quantify what farmers do, what they prefer, and how they make decisions. This allows us to design better solutions, reach more people, and have greater impact.
WM: What does the future hold for technology supporting the farming industry?
Jumare: The fastest way to create a change is to leverage on existing digital trends and to do it in ways that are specifically tailored to the behaviour of farmers. However, we need to ensure that technology does not phase out these farmers. On the one hand, technology can improve smallholder farmer yields; on the other hand, technology can phase out labour, middlemen, and promote large scale farming. There is always some trade off. In the Nigerian context, we need to ensure that technology is favouring livelihoods development.
WM: What does the future hold for Nigeria when it comes to the digital marketing industry?
Jumare: If we can get small businesses and small farmers on board, then the future is bright. Currently, big businesses stand to benefit the most. We need to be deliberate in our effort to ensure small businesses benefit by providing them with tools like Amana Market, which is specifically designed for them. Connecting small business to our largest companies will result in not only more reliable supply chains, but in income growth that will drive demand for products across the entire economy.
WM: What is the one technology trend in the digital marketing industry that cannot be ignored?
Jumare: I think big data and the internet of things (iot). Everything is becoming connected and those who are left out of this network fall behind. We can’t ignore that. The lack of this connection is driving the inequality gap. More and more, we are seeing the growth of the haves and the downfall of the have nots. Our small businesses have to be plugged in to thrive.
WM: Why is social media marketing important for every business?
Jumare: We need to leverage on social networks because they propagate the existing sense of community as well as help us reach a bigger market. It’s all about getting yourself out there somehow. Social media allows this to happen more organically and at the lowest cost, with validation of products and services that come from people you trust, not just big companies and marketers. By keeping costs low, social media can allow the smallest companies to increase their market access across a larger geographic area than ever before, but they must have access and the training to take advantage of it.