Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|January 11, 2022|11 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

"The app that means sweet deliverance from disease in the field."

It all began when he saw his banana farm flop. Cameroon-born entrepreneur Adamou Nchange Kouotor turned in his plough for a keyboard and built an app that’s helping African farmers save their crops.

When Cameroon-born entrepreneur Adamou NchangeKouotor bought a banana farm in the rich soil of his homeland, he thought he had it made. It was 2015 the government of Cameroon was encouraging young people to take up the plough in the cause of jobs and food.

“I decided to start a farm, because it was very trendy, at least in Cameroon because the government encouraged young people to start farming projects. So, I decided to start the farming project and I decided to plant bananas. I taught myself by reading articles on the different steps on how to manage a banana Farm on Google.”

However, Google said nothing about a disease that could wipe out your crop.

“I used to think that farming was easy. But I changed my mind after a bad experience that I had. I lost all my crops due to disease. What’s more was I could not afford to pay for an agricultural advisor. It was very expensive. It would cost me about $100, just for the cultural adviser to come to my farm one time, and I could not afford that money at that time. I had to struggle by myself to fix the problem. Unfortunately, I was not able to succeed, and I lost all my investment,” he says looking back.

“I turned that path off my entrepreneurship journey. I decided I’m not a good farmer and farming is something that you need to learn before trying to jump in the field.”

Kouotor turned in his plough for a keyboard. Three years later, inspiration. While completing an MBA in Berlin was asked to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to solve a problem and his mind went back to his days struggling to keep his farm alive.

“I knew AI before, but it’s during that consulting project that I realised AI could be applied in different fields. So, I said, what if we can make an AI that can take the place of an agriculture advisor?”

“For most of these small-scale farmers, your farm is your only source of income. They rely on the revenue of the income at the end of the season, to both provide for your family and to plant the next season. So even a slight loss of this income, and it results in a series of catastrophe consequences,” he says.

Many diseases come from the fact that the farmer decided to plant the wrong crop in the land, that means he did not  take in consideration the previous crop history of that plant. 

Kouotor’s story is far from rare. Around the world plant diseases cost economies around $220 billion and insects around $70 billion, each year

Climate change could make it worse. A journal in Science estimates yields lost to insects will increase by 10 to 25% per degree Celsius of warming; rising temperatures mean more and hungrier insects. 

As Kouotor found out to his cost, yield loss in Africa is devastating. African farmers lose an estimated 49%  crop yield a year, the highest in the world, according to the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International

Small-scale farmers find themselves trapped in this cycle of low yields. In Africa, 80% of farmers are small-scale producing 80% of the continent’s food. Many are self-taught and have no hope of training. 

“Many diseases come from the fact that the farmer decided to plant the wrong crop in the land, that means he didn’t take in consideration the previous crop history of that plant. There was a market for that at least, those 80% of small-scale farmers were self-taught and will have the same problem that I faced when I started my farm.”

Kouotor set about building an app which uses AI to help African farmers tackle pests and plant diseases. He called it Agrix Tech, and it turned out to be the unexpected entrepreneurial harvest he never thought he would make.

Since commercially launching, Agrix Tech has helped more than 1,000 farmers all over Cameroon tackle the devastation he faced in the field.

“We knew that it was a good concept when we published the app on the Play Store and it started receiving a lot of downloads. We were tackling a very huge problem, a problem that was identified by even the government of Cameroon,” says Kouotor.

“The app is focused on helping farmers detect disease in your farm, and also provide to them advice on how to mitigate those diseases and minimize damages in your farm.”

Once a farmer downloads the app, they can take a picture of any suspected crop disease. The AI then analyses the crop, identifies the disease, and advises on the best course of action – all for free. The app can be operated offline, even in the most remote areas where internet connectivity is also a challenge, and in multiple languages.

“This was also another problem that we noticed from farmers. Many have low levels of literacy. So, it was better to communicate with them in your local African languages.”

Agrix Tech also has a paid for project management service that helps 72 farmers through risk assessment. 

“For example, if a farmer is planting tomatoes, we’ll tell him when he will register for the paying service. And they will tell us the date that we plan to start this project and he plans to plant the seeds. And when you plant the seeds, after one week, he will receive a notification on the key activities that he asked about kicking his farm after two weeks, another activity and so on and so on, just to make sure that he will not encounter a crop disease. And of course, we advise him to scan his farm with our app, so that if it detects any anomaly, he can handle it very early and he will minimize damages.”

For Kouotor, entrepreneurship has always been a part of his nature. When he was a child, he would sell tickets his father gave him for football games and use the money to sell sweets at the matches.

“I used to keep my money. And when the football game came, all the kids who wanted to sell the sweets came to me to borrow money from me. They bought the sweets to sell at the game, and after that they would come and give me back my money with some interest.”

“One day my father realized that it was me was funding all the kids were who were selling the sweets around the football stadium during the games. It was then he realized I would become a businessman. I was something like 10 or 11 years old  and at the time I thought that I would become a pilot.”

The entrepreneurial spirit thrived through two other start-ups before Agrix Tech.

“I started my first start-up in 2010. It was a gas cylinder delivery company in Yaoundé. My second start-up was a website creation tool, just like Wix. It didn’t work out well, but I learned a lot during that experience,” he said.

“I’m an engineer by training, a computer science engineer by training. I also have a business degree, an MBA from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. But I prefer to define myself as simply as an entrepreneur because I love entrepreneurship.”

Kouotor, has plenty of advice for Africa’s army of entrepreneurs.

“If you are passionate about creating solutions and helping people, if you are passionate about having a positive impact on people’s life, then you can go into entrepreneurship because by succeeding, you will have big rewards, the reward will be more than money.”

“If you want an easy way in business; go to school and get your degree and find a job and you will have a salary. But if you go into entrepreneurship, it is because you need something more, you need something more than money, you need that feeling of fulfilment, that you are helping your borders, you are helping your communities, you are developing and selling something to help humanity.”

Sweet wisdom  – the fruit of a career harvesting success from failure.