Everlyn Njeri Kimani can easily pick out a good idea from a pool of bad ones.
The University of Nairobi’s third-year Mechanical Engineering student did not need laboured convincing to accept an invitation to join EcoSokoni, a digital marketplace for farm produce, which a few of her friends had started last year.
The project began like many others during the pandemic, small but premised on huge dreams. Students at home were having a hard time coping with the changes in their academic calendars.
Their intellect was under trial, they were supposed to do something and not just sit idle. They needed to get something creative enough to give them money.
Whatever it was going to be was also supposed to guarantee growth. And so on July 27, 2020, three students, Ian Odhiambo, Christopher James Jaseme and Dominic Ngatho, founded EcoSokoni.
Odhiambo and the cofounders pumped in Sh500,000 at the start, money from grants won and also from their personal savings.
EcoSokoni later launched an app in November. The app allows farmers to display their produce and sell it to consumers who bid directly on the platform.
EcoSokoni buys from farmers and uses social media platforms to market the rebranded products. The app is in Google Play store.
“The farmers take photos and post them on our app. Consumers on the platform will locate the product and purchase directly from the farmer by calling them or by texting,” Njeri says.
When she was told about the idea, she did not even think twice. A dream was coming true for her.
“At that time, I was at home since schools had been closed. I was helping my mother in our shamba and that gave me first-hand experience of some of the problems farmers face.
"I started thinking of ways to help. Fortunately, at around the same time, my friend Jaseme told me about their idea and I immediately liked it,” Njeri says.
EcoSokoni has nine members and shareholders. All except one are students from various Kenyan universities pursuing different disciplines. The one exception is a graduate agronomist who is tasked with giving advice to the members and the farmers.
Alongside the e-platform, EcoSokoni has a physical shop where you can access some of the products. The shop, MA8, is located at Posta House along Tom Mboya Street.
So far, the app has had about 954 downloads, with 624 people having actually used it. About 100 farmers have transacted through the app.
So fast was the rise of EcoSokoni that the company had a stand at the Thika Agricultural Show, where the members showcased their work in a morale-boosting day for them.
The members have also been big in charity and have managed to buy books to support TreeHouse Children’s home in partnership with the University of Nairobi’s Engineering Students’ Association (ESA).
They also partnered with ESA and other companies to actualise International Engineering Students Conference, IESC 4.0, which happened at Manu Chandaria Auditorium, UoN Towers, earlier this year.
From a small dream anchored on big hopes, EcoSokoni might be a game-changer for the students and for the country. Initially, with the older way of operation, EcoSokoni was not making money as the founders would have wished.
“The finances weren’t good, and we had the idea of having agricultural ads run in our app (we hoped to make money from them, but this turned to be a long-term and we cannot immediately rely on it,” says Njeri.
They have been plowing back all the profits and have invested heavily on equipment such as refrigerators, which they use to store highly perishable crops and animal products on sale.
They have also purchased weighing machines. The money the company generates also caters for expenses such as rent for the shop, and for any emergencies.
“We are now making a good amount and within one financial year, we are hopeful to break even.”
EcoSokoni also faced the problem of dishonest farmers who risked putting the company’s reputation in jeopardy or fleecing it all together.
“Some users posted themselves instead of their products. At some point, we could not track the sales (we didn’t know whether actually people transacted and just had to hang onto faith that they did),” Njeri says.
Now, the group can monitor the sales and also approve the photos before they are posted. EcoSokoni aims to become a grocery store that will be known far and wide for championing for farmers’ rights as well as offering affordable, fresh produce that can be delivered in a timely manner.
It will also continue to partner with professionals who will give advice to farmers to improve their farming skills. Njeri hopes that this will improve production, and EcoSokoni’s income, as well as feed the nation.