Afrikamart, founded in 2018, is a web and mobile platform that links rural farmers in Senegal to merchants in urban areas. It is a distribution platform for fresh produce which offers marketing services to farmers and operates as a digital purchasing centre for retailers, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. CEO Mignane Diouf answers our questions.
1. How did you come up with the idea for Afrikamart?
I’m from a family of farmers. As we grew up, we witnessed most of our relatives becoming reliant on financial aid from my father who was one of the few people in his village not dependent on agriculture. Agriculture was getting harder; farmers lacked access to the market and focused on growing millet, peanuts and maize as these crops require less capital and are easier to store after harvest. These crops keep farmers busy for four to five months, and they have to live off the money generated from the sale of these crops all through the year. Mission impossible.
In mid 2016, my brother was importing goods from China and also exported cereals. I was still working at a software development company in Paris but occasionally helped him as his company was getting traction with import and export enquiries. We ended up importing vegetables from Morocco and wondered why it was easier to import large quantities of fruits and vegetables from Morocco than sourcing those products in Senegal. Both ends of the value chain are over-fragmented which makes it difficult to synchronise. There is a miscommunication between the market and the producers. Logistics is terrible and a large amount of produce is lost post-harvest. That’s how it all started.
2. What services do you offer?
We are building a fast and sustainable fresh produce supply chain. On one end, we offer marketing and distribution services to small-scale farmers who lack access to the market; usually those who are living in the most isolated areas. On the other end, we offer a digital purchasing platform for merchants, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets seeking to buy fresh produce.
3. How do you recruit farmers onto the platform?
We have several acquisition channels for suppliers. We recruit farmers in the field with Afrikamart’s scouts. Their presence in rural areas helps us advertise our brand in the communities. We also partner with stores that serve farmers with inputs, tools or farm-related services.
4. Describe Afrikamart’s revenue model.
We have a reseller business model. As we handle all the logistics from end to end, we add a margin on top of our suppliers’ prices. We work with customers who place recurring orders, from once to six times per week.
5. How competitive is this industry?
In our geography, depending on the customer segment, we have competition from informal agri-food distributors (travelling salesman, wholesalers and semi-wholesalers).
Those that are better organised usually focus on a single product and mainly on ultra-fresh products such as fish, meat or poultry. We have a unique end-to-end approach of organising the supply chain with a catalogue of products and are able to address all customer segments, from the supermarket to the neighbourhood table-top seller.
Similar initiatives have been very successful in other territories: Twiga Foods in Kenya, Ninjacart in India or MeiCai in China. However, there is a lack of similar models in West Africa and the Maghreb region.
6. What challenges do you face working with farmers?
Trust is a challenge as a lot of farmers are suspicious of anything different from their norm. We promote transparency and care in the relationships we build with them, through our processes, communication, app and our agents.
7. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Running out of cash. I operate a business where you have to buy to be able to sell.
If you want to overcome a difficult situation, you must face it head-on and be transparent with your stakeholders: partners, employees and even your customers. It requires sacrifices on both sides but if you get them on board, they can help you get through this period. It takes a lot of courage. I tried my best to raise money and when I finally revealed our situation to clients, most of them arranged to pay faster, some of them even paid in advance. Partners and employees allowed payment delays. That’s how I overcame this challenge.
8. If you had to start the business again, what would you do differently?
Hire better. We lost months trying to collaborate with people who did not align with our company vision.
Afrikamart CEO Mignane Diouf’s contact information
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