Kenyan agronomy company effectively transforms safe food production with Microsoft Power BI

Founded in 2019, Kenya-based agronomy company Sultan Green is democratizing safe food production in Africa, and empowering farmers in the process. Using Microsoft Power BI, the company is implementing rigorous value chain analytics, and meeting its goal of creating safe, effective, and efficient farming methods across the continent, bringing new levels of transparency to the production process and diligent quality monitoring.
Since it was founded in 2019, Kenya-based agronomy company Sultan Green has been working with four farmers to efficiently transform safe food production across Makueni County, with a plan to expand to neighboring counties. By implementing rigorous value chain analytics, the company aims to foster safe and efficient farming methods that bring new levels of traceability and transparency to food production across the continent.

Developed with Microsoft Power BI, Sultan Green’s unique Food Safety Intelligence Platform helps farmers to monitor and control key farming inputs such as pesticide and water use, and at the same time extract critical information on variables such as production costs and time to harvest. By regularly inputting data into the platform, farmers can make specific, measurable, relevant, and achievable decisions regarding their farming practices, positively impacting growing operations across the continent.

“There are a lot of food security issues [in Africa], and many of them relate to the production process,” explains Mailu Mwau, Founder of Sultan Green. For Mwau, the lack of local food production standards is one of the most pressing concerns. “Exported food requires records, routines based on best practices, post harvest intervals for monitoring and accountability … But in my experience, these are not followed when you are producing local food. You just end up trusting the food that comes into the local market, simply because it’s in the market.”

Speedy accountability in farming
To develop a deep understanding of the potential of applying data to agriculture, Mwau adopted a hands-on approach. Mwau has dabbled in farming since 2011, and later worked at another company that had been bridging the gaps in food and market security. He decided to set up a demo farm “to explore whether we could use technology in a big way to help us produce.” What started as a straightforward pen-and-paper assessment—working closely with an agronomist to make sure best practices were being respected—led to the use of Microsoft Excel, and then Microsoft Power BI.

“One of the things that stands out with Power BI is its ability to immediately give insights the moment data is put in. We automatically started making better decisions,” he explains. “It brought a whole new layer of speedy accountability, which was really important.”

Unlike other farming-focused programs described by Mwau as “complex” and “keeping the farmer outside of the process,” his vision was one of a scalable solution that would give farmers accurate insight and control—particularly for scaling trial crops into successful, major harvests.

“The immediate impact of Power BI, and how easy it is to understand and to customize, completely eliminated any need to find additional software elsewhere. We tweak it as we go along, and it just keeps making operations better and better.”

According to Frank Obare, Data Scientist at Sultan Green, another significant objective of the company is to perfect a platform that is easy for farmers to interact with and simplifies how data is collected. “As a farmer, you need timely insights,” he notes. “You need to know what to spray, when to harvest. Power BI became instrumental in delivering those insights. We were also able to generate incident reports,” he adds.

Scaling production safely
A major goal for Mwau has been to enable farmers in Africa to individually manage their production and think in terms of scalable units—a particularly important outcome for arid and semi-arid areas. With additional capabilities to track pesticide use and carefully manage post-harvest intervals after sprays, Sultan Green is moving closer to realizing this goal.

Worldwide, agriculture is being impacted by advances in data analytics. Yet, for many farmers across the African continent, accessing data-driven insights simply and effectively is still an enormous challenge. “Many of the farmers whom we met have been relying on manual data collection. It’s been both terribly expensive and tedious for them,” notes Obare.

After a successful demonstration of the capabilities of the Food Safety Intelligence Platform, local farmers responded enthusiastically. “Many farmers wanted us to deploy the system on their farm to improve their data collection,” explains Obare. Without the system, “it is often difficult for them to know how much they produce, what profit comes from what they produce, and how much they spent on the inputs. The platform makes it easier for farm managers to understand what should be done, when and how it should be done.”

Looking to the future of farming in Africa
Sultan Green’s approach to safe and sustainable farming has sparked the interest of various stakeholders across the spectrum of food production. “We were recently invited to the IFC Food Safety Conference,” says Mwau. “There have been a lot of people who bought into the value of what this could be and a lot of support toward the potential future that this could offer. Right now, we are kicking off a project with Microsoft and the Kenya Climate Innovation Center, which is an incubator that we recently joined. The project is called the Food Safety Sasa Project. We take model farmers and run them through both the ground training and data capture training processes.”

The full article was published on 25th July 2020 and is accessible here: Microsoft Customer Story-Kenyan agronomy company effectively transforms safe food production with Microsoft Power BI