Ethiopia’s economy is dependent on agriculture, which accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s GDP, 72 percent of product exports, and an estimated 72 percent of the country’s workforce. However, only 5% of the land is irrigated, and crop yields from smallholder farmers are lower than regional averages. Market linkages are weak, and the use of improved seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides remains limited.
For a country that is heavily dependent on agriculture, agritech startups, startups that use technology in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture to improve yield, efficiency, and profitability—are essential to accelerate growth and productivity in the sector.
Omishtu Joy is one such agritech established to be the catalyst of agricultural development in Ethiopia by designing and developing innovative agricultural products.
Omishtu-Joy is working on developing hardware that measures parameters like soil PH, moisture, humidity, and temperature level, supported by an AI system that matches crops to farmlands.
The startup plans to carry out innovation, adoption, and imitation of new and existing technologies for light and medium-duty agricultural devices for the local market.
Omishtu Joy was founded by Tigabu Abraham, Henok Ambaye, and Abdiwak Bekele, 2021 electrical and computer engineering graduates from Jimma University, with 6,500 dollars they secured from startup competitions.
The startup was established in Jimma Town, Oromia Regional State, to undertake entrepreneurial activities at the level of small-scale enterprises.
“Omishtu-Joy” is a combination of two words. “Omishtu” is an Afan Oromo word that means’ producer/farmer, and “joy” is English for’ happiness.’ Omishtu strives for the producer’s joy by eliminating productivity barriers or limiting factors that harshly affect the farmer’s life.
The co-founders have a background in agriculture, thanks to grandparents and relatives that work as farmers. They are aware of the difficulties farmers encounter, and as technology students, they want to bring change through innovation.
Omishtu started its journey while the co-founders were seniors at the university. Since then, for more than two years, they have been working on designing and developing an agricultural device that can greatly help increase farming productivity.
The startup has received multiple recognition for its work. In March, Omishtu won first place at the Africa AgTech & Inclusive Insurance Challenge 2022. The challenge, which aimed to celebrate and support young entrepreneurs working to build resilience for rural populations, awarded Omishtu 25,000 dollars.
The device and what it does
Omishtu Joy has successfully designed an agricultural device that can accurately measure necessary parameters in the soil, helping farmers to decide what crop will be best suited for cultivation on their land.
A soil test is a farmland analysis for multiple parameters like chemical content, toxicity, pH level, salinity, earth-dwelling biota, etc. Such tests also provide information on chemical contamination, humic or organic content, electrical conductivity, cation exchange capacity, and other physical and chemical properties.
“Ethiopian farmers face challenges in crop productivity due to low scientific and environmental knowledge. They do things out of conventional practice,” says Abdiwak Bekele, Chief Technology Officer at Omishtu.
Agricultural productivity depends on the farmland quality, and a soil test can timely report a problem in crop growth conditions. Field suitability analysis helps choose the appropriate crops or decide on land use for farming.
Regular soil testing is ultimately important for growers and can provide valuable field insights to agribusiness players, including agri-coops, crop insurers, banks, input suppliers, and commodity traders.
The device developed by Omishtu is connected to a mobile application via Bluetooth and is used to transfer the data from the hardware device to the application. Bluetooth connectivity was chosen to overcome the lack of internet access in rural areas, allowing it to work offline. The team adds that the mobile application uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology for the recommendation.
There are eleven parameters the device checks for to determine compatible crops. There are the soil’s nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (NPK), moisture, PH level, soil type, environmental temperature, humidity, sulfur, sunlight radiation, and salinity.
The application then recommends what crop will be most productive if sown in that particular soil, what kind of fertilizer, and what amount must be used for better production. The testing period varies according to the time it takes for a crop to grow, as there are more suitable crops to grow for every season.
Omishtu designed and built the device from scratch, from assembly to coding. The Omishtu device is compatible with the Ethiopian scenario. A solar system is integrated into the system in addition to a battery for electronic charge.
The software is also user-friendly as it has integrated local languages such as Amharic, Affan Oromo, and Tigrigna and international languages such as English and Arabic. They are also working to integrate fourteen more languages. Voice command and a voice assistant are also being integrated to allow the farmers to interact easily with the device.
Omishtu has developed three prototypes until now, refining them one after another. The current version can be mass manufactured, and the team intends to manufacture and distribute the device with the application as soon as possible.
They are also designing another prototype to reduce the size and weight of the device using 3D printing.
The startup believes using its devices by Ethiopian farmers could triple their productivity. Omishtu provides a comprehensive training program to constantly upgrade farmers’ skills, knowledge, and attitude in operational and technical skills.
Currently, the startup says it’s working directly with 5,500 farmers who use their prototype devices and is currently training an additional 4,300 farmers. The company targets onboarding 18,000 more farmers by the end of 2022.
“Getting electronic devices and components to build the hardware is hard due to foreign currency constraints. In addition, acquiring manufacturing space has been difficult,” said Abdiwak.
The Business Model
Omishtu is planning on monetizing its product in multiple ways. The first one is selling the measuring device with the mobile application for 17,000 ETB ($326). The device will also be available via monthly subscription as well as a testing service for farmers who can’t afford the other options. Farmers go to Omishtu with their soil samples and test them. The startup will charge farmers 100 birr for testing soil samples per 0.5 hectares.