The pandemic caught the world by surprise as many were not prepared to withstand a crisis of that magnitude. Despite people battling with trauma experienced due to loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, depression and sicknesses, for most their resilient nature has been amplified. Creativity and innovation have been showcased with people finding alternative ways of surviving and sailing through the difficult times.
Farming is one of the activities that has experienced a skyrocket growth with more people in Kenya turning to it in order to put food on their tables. During the pandemic, there was an increase in boot-selling of farm produce as the difficult times forced some to turn their personal cars into a small shop. In the same light more, homes in the urban areas have turned to kitchen-garden farming for subsistence purposes and to ensure that they have food security.
EdTech has empowered people with different skills that have given them more information that has enabled them to take their businesses to the next level. eLengo is a social enterprise that has been on the forefront in matters of agribusiness education. eLengo encourages and develops the next generation of agribusiness owners across Sub-Saharan Africa. They do this by providing practical online education through all areas of the agriculture value chain – crop & livestock production, value addition, and business skills training. They have created and curated content that is well researched about different farming types in a bid to make the enterprise more profitable for all the farmers who actively take part in it.
eLengo is motivated to inspire students who are interested in agriculture to take the first steps towards achieving their goals. E stands for education and Lengo is a Swahili word that means goal. This is basically to inspire the agribusiness owners to aim higher.
Chris Janssen, Co-Founder of eLengo is originally from Canada where he studied entrepreneurship and sustainability at university. His experience working in Africa began in Rwanda where he lectured at a University, conducted research on the local businesses, and taught them ways in which they could scale up. Throughout his journey he spent a lot of time in different school libraries where he noticed that most of the material provided was either outdated or worn out. This led to the birth of his first social enterprise called ‘Textbooks for Change’, where they would collect quality post-secondary textbooks from certain schools in Canada, sell 25% of them online so as to get some funds to run the organization, and then donate over 50% to post-secondary schools across East Africa.
Over the course of running the company for around five years, Chris and his team managed to donate nearly a half-million textbooks. Through this journey, he developed a passion for education and entrepreneurship and his experience with the two broadened his perspective of the problems such as food security and unemployment that the world constantly grapples with. In 2018, he went on a creativity and innovation journey to find out how he could incorporate technology to teach the next generation of micro-entrepreneurs. Over time, he began to focus on developing skills for agribusiness owners, ultimately enabling them to earn a decent living in the agriculture value chain.
In order to understand the niche, Chris and his fellow Co-Founder Ian Suttie were thinking of getting into, they researched 5,000 youth who had an interest in farming. They discovered that most of them were practicing ‘kienyeji’ chicken farming in their backyards with minimal information which would lead to loss of many birds. This kind of loss would discourage most of the farmers from upscaling which made it harder for them to make more profits.
Chris then worked with some of the top poultry farmers in his network and began to gather content about the things that we’re working for their business and posting them on social media. This was the birth of eLengo as many people showed interest in the content and they would urge him to create more that was focused on different aspects of agribusiness. In order to accommodate more people, they built systems that made it easier to integrate all types of learners.
eLengo first works with experts and practitioners in different fields of agriculture to develop courses, each typically having 2-3 hours of lessons. When a student then joins, they get access to the educational material that is provided for that course. Over the years they have grown their offering to value additional courses to ensure that these students can reap maximum benefits from their farming. As at May 2021, they have had over 20,000 students from across Sub-Saharan Africa who have benefited from the courses offered.
Partnerships and digital marketing have made it easier for eLengo to get access to more customers and eLengo is open to even more future collaborations.
“It has been wild.” Chris exhaled. There have been two sides of the coin for eLengo when it comes to navigating the global pandemic. On one hand more people developed an interest in agriculture as it was one of the few businesses that were least affected by the pandemic, regardless of the situation food is a basic need. However, due to the losses of jobs and sources of income most farmers were financially strained which made it harder for them to get funds to invest in education. eLengo turned to encourage people, especially the youth, to take a series of free courses to take that first step and improve their small farms.
“Start small! If you see an opportunity, jump on it and start testing with the resources you have available. From an agribusiness perspective, you don’t need to start with 1000 chickens – start small, learn the basics and scale gradually when you are more confident and skilled.”
“Working at Nairobi Garage has been a great experience. During the pandemic we received relief and had our membership on pause which made it easier for us to sail through that period. It has been flexible and accommodating and our employees enjoy working from there. It allows eLengo to have an official office location and a really good environment to work in when I am in Kenya.” Concludes Chris.