LishaBora was born on January 30th 2015, and what an exciting 3 years it has been! The company has been through ups and downs and continuous innovation which has spurred new strategies. To commemorate our birthday, we've created this timeline to take you through the history of LishaBora. Link to full the version can be found here: Timeline Link.
Summary of Timeline
- After living alongside Kenya's rural farmers for 6 years, Graham Benton - the founder of LishaBora - grew frustrated with all the inefficiencies riddling the informal dairy sector. Majority of profit-driven companies focus their efforts on the formal sector, when in reality, 85% of dairy products in Kenya come from the informal sector, which employs close to 2 million smallholder farmers who are still living below the poverty line. Graham launched LishaBora with an intial investment from a friend - Bas - and the groundwork was laid to improve the profitability and sustainability of smallholder dairy farming.
- Graham rented some land from LishaBora's very own Ester Hanna (Mama Ester) who has been with the company ever since and runs the Duka Shop in Kambaa. He began iterating designs for a small greenhouse for the hydroponics operations. Graham spent most of his time in the field with a strong focus on meeting the needs of individual smallholder dairy farmers and their cows. This stage of the company was comprised of product development and market analysis which resulted in the first hydroponic barley fodder product. The social impact of this product provided smallholder dairy farmers access to nutritious, high quality cow feed with reduced environmental impacts.
- Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada caught wind of this start-up venture and jumped in to support the idea as the second official investor. EWB unlocks human potential in Sub-Saharan Africa by investing in forward-thinking social enterprises, and LishaBora was the right fit! In addition to providing a funding grant, EWB also provided a Long Term Fellow, David Lipinski - who has since been with LishaBora as the Field Operations Director - to grow the operation from the ground. With David's background in Agriculture Engineering and experience working with farmers in the United States of America, the hydroponics operation went through a phase of critical technical design and cost analysis.
- LishaBora won the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC) grant which scaled the hydroponic barley fodder operation. LishaBora began producing 50kg/day of barley fodder which drove continuous improvement through human centred design as different feed formulations were tested with smallholder farmer customers. Milk production was tracked to see how it improved with the switch to LishaBora's high quality feeds and lab tests were conducted to understand which additional nutrients and components were key for optimum cow health and milk yield potential.
2016: Hydroponics + Dry Feeds
With additional investments and grants, LishaBora's team grew and hydroponic barley fodder production scaled to 500 kg/day. This took the company through a phase of continuous testing, design iterating and lots and lots of learning. The team grew a stronger understanding of the economics, market experience and social issues surrounding the informal dairy sector. The initial model was meant to be user-friendly and make the experience of purchasing cow feeds simple and easy to understand. LishaBora provided 1 bag/cow/day of hydroponic barley fodder to meet all the nutritional needs of the cow to every smallholder customer.
All the learning and experience from Phase 1 moved LishaBora into Phase 2, a pivotal turning point for the company. The field testing of different feed formulations concluded that hydroponic fodder on its own was not sufficient to achieve a wholesome cow diet, nor was it economically viable. The benefits of hydroponics did not outweigh the costs of operating and producing this perishable product. Other factors like short shelf-life of the seeds made distribution and transportation of the feeds unreliable. Operations were diversified to include dry feed production in addition to hydroponic barley fodder.
Hiring experienced animal health experts brought valuable knowledge to the team, like the importance of complimenting dry feed with Napier grass in a cow's diet. LishaBora saw the opportunity to expand its input services and began silage testing. Silage is a fermented product of Napier grass and/or maize that can easily be sourced on a farmer's land. The sphere of influence was growing as it became evident that LishaBora's services could be incorporated into every aspect of the dairy value chain. To empower the customers, LishaBora started quarterly 'best farming practices' workshops, where knowledge on proper cow health and hygiene is passed on to smallholder farmer customers.
2017: Dry Feeds
- The team came to the conclusion that hydroponic barley fodder production was not profitable, scalable or sustainable. It was not allowing LishaBora to fulfill its mission due to the afformentioned issues, and so it was dropped out of the business model. The first half of 2017 was heavily focused on developing a strategy for LishaBora's silage business and marketing the Jawabu dry feeds and other health products to individual smallholder farmers. The second half of the year started with another pivotal moment which set the company on a whole new trajectory with a refined business model that was increasingly scaleable, and therefore more impactful on smallholder farmers.
- As the sales team headed out to the field, light was shed on the complications of selling to individual smallholder farmers. Losses due to large geographical distances between customers and the high risk of selling on credit could not be recovered. The team set out to learn from others in the industry by tapping into pre-existing networks of farmers organized through dairy trader entrepreneurs. This activity realized a unique and competitive business opportunity, as LishaBora shifted its strategy from parterning with individual smallholder farmers, to becoming the only venture partnering with dairy traders in the informal market. This model was more scaleable as it provided access to a larger network of farmers already selling their milk to dairy traders.
- The mission of improving the profitability, scalability and sustainability of smallholder dairy farming was extending to dairy traders, young entrepreneurs looking to grow their business. Full immersion into the informal market and partnerships with dairy traders provided an intimate understanding of all the inefficiencies keeping them from achieving their goals. This spurred the idea for a business management mobile application, another pivotal moment for the company. No one on the team had ever developed a mobile app, so it was an opportunity to expand horizons. The team looked to the Formal Market - for which various mobile applications were being developed - for guidance.
- After 3 months of testing with two different mobile apps from the formal market, it was soon realized that the needs of the informal market called for unique app to be developed. With a team of new Fellows from EWB and a broader set of skills available among the team, LishaBora worked hard throughout the summer to design and develop the first-of-its-kind business management mobile application for dairy traders in the informal market. From June to September, the whole team participated in an iterative human centred design project. This phase was critical for the succession of the app, and the research highlighted the need for flexibility in order to achieve scalability as there were many inconsistencies between dairy traders in the informal market.
- Version 1 was only the beginning and with its back-end and front-end limitations, it was now time to create the official beta (Version 2) of the app with extended functionalities and better User Interface (UI). The team did not have the full capacity within themselves to develop the app, so the decision was made to contract the coding work to an overseas software developer. This was another good learning experience for the team, as there are often challenges working with someone whom you have not met before over a virtual platform. This experienced led the team to consider hiring a permanent, local software developer. Version 2 of the app was designed and developed from September 2017 to January 2018 with a back-end capacity to scale up to 50 dairy Traders.
Today: Dry Feeds + Mobile Apps
- As you can see, LishaBora has been through a lot of changes over the past 3 years. At this moment we are currently entering the phase of app implementation and dairy Trader model scaling. Stay tuned on our journey through our social media platforms and for the official launch of our business management mobile application. Thank you for going on this journey through time with us, 2018 is going to be an exciting year we can already feel it!