The Future Africa Awards 2014: Nominees interview series – Samir Ibrahim and Charles Nichols (TFAA Prize in Agriculture)

by Kolapo Olapoju


Earning a nomination in 2014’s ‘The Future Africa Awards Prize in Agriculture’, are two bright individuals, Charles Nichols, whose technical genius and Samir Ibrahim’s finance and international business expertise brought about the agricultural innovation of ‘AgroSolar Irrigation Kit’, an affordable piece of technology, which has been impactful to the lives of millions of smallholder farmers in need of irrigation.

Samir Ibrahim, who’s the CEO and Co-Founder of SunCulture, is an alumni of New York University Stern School of Business’ undergraduate program with a B.A. in finance and international business in 2011. He has worked in PricewaterhouseCoopers‘ Financial Services, Structured Products, and Real Estate Group. He has also worked on a number of international development projects, including creating multi-million dollar budgets for non-profit programs.

Charles Nichols, Chief Technical Officer, attended Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey (USA) where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He also studied Economics at Baruch College in New York. Prior to launching SunCulture, Charles founded SavanTech, the company behind iBuyMacBooks, a service simplifying the process of selling used consumer electronics — helping to keep harmful electronic waste out of landfills.

As opposed to traditional irrigation methods, the ‘AgroSolar Irrigation Kit’ has helped hundreds of Kenyan farmers save money and make more money, since coming into the market last year.
“Kenya has 5.4 million hectares of arable land. 83% of this land is unsuitable for rain fed agriculture, leaving it in need of irrigation and pumping technology, yet only 4% of this land is under irrigation. Petrol/diesel,electric, and treadle pumps are presently available in the market, but the effectiveness of these technologies is constrained by high input costs and labor inefficiencies.”

“By switching from traditional irrigation methods – using a petrol water pump combined with furrow irrigation – to using the AgroSolar Irrigation Kit, the cumulative average benefit to the farmer is $13,947 per acre annually based on increased crop yield and petrol, labor, and input cost savings.Since beginning sales of the AgroSolar Irrigation Kit in May 2013, SunCulture has served over 300 farmers with its products and services
across Kenya, leading to increased revenues and cost savings of US $935,000, 3 million KGs of annual fresh fruit and vegetable production, and 489 million liters of water conserved.”

The ‘AgroSolar irrigation Kit’ goes for as low as $128, while the solar pumping systems sells for as low as $2550. According to the pair, their product is the most cost effective in Kenyan.
“Because SunCulture works directly with manufactures to make products to SunCulture’s specifications, the company is able to source higher quality products at a lower price than competing suppliers of irrigation equipment. Additionally, SunCulture, in partnership with Equity Bank, offers affordable loan terms to farmers seeking funds to purchase the system.”

While Nichols and Ibrahim are proud to be nominated by ‘The Future Africa Awards’ judges, they haven’t lost sight of the big picture, which is to improve the lives of small scale farmers in Africa.

“For us, the opportunity to be nominated alongside other pioneers of innovative and sustainable development is both humbling and inspiring. We believe that our systems create a more stable and fulfilling life for our clients and have the potential to impact millions more, ultimately culminating in a transformation in the way agriculture is conceived and performed around the continent and the globe. While recognition of our efforts through honors and media is important to us, our primary focus is the improvement of life quality for smallholder farmers and their families in Africa. Thus, we feel particularly proud to be considered for a prize focusing on elevating organizations that create opportunity for growth not just today, but decades from now. Because ultimately, our goal of fostering a better future for the
African continent is larger than ourselves and our time.”

The pair are fully aware of the direct and indirect perks and benefits that come from winning the Future Africa Award. They believe it will positively boost their business and their vision to expand beyond Kenya.

“As mentioned, SunCulture’s vision is to transform agriculture across the continent. Currently, we have a strong foothold in Kenya, but replicating the effectiveness of our business model will require extensive local connections throughout Africa. Receiving the Future Africa Award would provide the dual benefits of elevating our international profile and allowing us to build strong and cohesive networks with major partners, such as financial institutions and horticultural distributors/exporters, while also expanding our penetration into rural or otherwise off-grid communities across the continent. We believe that the results of our hard work speak volumes, but our ultimate purpose will only be achieved by reaching the millions of farmers through empowering platforms such as the Future Africa Awards.”

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