Zaake’s AgriShare App: Farmers’ digital bridge to solar irrigation

Zaake’s AgriShare App: Farmers’ digital bridge to solar irrigation

AgriShare App empowers farmers’ access to affordable irrigation equipment 
Paul Zaake, a 34- year-old innovator runs AgriShare, an innovative application-based platform that connects farmers to a vast database of agricultural machinery, equipment, and resources in their select locations to help them have more options for hiring and purchase.  Farmers can hire irrigation and processing equipment, land, farm workers and tractors. 
However, the digital application has become popular for its ability to connect farmers to affordable solar irrigation equipment for hire, providing a more convenient solution for reliable access to water in agriculture. 
Zaake’s motivation to start the AgriShare digital application was borne out of a deep childhood desire to help farmers access agricultural equipment. Just like any Ugandan child growing up in a typical farming household, Zaake experienced firsthand the harsh reality of families failing to afford, or access good agricultural equipment. 

“As a result, there often wasn’t enough food, and money for school fees and medication was scarce, despite our long hours of hard work. This situation is common in Uganda,” he says. 

However, Zaake identifies a gap which either trickles down to limited information, or access. 

He says, there’s a lot of idle land owned by people who would be willing to lease it for farming. Meanwhile some individuals who own equipment don’t use it all the time, and worse still, some manufacturers and importers have equipment in storage that isn’t accessible or affordable to farmers. 
Irrigation as a service for hire 
Zaake is solving a long-standing problem in the agriculture sector where affordability of irrigation equipment remains outreach especially for most smallholder farmers in Uganda. 
“You will find out that irrigation equipment costs millions of Ugandan shillings, literally, an arm and a leg to afford,” he says. 

Despite the advantages that the country holds in the ease of undertaking irrigation development using the enormous water resources at hand, the potential has not been harnessed. 

Uganda’s rain-fed agriculture has progressively been constrained by frequent threats of, and actual occurrence of, droughts and floods affecting efforts for increased production; fight against hunger and poverty. 

Aware of both the challenges and opportunities, AgriShare enables farmers to hire solar irrigation systems on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to irrigate crops at critical stages of the crops during the dry season. 

Initially, Zaake used to rent out irrigation fuel powered pumps on a daily basis, however, the high cost of fuel locked out some farmers who could only afford to use them for a few hours. 

To address this issue, Zaake then introduced solar irrigation pumps to farmers in collaboration with Innovation Village and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. 
The demand for solar powered irrigation pumps shot up forcing Zaake to introduce call centres. 

“When we launched the AgriShare App, we encountered farmers who wanted solar irrigation pumps but did not have smartphones. In response, we added a call centre to the AgriShare platform where farmers can book for the irrigation pumps and other services,” he explains.   

Zaake is a beneficiary of The AgriSolar Product Accelerator program, an intensive product development and refinement journey designed for solution providers building use cases and incorporating solar technologies across the agriculture value chains of Diary, Aquaculture and Horticulture. 

The two-year program aims to mainstream use of solar technologies in agriculture by supporting solution providers to identify, validate, test and scale unique financing models. This will result in over 100 solutions being adopted and 10,000 jobs created across the various AgriSolar value chains. 

AgriShare’s hiring model enables farmers to only pay for the few times they need to use the equipment. No payment for maintenance costs. Instead, they just hire and get the service. 

“At AgriShare, we promote solar irrigation in two ways. The first way is unique, and it involves hiring solar irrigation pumps for farmers. The hiring process is either done from the nearest farmers or the nearest Agri Share regional hub office,” Zaake explains. 

 He adds that farmers pay about UGX 30,000 per day. This is more affordable compared to buying upfront at UGX 3M plus other annual maintenance costs. 

Through this approach, farmers can affordably irrigate crops especially at critical stages without the need to invest in purchase of the irrigation systems. 

The second way involves connecting farmers to manufacturers or sellers or importers of solar irrigation equipment. This enables them to enjoy very affordable prices with even an option of financing because of collaboration with financing partners. 

“Farmers who buy get access to unlimited technical support with a warranty of up to 3 years in addition AgriShare ensures that equipment is sourced from genuine and trusted supplier/manufacturers/importer partners,” he says. 

A typical day in the field 
As the business grows, Zaake’s typical day involves meetings with his team, internal and external partners, either in person or online to address urgent issues, making quick decisions, and providing direction on critical actions. 

“I also set aside time to work on proposals, new app features, new business models, incorporate feedback into immediate or strategic actions, and refine solutions to challenges into better processes or systems,” he says.   

To avoid burnout, Zaake takes breaks to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or indulge in snacks like sweet bananas or groundnuts. 

If my day involves fieldwork with farmers, I coordinate with our field team and head out to interact directly with them. I find it more intuitive to gather feedback from our customers firsthand rather than relying solely on annual surveys. 

In the evenings, he spends time with his family. 

Zaake now serves over 50,304 farmers on the platform offering land renting, tractor ploughing, advisory, farm worker connections, hiring maize shellers and hiring sprayers, with 461 farmers have hired solar equipment specifically solar irrigation   
“Solar irrigation technology has enabled our farmers to adequately irrigate and water crops without needing to spend money on fuel. It is innovative since the energy from sunlight is enough to power the solar water pumps,” he says. 
AgriShare now runs offices in Uganda’s four regions focusing on Luweero District in Central, Jinja District in East, Nwoya District in the North, and Fort Portal District in Western Uganda. 
In 2023, 85 percent, or an equivalent of 42,500 of AgriShare our users experienced yield increases, and income rises in addition to facilitating tens of thousands of farm jobs, acquiring more assets, paying school fees, medication and living a happier life. 
Environmentally, the solar irrigation system has contributed to a drop in carbon emissions on farmlands and additionally enabled farmers to adapt more easily to the extreme dry conditions caused by climate change. 
To scale more, Zaake says, he needs to raise more capital, and open up partnership linkages to actors in the agriculture, and ICT sector. 
“We need more funds to accelerate our technology. Fundraising in Africa for a business in the agriculture sector is even more difficult. So, there is a need for more innovative funding towards innovations like AgriShare,” he says.   

Zaake is grateful for partnering with Innovation Village and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which he says has been one of the best decisions for AgriShare’s growth and expertise.   

“They initially helped us develop and polish the irrigation pumps for hire as a service through the AgriSolar Product Accelerator. Later, they supported our fundraising efforts, resulting in a solar Irrigation grant from the Postcode Lottery through Welthungerhilfe,” he explains. 

He adds “They are now supporting us in networking and well reaching out to more farmers.” 

As a patriot, Zaake’s desire extends to Uganda becoming a net exporter of agricultural produce and earning the much-needed foreign exchange gain, and a thriving Africa.