To most American shoppers, there's nothing remarkable about a red onion in the produce aisle at the closest big box retailer.
But it's a huge victory for Ashley King-Bischof's technology. King-Bischof is the CEO and co-founder of Markit Opportunity, a Nairobi, Kenya-based start-up that connects small farms to big corporate buyers and exporters.
It's a big untapped market opportunity, hence the company's name. Family farms are about 90 percent of all farms worldwide, according to United Nations research. In Kenya 75 percent of workers make all or part of their livelihood from agriculture, which constitutes 18 percent of the nation's economy, according to the United States Agency for International Development.
Not only does Markit Opportunity improve the quality of the goods at your local box store, it elevates the earning potential of Kenyans, especially women. The company is currently in the process of incorporating their platform with one of the largest exporters in Africa to sell fine green beans, a huge crop for export in Kenya.
Markit Opportunity provides three different technologies. Farmers get a text-messaging product that lets them exchange simple numerical codes with agents for each transaction — similar to how TV shows ask you to text a short numerical code to vote for your favorite singer. Agents get an Android app to manage those communications with farmers, and buyers, like big box retailers, have access to real-time inventory and transaction from small farmers.
The tools help level the playing field between small local farms and large established farms when international buyers look to buy crops responsibly.
"At the beginning of the chain are people, often women, that are working incredibly hard, that aren't getting to keep much of the value they create, because it's a complex supply chain," said Ryan Ross, a program director at the Halcyon Incubator in Washington, D.C., which supported Markit Opportunity. "This could increase the quality of life for an incredible amount of people in the area."