Fatma: Agility is key when pivoting to tech

Fatma (1)

Fatma, founder and CEO of Quincewood Group Limited. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Fuelled by her ambition and a desire to make a tangible impact, she envisioned a future where technology could be leveraged to address critical challenges in agriculture and empower women

Dar es Salaam. Fatma, the Founder and CEO of Quincewood Group Limited, has embarked on a remarkable journey of innovation, focusing on agritech, education and women’s inclusion projects.

Her story, steeped in determination and resilience, paints a vivid picture of entrepreneurship in Tanzania’s burgeoning tech landscape.

Quincewood is a Tanzanian based ICT company that designs and delivers innovative agricultural technology and digital products to help smallholder farmers endure climate risks, improve their farming practices, and bolster their incomes over time. Having started her journey around 2013 in tech as a business manager for a company that dealt with technology, Fatma realised early on how much she loved technology; making sales of up to Tsh1 billion for the company.

However, in the process of learning about technology, meeting development partners and NGOs, she was constantly faced with obstacles such as clients who found her services price.

The feedback and reality on the ground also taught her that there were ways to make technology more affordable for consumers to take up some of the services she sold.

“I would come back with concerns and feedback to the company I worked for, but quickly realised that they were not being worked on and no one was listening to my voice,” she narrates.

“At the end of the day, being in business development, you want to make sales. So that wasn’t working for me.

At this point, Fatma was sure that she was ready to venture into the tech space.

Her breakthrough came with the successful launch of the 4G project for Tigo.

 Her company was subcontracted to do the project and internally, Fatma found herself dealing with a co-founder who wasn’t confident in their ability to pull off the job.

As always, her determination to succeed saw them carry out the project in Dodoma and Dar es Salaam amongst the locations assigned. After successfully completing that project, Fatma then quit and decided to go on this tech journey on her own.

Fuelled by her ambition and a desire to make a tangible impact, she envisioned a future where technology could be leveraged to address critical challenges in agriculture and empower women.

At the time, Fatma was working in farming and could see first-hand how farmers were getting the short end of the stick, even though they would invest heavily to ensure they get a good harvest.

Frustrated by the high costs of services offered by existing companies she used to work with, Fatma saw an opportunity to make a difference. Her goal was to make technology cheaper for those in farming so they have easier access to services like bulk text messages or even phone calls which could help their small businesses.

With Quincewood, Fatma embarked on a mission to make technology more accessible, particularly to farmers.

Recognising the importance of authentic seeds in agricultural productivity, she proposed a collaboration with AGRA to establish a platform ensuring farmers’ access to genuine seeds.

“I was researching, at the time, to find out what other countries have done to improve farming.

 A lot of these solutions started with ensuring that farmers buy genuine seeds,” she shares.

“So I wrote a proposal to AGRA and after one year of constantly knocking on their doors, I was finally able to have the deal on the table. ”At the beginning, it was a daunting task because of how big the project was for the young startup company.

“By the time AGRA came on board, we had already developed this platform and it was already in its pilot phase. We were working with just one seed company and they would buy scratch cards from us, and then put them in their seeds. What Quincewood did for farmers was essentially digitising seed information.

 After the seeds have been assessed, all necessary information such as lot number and expiration date for the farmer to make informed decisions.

This information is put on a scratch card which is then placed in the bag of seeds and should a farmer purchase a bag whose card has already been scratched, they are advised to return it.

This format helps with tracing and verification of seeds for better production yields.

Despite initial challenges, Fatma’s persistence paid off, leading to a partnership with Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) who are the market seed regulators.

“At the time, the late President Magufuli was adamant on localisation and was pushing for the government to work with local companies so that was an opportunity that helped us grow,” she elaborates.

Using that as an opportunity, Fatma shares that they went to Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL) to talk about partnering and through that partnership, developed the tHakiki (formerly eHakiki).

“We designed and delivered the tHakiki platform with the goal of reducing the prevalence of counterfeit and adulterated agricultural inputs by creating awareness to all stakeholders on how to identify genuine inputs using their mobile phones,” Fatma explains.

“We started off with just 1000 farmers and now, we have over 450,000 farmers who are continuously following up on seeds, which is a major achievement because we have seen that for us to create this awareness,we needed to ensure farmers understand what exactly it is that they are buying because most of the times, they are the ones who are short-changed.

”“Currently, tHakiki is in its fourth year and we have sold 18 million labels to TOSCI.

 Despite the many challenges, they have seen the worth of working with a local company because by the time Covid-19 hit, they had no access to outside companies and unfortunately, all their stuff came from outside.

 All our stuff was local, such as the labels, and that’s how our journey grew,” she says.

Additionally, through the use of industry-leading analytics tools, they are able to provide live dashboards with insights into the registration of agrodealers, SMEs, farmers; verify traceability of inputs from seed company to farmers; monitor performance of agrodealers and SME’s; and provide stakeholders with realtime information for decision making.

Fatma’s success story underscores the importance of perseverance and strategic partnerships. She emphasises the need for aspiring entrepreneurs to align with like-minded visionaries and overcome gender barriers in the tech industry.

“It could be a marriage; it could be life; it could be just business itself.

 You need to ensure that the partners that you choose have the same vision as you do and you are aligned on the things that matter,” she explains.

She further elaborates that being in the agritech business as a woman is not easy.

“I am someone who never takes no for an answer.

 If I believe in my idea, I will go to the ends of the world to ensure that it works,” she explains.

In addition to agritech, Fatma is also the founder of Monti Kids Tanzania, a school that is STEAM centred as she believes it is imperative to introduce children to technology from the grassroots.

She is also a co-founder and Managing Director for Abel & Fernandes Communications, an integrated marketing agency specialising in a strategic hybrid of traditional Public Relations, SEO, Social media and media rich content.

Throughout her technopreneurial journey, one thing that Fatma encourages is daring to try.

“An idea can grow into something big if you align yourself with the right people.

 Yes, some may fear sharing their ideas because they may think it could be stolen but the reality is that no one can execute your idea like you could,” she says, adding that in technology, gender is irrelevant if you believe in yourself.

“Just learn to leverage the network you build and find it in you to be agile and fast in understanding your marketplace,” she adds.

Afterall, where technology is concerned, you are never inventing the wheel, rather adding and adjusting it to move for you.