Zambia News

Zambian e-commerce platform targets the agricultural market

Gilbert Mwale

eMsika is a Zambian e-commerce company selling agricultural inputs. The business was started in 2016. Co-founder and CEO Gilbert Mwale (31) answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

We are an agritech company that digitises processes and activities in the agriculture space. We have two services: an online marketplace platform, eMsika, where farmers find and buy farm inputs; and secondly, we offer farmers on-demand video training on how to farm as a business using an e-learning portal.

2. How did you finance your start-up?

We began with savings of $250 and family contributions that brought it to $1,000. After two years, we won some competitions like the DataHack4Fi local event and the ZICTA ICT Innovation Programme; our prize money amounted to $10,000.

3. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?

We would continue investing in our last-mile logistics in rural areas by beefing up our fleet and regional distribution or fulfilment centres. We would also invest in our marketing efforts for increased reach to the intended users, particularly those people in peri-urban and rural areas via radio and television.

Lastly, we would look at a regional expansion while we grow the expertise of our team by exploring exports into nearby countries and setting up mini offices, depending on what brings more efficiency.

4. What risks does your business face?

We are currently experiencing the common economic risk of currency fluctuations that make investment negotiations a bit more complex. Business continuity is also an issue owing to Covid-19, which has forced our team to work from home more than ever.

5. Tell us about your biggest mistake.

Early in our business, some two months after starting, we went to recruit businesses as sellers on the platform. I was dressed in a smart suit. When I met some of the clients in the agricultural field – on-the-ground kind of people – they had a look of bemusement; almost as if to say, “Are you sure you’re in the right profession because we get dirty here?” I spoke to more than five suppliers and none accepted; not even when we explained they could join for free. It took another three months before I returned. Thank God, they are now paid sellers on the platform. The lesson is simple: know your client so you are properly prepared.


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