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Safaricom Spark fund invests in agri-tech start-up iProcure

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The $1 million Safaricom Spark Venture Fund has announced its sixth and final investment, in agri-tech startup iProcure.

iProcure is the largest agricultural inputs supply chain platform in Kenya, linking farmers and farmer cooperatives to manufacturers of agricultural inputs.

Through accrued efficiencies, iProcure offers farmers discounts of between 10 and 20 percent every time they purchase farming products.

“We started the Spark Fund with the aim of supporting emerging startups that use technology to transform lives. As it joins the outstanding crop of Spark Fund investees, iProcure will be instrumental in harnessing the power of technology to improve Kenya’s agri-business processes,” said Bob Collymore, CEO, Safaricom.

To access iProcure, farmers dial *283# and then select which input they would like to purchase. The farmer then receives a voucher which allows them to claim the inputs from an iProcure farm depot or collection point. The company currently covers several counties across Kenya mainly in Central and Rift Valley but has plans to scale to Western and Eastern Kenya this year.

The startup seeks to increase agricultural output in Kenya, which has remained comparatively low to other countries due to challenges including access to and use of quality inputs.

“At iProcure we are all about optimizing rural supply chains. We build both the supply chain technology in addition to ‘on-the-ground’ infrastructure to ensure small holder farming communities get the inputs they require on terms that are convenient and affordable.

We share an underlying belief, with Safaricom, that small holder farmers are essential to our nation’s food security, and look forward to playing our part in improving the welfare of farmers across Kenya,” said Nicole Galletta, Chief Operations Officer, iProcure.

iProcure becomes the second agri-tech firm to receive an investment from the Safaricom Spark Fund. In February, the fund announced an investment in FarmDrive which has developed an alternative credit-scoring model based on mobile phones and machine learning, in turn enabling many farmers to have formal access to loans and financing.

Started in 2014, the $1 million Safaricom Spark Venture Fund seeks to make late-seed to early-growth stage investments in startups using mobile technology as an enabler. The Fund received more than 600 applications to date, out of which it has invested in six startups. In August 2015, Sendy – a marketplace for businesses and individuals to connect with drivers to make deliveries simple and transparent – became the first investee of the fund.

mSurvey, a mobile-first research platform that leverages SMS and mobile messaging technology to simplify access to credible, on-demand data became the second investee of the fund. Other startups backed by the fund include Eneza, a mobile based learning platform that targets students and adults in Kenya and other countries, and Lynk which connects customers with professionals and artisans from fields such as tailoring, carpentry, house helps, waiters, chefs and many others. iProcure becomes the fund’s last investee.

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Top five business risks for East Africa

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Kenya is emerging from a protracted presidential election process and seeing a return to political stability. Nonetheless, challenges will persist in 2018 for organizations operating in the country and East Africa more widely. High debt levels in Kenya and unpredictable policymaking in Tanzania are among the key risks for businesses operating in the region in the year ahead, says specialist global risk consultancy Control Risks in its annual political and security risk forecast RiskMap. Management of high debt levels and regulatory uncertainty in some markets to pose key risks for business in 2018.

Control Risks’ Senior Partner for East Africa Daniel Heal comments: “2018 is set to be a promising year for Kenya and the East Africa region. We have started to see the recovery of investor confidence due to the return of political stability in Kenya, as well as renewed interest in major infrastructure projects both in Kenya and across the region. We expect this to continue throughout 2018.”

“However, in Kenya, a pending repayment of the first portion of a Eurobond worth USD 774.8m in 2018 should be a trigger for the government to refocus attention on controlling public borrowing and spending before debt becomes unmanageable. Kenya has a strong appetite for external borrowing and has remained politically intransigent about its downsides. While Kenya remains highly unlikely to default on its debt, growing interest payments and international banks’ shrinking appetite to provide further loans will result in lower public spending, which has been a key driver for economic growth in recent years.”

Control Risks has identified the following as the key risks facing businesses in East Africa in 2018:

•Lingering debt crisis raises potential reputational risk: Countries in the region with a more diversified economic base such as Kenya and Ethiopia will keep sovereign risks at bay over the next year, and are unlikely to face a debt crisis in 2018. However, investors will have concerns about the sustainability of borrowing over the long term. Governments across the region will have to make significant improvements in public financial management, reduce public spending and demonstrate prudent oversight mechanisms to avoid negatively impacting the wider economy in the medium term.

•Regional political cooperation increases vulnerabilities for investors: The infrastructure boom in East Africa is set to continue in 2018. However, cross-border projects will depend on closer and more effective political cooperation between regional governments, raising political risk vulnerabilities. Increasing focus on local content will present a range of reputational risks for investors around third-party management, and land and community issues will require early and committed engagement from investors to avoid any major operational impact.

•Tensions between Kenya’s national and county governments may generate new political risks: The country’s return to political stability in 2018 will begin to unlock investment demand. However, the government will need to consolidate stability and focus on building effective working relationships with county governments to keep political risks at bay. It will also need to focus on stimulating the private sector by reassessing the interest rate cap, encouraging more private sector involvement in infrastructure projects and continuing to reduce bureaucratic hurdles.

•Regulatory risks in Tanzania: Unpredictable policymaking in Tanzania will continue to present major regulatory risks for international and regional investors. President John Magufuli’s grip on power is tightening, and his authoritarian style and erratic approach to legislation will further damage investor confidence. He will continue to use nationalistic legislation in the extractives industry as a way of increasing government revenue and addressing fiscal restraints, presenting a range of regulatory and political risks for investors in the short-to-medium term.

•Security and operational risks as a result of political pressures in Ethiopia and Uganda: In Uganda, speculation over President Yoweri Museveni’s succession plans are likely to persist, despite the likely passage of a constitutional amendment removing the age limit for presidential candidates. While these are unlikely to significantly harm businesses in the country, factionalism in the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) will complicate policymaking and lead to bureaucratic delays for businesses. In Ethiopia, the government is likely to face further protests unless it seeks to broaden the political space and make some leadership changes. This will pose security risks for businesses in the regions of Amhara and Oromia, and in the border area between the latter and Somali regional state.

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Investing In Bitcoin: Everything You Need To Know Before You Buy

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Bitcoin is a currency designed to pay for goods and services, just like Euros or U.S. Dollars. But that’s where the similarities end.

Bitcoin, unlike a traditional currency, is:

  • Decentralized—no government or central bank controls the currency supply.
  • Digital—there are no physical Bitcoins or Bitcoin bills. The currency lives entirely online, tracked by blockchains, continuously growing groups of records that provide a complete history of each Bitcoin.

The reason people are so drawn to Bitcoins is the lack of middlemen and banks with hefty fees. Since it exists entirely online, your wallet ID (more on that later) is what is used in transactions, not your name and other information, unless you give it.

Is Bitcoin really anonymous?

No, Bitcoin isn’t actually completely anonymous. Talented hackers and government agencies have the means to track pretty much anything, including Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin transactions are randomly transmitted over the peer-to-peer network (making it seemingly anonymous), this system doesn’t always hold up.

If a hacker can connect multiple nodes to the Bitcoin network, the combined data collected from these different nodes might be enough to determine where a transaction originated.

Bitcoins can also be linked to real identities if those identities are used in combination with the Bitcoin addresses in some way. This includes addresses used to deposit or withdraw money to or from an exchange or wallet.

How do you get Bitcoin?

You can buy bitcoins with hard cash, credit or debit cards, and wire transfers. But first, you’ll want to establish a Bitcoin “wallet,” which will be where your wallet ID is derived from. This is just a place to store your bitcoins, just like your wallet holds your cash and credit cards.

Bitcoin Investing In Bitcoin: Everything You Need To Know Before You Buy

25089512 – hand holding smart phone mobile with bitcoin currency symbol

The main options are:

(1) a software wallet stored on the hard drive of your computer.

(2) an online, web-based service or

(3) a ‘vault’ service that keeps your bitcoins protected offline or multi-sig wallet that uses a number of keys to protect the account.

Each has their pros and cons, but the first two have the most drawbacks. You’ll want to back up your computer regularly if you store bitcoins on your computer and online services are susceptible to hackers.

If you’re an everyday user, these online services are your best option, as long as you don’t need complete anonymity and don’t mind the long setup procedures. However, some people believe that this erases the point of Bitcoin and its anonymity.

You’re probably wondering how much a single bitcoin is worth. That’s a hard question to answer because it fluctuates constantly. At the time of writing, Bitcoin is worth $18000 US dollars (an all-time high).

Bitcoin mining is like digging for gold online—hence the reason it’s called “mining”. With paper money, a government decides when to print and distribute money, but Bitcoin doesn’t have a central regulator, which is what allows anyone to start mining.

Bitcoin miners use a special software to solve math problems (your computer must correctly come up with the right combination of 64 digits) and are issued a certain number of Bitcoins in exchange for solving them correctly.

But don’t worry, there’s not an endless amount of Bitcoins just floating around out in cyberspace. Once there are 21 million in existence, there can’t be anymore.

These puzzles aren’t easy to solve and, as I said above, do require a special software. It’s so difficult, that many people can’t accomplish it entirely on their own. Instead, “mining pools” have arisen, where groups split their computing power and, once the puzzle is solved, the winnings are divided based on the amount of computing power each contributed to the calculation. Don’t think that mining Bitcoin is an easy way to get rich. It’s possible you would need to spend more on specialized computer equipment than the Bitcoin you could mine would be worth!

Is Bitcoin mining legal?

This mining process probably sounds highly illegal, but it’s not—at least in the United States (international laws differ in their treatment of Bitcoin).

That said, laws regarding Bitcoin are still evolving and the use and distribution of it are not regulated and is still fairly risky, especially when it comes to taxes.

But where the biggest issue arises is in the purchases people make with bitcoins.

How can you use Bitcoin?

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, states that, as of 2013,

“using bitcoin to purchase well-natured goods and services is not illegal. However, those who mine bitcoins and trade them for traditional currency or operate exchanges on which bitcoins are bought and sold are labeled “money transmitters” and could be subject to special laws that govern that type of activity.”

This doesn’t include the fact that many people use bitcoins to purchase things on the dark web. Drugs and gambling are among the most popular uses for Bitcoin.

So where can you use Bitcoin legally? Probably in more places than you’d think. Microsoft, Dell, REEDS Jewelers, and a few airline sites all accept Bitcoin as a legitimate payment.

Also, the easiest way to get your bitcoins turned into cash is via gift cards. For U.S. customers, places like Gyft, eGifter, and GiftCardZen offer many options. Typically, you can use these gift cards at places like Amazon, Walmart, and Target.

Is Bitcoin safe to use?

Just like thieves steal your wallet, hackers will be after your Bitcoins, so it’s important to make sure your store it in a safe place.

We mentioned Bitcoin wallets above, and getting one is among the more secure ways to store and use Bitcoin.

Ledger is a Bitcoin security company that offers a range of Bitcoin storage devices. The Ledger Nano S is Ledger’s most secure wallet.

TREZOR is another option. It’s the original hardware wallet that was built to secure bitcoins. It generates your Bitcoin private keys offline.

Should you invest in Bitcoin?

Now that you know the basics of Bitcoin, you may be wondering if it’s the right investment for you. There are a couple things to consider before you take the plunge.

If you’re thinking of actually attempting to mine Bitcoin, you could be spending a lot. Unless you’re a serious computer genius, you’ll need to buy software that will calculate the complex 64-digit codes that lead to a single bitcoin. This software is not cheap—typically it ranges in the thousands (although, there are some sketchy free or cheap options). In addition, you’ll need to consider the actual cost of Bitcoin, which, as I said earlier, fluctuates constantly. While the price appears to be climbing, who’s to say it won’t suddenly decrease in price again.

Bitcoin is not regulated by an agency

If you want to invest some of your savings into Bitcoin, know that it’s not like investing in the stock market, and owning Bitcoin is not like having cash in the bank.

Bitcoins are not traded on Wall Street and can’t be bought or sold through a brokerage. So everything is up to you. Due to its unregulated nature, Bitcoin fluctuates constantly in price, more so than other currencies. There are certainly a lot of safer investments than Bitcoin that you should consider if you’re risk-averse. It also has no tangible value like gold—therefore, Bitcoin is worth exactly what people perceive its worth to be, which can be a little scary.

Demand is high

Since there is a limited amount of Bitcoin, and after 2040, no more will be created, getting in on the ground floor can be a great idea (not to mention, it’ll help diversify your portfolio).

It has also been rumored that Bitcoin will someday (and maybe even someday soon) be bought by governments to be held as reserves just like gold. While this could have a lot of negative ramifications, it also means the limited Bitcoins would suddenly be in very high demand.

Buying Bitcoin and holding onto it in hopes it will appreciate in value, is the most common form of “investing”. As with all investing, you should never invest more than you are willing/able to lose. This is especially true with Bitcoin since it’s still a very risky investment.

The most important thing to keep in mind when buying Bitcoin is to make sure to buy only from exchanges that have proven their reputation.

Another key tip is to make sure you don’t buy all of your Bitcoins in one trade. Instead, use a dollar cost averaging method—buy a fixed amount every month, week or even day throughout the year. This ensures that you buy the most Bitcoin when it’s on the rise, and less when it’s going down in price.

Bitcoin alternatives

Although the most well-known, Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency. Let’s take a look at some of the other major players.

Ethereum

Unlike Bitcoin, Ether can only operate through its own network—Ethereum. There is a limited amount of Ether, that was generated during their 2014 “presale.” 60 million were created during this time.

Ether is not necessarily intended for day-to-day use like Bitcoin. It can be used by application developers as a currency on the Ethereum network. It’s used for things like ride-sharing, betting, and investments.

Price at the time of publishing: $473.90

Litecoin

Litecoin, as its name suggests, is a simple form of Bitcoin. Anyone can mine Litecoin using their home computers. According to their site, Litecoin is “a peer-to-peer currency that enables instant, near-zero cost payments to anyone in the world.”

Like Bitcoin, you can get Wallets for your Litecoin to keep it secure from hackers.

Price at the time of publishing: $97.22

Summary

Bitcoin has become increasingly popular due to its relative anonymity—which allows for legally-questionable purchases. But it can be used by every day, legal purchases as well. Visa gift cards and “wallet” exchanges, you can buy items for Walmart or Amazon, and even buy discount plane tickets. The cryptocurrency is also quickly becoming a mainstream investment option—one that the average investor has to take note of.

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How burglars managed to steal Sh50 million from KCB in Thika

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Burglars accessed KCB Thika Branch on Sunday, November 19 and removed five containers of 50-real notes, with an estimated value of Sh50 million. They disabled the bank’s internal alarms and sensors and the burglary remained undiscovered until Monday, November 20.

Three months before the incident, the criminals rented a commercial property in Thika town and dug 120 meters beneath blocks of houses to a position beneath the bank. The gang had renovated the property and put up a sign indicating it was a landscaping company selling both natural and artificial grass as well as other plants. Neighbours described how they had seen van-loads of soil being removed daily, but understood this to be a normal activity of the business.

The tunnel, being roughly 70 cm (2.3 ft) square and running 4 meters (13 ft) beneath the surface, was well-constructed. It was lined with wood and plastic and had its own lighting and air conditioning systems. The gang broke through 1.1 meters (3.6 ft) of steel-reinforced concrete to enter the bank vault and completed their mission. According to Kiambu County police boss Adiel Nyange, three people were arrested in connection with the theft.

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