Mobile service Oko uses Microsoft Azure and artificial intelligence (AI) to help farmers easily access crop insurance, reducing the risk of food insecurity around the world.
The Israeli-based start-up partnered with local phone operators and mobile payment processors in Mali and Uganda to set up the service. Founder Simon Schwall then applied to the Microsoft for Startups AI 4 GOOD acceleration programme and Founders Hub, which gave him access to technology, connections and grants to bring his vision to life.
“We were very impressed with the leadership team and their passion for making a difference in people’s lives,” said Raz Bachar, general manager for Microsoft for Startups Israel. “While reviewing Oko’s application, we started to understand the size of the problem they were addressing and the potential impact they could have on the world.”
Farmers use Oko via their mobile phones. On average, they pay $20 to cover a full season over 1.7 hectares. Oko then uses historical data and weather data to analyse the insurance risk and determine the policy cost. If the real-time data shows a serious drought or flood, Oko pays farmers immediately, eliminating the need to file a claim and ensuring farmers are able to recover more quickly from a poor season.
“Oko insured both drought and rainfall and that’s why I became a member,” said Sékou Coulibaly, a cereal farmer in Mali. “The first year, the crop was very bad for us and Oko, because of the drought, helped compensate for the damage. I have to say that Oko is very good for the farmers in the region.”
Each season, Oko uses real-time satellite data and rainfall monitoring to determine how much rain is needed for a healthy harvest. If the rainfall drops below the thresholds, it automatically triggers a payment to the farmers. According to Schwall, farmers use this money to buy new seeds for the next harvest or buy other goods to sell, such as fuel.
Via the Microsoft for Startups AI 4 GOOD, Schwall has been able to leverage Microsoft Azure and Microsoft’s data tools to improve Oko’s customer relationship management platform and build machine learning algorithms to better analyse satellite weather.
“The benefit of the programme really allowed us to scale up,” said Schwall. “We were able to migrate our self-designed platform to Azure without really having to change our infrastructure or resources. We’ve been able to go from helping 1,800 farmers to more than 10,000 farmers. And now, we have a programme with UN Women in Mali. We realised that we had a limited number of women in our customer base and we want to bridge that gap.”