The following is a guest post kindly prepared by Indigo grantee, Farmerline.
In our final year at university, we (Emmanuel Owusu Addai and Alloysius Attah) felt very lucky and privileged at having made it that far. We wanted to give back to our family and the communities that supported us. In 2010, Mobile Web Ghana Entrepreneurship Program was one of the few programs supporting social entrepreneurship in Ghana. As part of the training program, all participants were asked to submit an idea that uses mobile and web technologies to solve social issues in Ghana. We both grew up in farming families so it came naturally for us to choose agriculture as our project area. We started Farmerline, a content and technology product company that builds supply chain and value chain solutions to integrate agricultural outputs of rural farmers in Africa/emerging markets. After working on the project for months and winning the Apps4Africa competition, we raised further funding (£5,200) from Indigo Trust to launch our first pilot.
Farmerline was introduced to Indigo Trust when Dr. Loren Treisman first visited Ghana back in 2012. It was a big moment for the entire Farmerline team. We shared our experience from that meeting here.
During the pilot, Farmerline staff and agricultural workers developed and sent messages such as weather forecast alerts, market prices, new farming techniques, agrochemical applications and inputs and financial tips to farmers and fishermen in their local languages at subsidize fees. We learned quickly from the pilot and later added options to collect data from farmers and fishermen for impact monitoring and analysis. There is a helpline that also enables them to call the Farmerline staff for advice on specific questions. More than 2,000 smallholder farmers and fishermen have benefited from Farmerline’s agronomic information services offered during the pilot. This directly and indirectly impacted 10,000 people including 6,000 children and 2,000 women. A preliminary impact assessment conducted by Farmerline and in collaboration with a PhD research fellow from McMaster University, Canada confirmed that the average fish farmer who has used Farmerline’s services for a year increased the total weight of fish harvested by 37.5%. During this period, the selling price of fish per kilo increased by 29% which contributed to about 55.6% increase in total income for the fish farmers.
As one of the first ICT for Agriculture companies using voice technology to support small-scale farmers in Africa, we shared the lessons we learned in using voice services to empower farmers on the GSMA mAgri blog.
The entire Farmerline team worked from the mFriday Tech Hub so we didn’t have to worry about paying rent and utility fees for the time we spent there. This opportunity gave us the peace of mind to focus on Farmerline’s core business.
There are a number of barriers facing farmers at all stages along the agricultural value chain. The challenges identified below reflect these.
Due to the lack of profitability of their operations (largely due to poor management practices), many farmers lack the capital necessary to kick-start their operations. The use of patient and low interest credit or loans to build their capacity to produce fish would be extremely beneficial.
Farmers also lack market access, and are forced to rely on intermediaries who end up under-rewarding the efforts of these poor farmers. It also leads to farmers producing and wanting to supply products that have little or no demand. This can be addressed by understanding the needs of buyers, and matching them with the appropriate suppliers.
In some regions of Ghana, there is limited mobile convergence and poor quality of service. Since most farmers have access to mobile phones, delivering mobile services can be boosted greatly with the development of a nationwide infrastructure with specific focus on rural areas.
The experiences gathered on the field during and after the pilot project greatly helped us to iterate on some of the major problems in order to develop relevant solutions for farmers and their stakeholders. The project also helped to shape the next steps for Farmerline, some of which are, to increase our farmer base through partnerships with Agribusinesses, farmer based organizations and governments Agric Institutions; Develop a bundle of services for farmers in partnership with the various actors along the value chain (supplying farm inputs on loan, weather forecast and training, marketing and sales); and in the short term, to expand to other African countries (preferably Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria).
Hopefully, with similar partnership and support from organizations such as Indigo Trust, and with our to build better communication pathways and better access to information for small-scale farmers, agriculture in emerging markets will be more profitable.