Employing mobile technology to help East Africa’s farmers track their production and payments to secure fair prices
Smallholder farmers, typically widely dispersed and isolated because of Africa’s poor transport infrastructure, face challenges in terms of accessing markets, organizing into cooperatives, and bypassing local or farm-gate brokers. Though many smallholder farmers produce for subsistence, when they do have surplus to sell it often goes to local or farm-gate brokers who do not always pay fair prices, given that farmers typically lack knowledge of other options. For agricultural processors and cooperatives, which play a critical role for the agriculture sector in East Africa, lack of traceability and quality control, graft, and inaccurate and disorganized record-keeping reduce productivity across the sector.
Virtual City’s mobile solution involves three simple devices: an electronic weigh-scale, a data-enabled hand-held device, and a printer. When a farmer comes to weigh her product, the scale digitally transfers the weight of the crop (precise to the decimal), along with product quality information and the farmer’s personal details, to a central Agrimanagr server in real time. When the crop is weighed at the agri-processor, it is compared to the data from the field to determine any discrepancies. The collected data may later be used by cooperative or processor management to generate reports and to facilitate accurate farmer payment via mobile money transfer platforms such as Safaricom’s M-PESA.
Virtual City’s products connect farmers to markets, allowing them to increase their income, build records of farm production and payment and receive the appropriate reward for increased yields. Through participating in the networks of agricultural processors and aggregators, smallholder farmers typically increase their earnings by 40 to 100 percent through improved access to credit, guaranteed markets, better information, and the provision of inputs; farmers utilizing the Virtual City solution increase this by an additional 10 percent, yielding a minimum 50 percent increase in earnings compared to non-participating farmers. Acumen’s investment will support the continued development of the Agrimanagr product to make it more affordable for smaller agricultural processors and available via low-cost smart phones, as well as to scale Virtual City’s activities across the region.