How technology can help lift small farmers out of poverty

The world produces enough food to feed every individual, but nearly 690 million people continue to be hungry. The irony is that many of those who are undernourished spend their days growing food for others. Small farmers, who cultivate less than 5 acres of land, constitute a large part of the world’s poor living on less than $ 2 a day, according to World Bank estimates. This despite the fact that they creating livelihoods for over 2 billion people worldwide and produce about 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

United Nations reports that supporting these farmers is one of the fastest ways to lift over a billion people out of poverty. The task, however, is not easy. “Two decades of underinvestment in agriculture, growing competition for land and water, rising fuel and fertilizer prices, and climate change have left smallholders less able to escape the poverty ”, Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, said in a press release on the subject. the United Nations World Food Program Limited access to finance and inputs such as seeds and fertilizers are also among the biggest challenges facing smallholders.

Technological innovations can help close the inequality gap for smallholder farmers

An innovative solution that has reached 90,000 farmers in Mali, Senegal and Tanzania is called myAgro. Founded ten years ago, myAgro provides a host of services to smallholder farmers, including a mobile layaway program that allows farmers to pay for seeds, fertilizers and other inputs step by step throughout the year.

MyAgro’s simple solution addresses a major obstacle that keeps small farmers in poverty: lack of access to financial services. The main expenses of farmers – seeds and fertilizers – must be bought in bulk at prices over $ 100. Since their income varies seasonally, they often cannot afford to invest in seeds and fertilizers at planting time. Many live far from banks, which makes saving even more difficult. The result is poor productivity and low yields, which keep small farmers in a cycle of poverty.

Thanks to the myAgro platform, farmers can buy scratch cards for as little as $ 1 at local convenience stores when they have some cash on hand. The trader enters a code into his cell phone to record the investments in the farmer’s account, which is used to pay for seeds and fertilizers when the planting season arrives.

The model is familiar to farmers and works much like prepaid phone scratch cards, which are already sold in convenience stores in rural villages around the world. There are no loans, no interest rates, and no need to repay anything.

“We use farmers’ money when it’s available to them during the season,” explained Sid Wiesner, chief technology officer at myAgro. “They’re basically using their own money to fund something that happens later at a tough time of the year.”

For farmers like Awa Camara from Bancoumana, Mali, that makes all the difference. “Agriculture is our main activity, so it is important for us – especially women – to have good harvests so that we can meet the needs of our families,” she said. “I really appreciate the incremental payments, because we, the women in particular, have a lot of expenses, like buying food to feed our families… Now we always have quality inputs in time for the seedlings and larger harvests.

myAgro also offers training to all farmers who use its mobile investment platform to share crop-enhancing farming techniques tailored to specific regions and crops. Report from farmers including Mareme Sakho from Senegal more than quadruple their yields since they started using myAgro.

Reinforce a proven system with technological partnerships

The key to an organization that continues to thrive and evolve is understanding that it can’t do it all on its own, Wiesner said. myAgro works with governments, NGOs like Catholic Relief Services, and tech companies like Cisco to fuel its work.

With Cisco, myAgro was able to move certain technological projects from the background to the field. During their three-year relationship, Cisco offered myAgro expertise in various technologies, in addition to a grant that helped myAgro improve the functionality and flexibility of its layaway platform and create new new digital tools for farmers.

Prior to the partnership, myAgro had laid the groundwork for a digital payment system, as well as a data platform and field tools that had not yet been scaled up, Wiesner said. “Cisco’s funding allowed us to hire direct developers, allowed us to develop this team, allowed us to iterate more quickly… and then also to distribute it to the whole team”, a- he added.

The data platform has proven to be particularly useful, as it allows myAgro and its partners to access real-time data on farmers, their needs and how myAgro is helping meet them. “There is a shared responsibility,” Wiesner said of the platform. “It’s not just us who are signaling something – [our team and our partners] have access to live data. As things go, they can check in and see how things are progressing against goals. It’s been really powerful – to open that up, to share that, to make it transparent on all levels. “

Investments in technology can help small farmers cope with the pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts lives and livelihoods around the world, threatening to push up to half a billion people into poverty, the importance of supporting smallholders is more evident than ever. “Food security is much worse for so many farmers” amid the pandemic, Wiesner said.

Like countless organizations around the world, myAgro was forced to pivot quickly as it tried to keep an eye on government regulations and what was happening on the ground. He switched the agricultural training sessions to video, radio and broadcast, took more payments over the phone, and answered frequently asked questions from farmers.

While the change was difficult, myAgro actually increased its reach by 44% and delivered seed and fertilizer as planned last season, Wiesner told us. “It was definitely a huge disruption, but still a very successful season,” he said. “[COVID-19] highlighted some of the things we’ve already invested in: There are some digital tools and data that actually helped us… make this transition easier than it would have been three or five years ago.

Technology will continue to be crucial in lifting farmers out of poverty

Overall, technology is poised to play an increasingly vital role in better serving smallholder farmers: In a 2020 report, professional services firm EY cited digital innovation as a way to lift millions of smallholder farmers out of poverty, and the World Bank predicts that digital technology will be key to improving the global food system.

For its part, myAgro aims to leverage its model to increase the incomes of one million smallholder farmers by $ 1.50 per day by 2025. “A lot of our growth now is really focused on what has already worked and finds great opportunities to develop it, ”Wiesner said.

This article series is sponsored by Cisco and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image courtesy of myAgro

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