Smallholder farmers grow 80 per cent of the food produced in East Africa. A third are women, heading up a household of the old and young. If a surplus could be sold at higher prices – without too many intermediaries – it would make an immediate improvement in the quality of life for these women and their dependents.
Farming Data was established to address this challenge and the Cambridge start-up won Agri-Tech East’s 2017 GROW agri-tech business plan competition.
David Godding is a co-founder of Farming Data, which has been set up by two other University of Cambridge graduates, Jacqui Poon and Paul Bergen. David and Jacqui have on-the-ground knowledge of food security in sub-Saharan Africa because of their research in the region.
Locating buyers for surplus
Godding explains: “The problem for these subsistence farmers is finding potential buyers for perishable goods. Few have bank accounts to accept payment remotely and the roads are poor, so buyers do not want to deal with all the logistics involved for such small volumes of produce.”
Farming Data is developing a software system that allows farmers to communicate with potential buyers using SMS messaging on a basic mobile phone or mobile broadband on a smartphone.
Registering on the platform gives the producer a location and also allows potential buyers to see what is being grown in a particular area. The buyers can then place orders using the platform and farmers have the opportunity to create virtual cooperatives to fulfil these orders, as well as to review market values for these crops to ensure a fair price. A number of farmers pooling their surplus will be a more attractive proposition and reduce complexity for buyers.
Most have access to mobile phones
Godding explains that most farmers in East Africa have SMS-enabled phones and mobile money systems are widely used. The platform would enable financial inclusion, particularly of women.
He explains: “For smallholders, having a digital record of their income and reliability can help them to apply for microfinance to invest in their farms. This is essential to lift them out of food poverty and to make access to education a possibility for their children.”
Seeking funding for pilot
The Farming Data team pitched successfully to the Judge Business School start-up incubator and includes computer scientists, plant pathologists and systems engineers. It also has a widely respected charity in East Africa willing to support a pilot scheme.
The company is looking for agribusiness mentorship and guidance, as well as finance to further develop the platform and run the pilot.
The GROW agri-tech business plan competition was established by Agri-Tech East to stimulate entrepreneurship in the industry. GROW 2016/17 was supported by Innovate UK.
For further information about Farming Data visit www.farmingdata.io