Farmerline — One message a day

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A young man in Ghana, Alloysius grew up watching the challenges his aunt faced as a small-scale farmer. “I’ve seen her struggle to access the market. I’ve seen her lose fertiliser and seeds because she didn’t know how to read the weather,” he attests. “All these things are happening to her which, somehow, affects the amount of money she makes from her farming venture.”

Problem

“I’ve seen her struggle to access the market. I’ve seen her lose fertiliser and seeds because she didn’t know how to read the weather.”

Alloysius met his co-founder Emmanuel, who had faced similar experiences growing up and realised the need and opportunity to provide access to critical information about cultivation best practices across Ghanaian villages. Access to this information is highly valued by farmers because it affects income earned and their immediate families. In Ghana, like many other countries across the continent, government extension officers are responsible for providing agricultural information to farmers. “Each extension officer has to work with about 2,000 farmers,” Alloysius explains. “And because there is always a very low budget, the officers aren’t able to travel to these villages as often as they are supposed to.”

SOLUTION

“Basically, we provide timely and accurate agricultural information to small-scale farmers and we also help food companies and businesses to better manage small-scale farmers in a very cost-efficient way.”

The natural first step in improving information access was to provide information to those who needed it: the farmers. Farmerline works with a variety of farmers, including fish farmers who need to heavily monitor the diets of their fish. “Because the farmers feed the fish three times a Farmerline — One message a day Daily SMS messages spread farming best practices to tens of thousands STORY 1 CHAPTER 1 / Production Farmerline provides timely and accurate agricultural information to small-scale farmers. © Farmerline Ghana http://farmerline.org/ Farmerline @farmerlineAlloysiusAttah ALLOYSIUS ATTAH 11 day, we send them information in the morning, afternoon, and evening.” This reminds them to pour a certain amount of feed into the water three times a day. These reminders are not only timely, but they are also provided in the local language to increase usability. In doing so, Farmerline streamlines and lowers the cost of the information transfer process, easing the workload of the extension officers. Farmers are not the only customers Farmerline caters to. Alloysius explains how the Farmerline business model also helps to lower costs for institutional partners. “Basically, we provide timely and accurate agricultural information to small-scale farmers and we also help food companies and businesses to better manage smallscale farmers in a very cost-efficient way,” he says

IMPACT

“50% increase in income because the extension officers are able to send timely and accurate information to farmers in a language that they understand.

As one of the first organisations to send out informative agricultural SMS messages, Alloysius refers to Farmerline as a pioneer in West Africa. The platform is not only leading the field, but is also generating tremendous returns for its farmers. “There is a 50% increase in income because extension officers are able to send timely and accurate information to fish farmers in a language that they understand.” Fish are a staple in the Ghanaian diet. The potential economic impact of Farmerline is huge. Because agricultural products are widely consumed by the general public, Farmerline wants to make sure that farmers are getting the most amount of money for their products. For example, Alloysius explains that fish should reach their maximum potential size before being sold so that farmers can earn more. In using Farmerline’s platform, fish farmers can provide the right amount of feed to grow the fish to their highest potential and generate a greater revenue.

Alloysius continues proudly, “You see a lot of stories about some of the farmers who have used our services and the impact that they’ve seen.” One such success story is Appiah Kubi’s — a smallscale farmer, husband, and father of seven. With Farmerline’s approach, Appiah has increased his earned income and scaled his production. He can now pay for his children’s school fees, including those of his son Joseph, who dreams of becoming a doctor. By increasing farmers’ production, Farmerline is improving incomes that support better lives for farmers’ loved ones.

BUSINESS MODEL

“They pay us for training and also access to information for their farmers because their interest is making sure that these farmers do well.”

To maintain its success, the Farmerline team is working towards improved sustainability. “90% of our revenue comes from the food companies, exporters, the big buyers, the businesses that are working with farmers,” Alloysius explains. Instead of charging the farmers for access to information, Farmerline derives revenue from the businesses that want their supplier farmers to succeed. Such a model has resonated with many key players in the value chain. Alloysius describes “All these guys are our clients because they pay us to train and send information to their farmers. They want to make sure that theirfarmers do well by increasing yield and quality.” Farmerline’s creative business model aligns farmers’ interests with that of other value chain stakeholders, ensuring that increased value for one improves income for the other. Down the line, Alloysius hopes that farmers will be both their customers and users. “I would like to see farmers who are entrepreneurial and are willing to pay for such services because they see the value in it,” he explains.

ON THE HORIZON

“There’s a lot of opportunity down there for MFIs to give credit facilitated to farmers.”

While Farmerline focuses on access to information, Alloysius believes a huge area for growth lies in farmers’ access to finances. “There’s a lot of opportunity lying down there for MFIs (microfinance institutions) to give credit to farmers to help them get their inputs by the start of the season,” he describes. “Some of the farmers have a lot of land, but they are just not able to cultivate it all because they don’t have the funding to be able to do it at the beginning of the season.” Access to credits and loans would drive an immense transformation throughout the agricultural sector, helping smallholder farmers increase their income.

LESSONS LEARNED

 “When I started Farmerline, another definition of success came up. It was trying to support people — not giving them money directly, but by helping them be stable in their work.”

When he began, Alloysius saw many challenges in the agricultural sector that he wanted to tackle. Since Farmerline, Alloysius says he now sees success beyond just making money. “When I started Farmerline, another definition of success came up. It was trying to support people — not giving them money directly, but by helping them be stable in their work.” As Farmerline continues to touch farmers and their families, its founders have seen the significance in providing capacity building, knowledge sharing and valueadded technological solutions to communities. Moreover, Alloysius now appreciates the concept of entrepreneurship: “I didn’t even know entrepreneurs existed when we started. It was just us being foolish and stupid enough to think that we are able to achieve our hearts’ desires — that is helping our families and making a small change in our communities.” Now that he identifies as an entrepreneur, he sees the incredible impact such a mindset can have in transforming value chains around the world.

Culled from the report: Innovate for Agriculture, Young ICT Entrpreneurs Overcoming Challenges and Transforming Agriculture, CTA(2016)

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