SavaNet — Q&A at the speed of light

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PROBLEM

“If we want to develop sustainable food and cash crop value chains, we need to develop vibrant young farmer networks.”

In Ghana, the farmer population is aging. Many young people are not interested in agriculture because they do not see it as a sustainable livelihood. Ghana’s vast and fertile agriculture land is therefore underutilised. Its farmers are not able to engage the most recent ICT innovations and other technologies to maximise their yield. “We went to the field one day,” Moses recalls from when he was working with the US development agency, USAID. “We were looking for large quantities of maize, rice and soybeans for a company in our value chain. It was impossible. Most farmers were working on less than 1 ha in a production season. I also couldn’t help noticing how old they all were.” Moses remembers hearing the farmers talk about their challenges — most of them a yield of less than 10 bags (50 kg). This was a result of poor access to farming innovations and a growing decline in the engagement of young people in the farming sector. “That’s when it hit me,” he adds. “If we want to develop maize, soya bean, and rice value chains, we need to develop vibrant young farmer networks.”

SOLUTION

“The platforms build innovative ways for farmers to connect with both agricultural experts and fellow farmers to obtain up-to-date information about farming.”

To build these vibrant young farmer networks, SavaNet integrates ICT innovations into its agricultural extension services, market access, and the dissemination of agriculture research findings. In doing so, the platforms created offer an innovative way for farmers to connect with both agricultural experts and fellow farmers, obtaining up-to-date information about farming. To improve agricultural extension services, SavaNet provides an audio conferencing platform where farmers can call in to get the latest information about their agriculture production. Traditionally, meetings would be held in-person, so farmers would have to leave their farms to attend the sessions. With this dial-in platform, the farmers are able to take the phone call from anywhere: home, the market, or on the farm.

In addition to the audio conference platform, SavaNet has a podcast series focused on topics that directly benefit farmers. SavaNet also has an agricultural GPS data service for farmers who want to better understand the geography of their farms. In addition, SavaNet works to improve farmers’ market access by providing market prices through SMS. In collaboration with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, SavaNet aggregates early morning prices from local markets, and then sends them to interested farmers via SMS. In doing so, farmers can be sure to get the best prices instead of being cheated by unfair middlemen or bargaining shoppers.

To ensure that all of these services stay current, SavaNet works closely with Ghanaian research institutions like CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and SARI (Savanna Agricultural Research Institute) to disseminate relevant research to farmers. Always finding new techniques, whoneed it. Now, SavaNet ensures that these findings are disseminated through its innovative ICT4Ag innovations; so that farmers have the most up-to-date information to inform their practices.

IMPACT

“Through SavaNet, he obtained technological and agribusiness support services, connected with the government’s block farming initiative and won the 2014 best regional maize farmer award.”

In 2014, SavaNet worked with 5,222 farmers, who largely engaged in food crop, ruminant, and poultry production. Most of SavaNet’s farmers use the audio conferencing extension service as they see it as a one-stop-shop to all their agriculture information needs. Many farmers also listen to SavaNet’s regular podcast as well as access its GPS services.

But who are these farmers? And what does their engagement mean? The majority of the SavaNet farmers are between 15-35 years of age, and about 75% are male. As SavaNet expands its food and cash crop value chains, these demographics are expected to balance. SavaNet’s engagement with young farmers has led to the formation of primary, secondary and tertiary farmer groups at the community, district and regional level. These organised farmer groups are contributing immensely in actively engaging young people in farming as a business and to provide a sustainable livelihood.

Moses shares the success story of a young farmer who joined the SavaNet platform in 2012. He had previously migrated to the south to do menial jobs. Disappointed, he returned to his farming community with a renewed interest in taking to farming as a business. Under SavaNet’s innovative young people in agriculture development initiatives, he received the much needed technological and agribusiness support service, as well as technical assistance from the government’s block farming project. He increased his income exponentially and, in 2014, won the best regional maize farmer award. His story marks the incredible impact that SavaNet is making on young people, re-engaging them with farming.

BUSINESS MODEL

“Commercial farming under nucleus and outgrower schemes as well as farmer group financing.”

SavaNet’s operations are centred on a farmer network-funded model, whereby the farmer groups support the venture. Its commercial farming, under nucleus and outgrower schemes, also supports the organisation’s business operations. “They support the work we do,” Moses shares. Savanet uses a membership, cost-sharing model whereby farmer groups pay group levies for the services the organisation provides. Because SavaNet is also supported by grants and other philanthropic partners, the farmer groups’ levies are subsidised so that the fees are affordable

WHAT’S NEXT

“We’ll continue to work with more farmers each season, such that by next year, we’ll be working with 15,000 farmers — 15,000 young farmers.”

Over the next few years, Moses sees SavaNet expanding rapidly. “We’ll continue to work with more farmers each season. By next year, we’ll be working with 15,000 farmers — 15,000 young farmers.” Moses has high hopes for this next cohort, with dreams to create more young farmer groups who can offer support and encouragement to each other. “I think if other young people see their peers re-engaging in farming, they’ll join them. The best way for us to get young people involved in agriculture is to highlight the young people who are already in agriculture.”

 

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

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