Kenya’s Farmforce, a software-as-a-service platform aims to use mobile technology to help small-holder farmers monitor their farms, register for micro-insurance, conduct field assessments and increase grower transparency.
Launched early this year in Kenya Farmforce is an initiative of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and backed by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland. Farmforce is at the moment working with local farmers to help them up their yields and eventually roll out global operations.
Spencer Morley, Farmforce Implementation Manager spoke to TechMoran on the firm’s plan to grow its local user base and its plans to open further in Latin America and South East Asia to serve expanding client bases in those markets and a final global roll-out.
Below is the whole interview;
The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture has been working in Africa for many years and is dedicated to helping small farmers. In many ways smallholder farming suffers from a lack of economies of scale. In order to try to solve this many small holders participate in large scale contract farming schemes, such as a factory that contracts farmers to grow for them. This is good but it is incredibly difficult to manage schemes like this at scale. This limits investment in small holder agriculture and inclusion of small farmers. With Farmforce we are building technology to make these large scale contract farming schemes manageable, efficient and scalable in order to benefit more small holder farmers.
How does Farmforce work?
The Farmforce system is composed of a web site and mobile application that are used by organizations (companies, cooperatives, governments) working with large numbers of small farmers in a large scale contract farming arrangement. A typical customer would be a company exporting horticultural products who contracts 1000 small farmers to grow french beans. The field workers employed by the company would use the Farmforce mobile application to record information related to the farmer’s growing cycle, such as planting dates, input loan disbursements, pesticide spraying records, yield forecasts and harvest information. The company managers in the office would then use the website to view this information and manage projections, crop quality and access management reports in real time aggregating all of the information across the 1000 farmers.
Why use mobile tech?
Farmforce is a web and mobile IT system for managing large scale contract farming schemes composed of small farmers. We built the system around mobile technology because we think that there are many inefficiencies in smallholder agriculture that can be improved by increasing the reliability, quality and speed of information. Most businesses (in other regions or industries) that grow beyond a certain size need real time IT systems to allow them to be managed efficiently and to scale up. Before Farmforce there was no suitable IT system for small holder agriculture and this has held the sector back.
Any challenges with working with farmers?
Farmforce is new technology that changes the way contract farming schemes can be run and managed. When we asked one of our customers for data on efficiency improvements they said that they couldn’t give us data on comparative improvement because Farmforce allowed them to operate in totally new ways that were impossible with the previous paper system This is good but it means that deploying the system involves some organizational change, which can be challenging, but in a positive way.
Do you have any partnerships or you are just on your own?
We have a partnership with GlobalGAP which manages the standards governing agricultural imports into the European Union. We hope to conclude similar partnerships with other standards bodies soon.
What are your future plans, say in two years?
We plan to continue to roll out the platform around the world and scale up our client base. In addition to our current Implementation office in Nairobi, we plan to open further offices in Latin America and South East Asia to serve expanding client bases in those markets.
Any success stories?
In the past year we’ve completed 12 deployments of the system across Africa and Latin America.
How do you make money?
We offer the system on a Software as a Service basis and charge our customers fees based on the number of users of the system. These fees cover support and cloud hosting of the system. We find this model works well since piloting the system for a limited number of users is fairly inexpensive and customers only pay more when the system is scaled up and the value they get increases.