Farm to fork: Innovations reshaping smallholders’ market access

Technical solutions to food tracking, traceability and distribution are enabling agribusinesses along the value chain to better manage and expand their operations. Such innovations also help farmers and farmer organisations to establish and strengthen links with buyers.

Farmforce is used to analyse the severity of several types of leaf disease that effect peanut production in Haiti © Eric Carroll/Elevate Social Businesses

Around the world, new technologies are helping to maximise efficiency in the distribution of fresh produce from farms to markets. Farmforce – one such innovation that’s having a global impact – is a cloud-based mobile and web platform, which supports the professional relationship between smallholder farmers and buyers, enabling increased transparency along the value chain through the collation of detailed farm data. Food companies across 25 different countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America use the platform to coordinate the activities of over 250,000 farmers and ensure food meets safety and sustainability standards.

In Haiti, Acceso Peanut Enterprise Corporation, an agribusiness built by the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership in 2014, uses Farmforce to help oversee their rural operations. Acceso collects groundnuts from more than 3,000 Haitian farmers at depots located near farming communities, tests the nuts to ensure they do not exceed aflatoxin limits and sells them on to large buyers. The company not only provides a ready market for its network of smallholders at a fair price, but also offers the farmers training in good agricultural practices and inputs on credit, to improve their groundnut yields and quality.

Since its launch, Farmforce has enabled Acceso to manage its daily operations and keep comprehensive records of farm data, training attendance, yield forecasts, loan repayments and harvest purchases. Access to this data from the last 4 years has allowed Acceso to assess the impact of its operations and gain a better understanding of which strategies are the most effective for sustainably delivering higher quantity and quality groundnut yields. “Farmforce's ability to log geo-references for farmer registration, field visits, and survey responses gives me the ability to see where my team is and what work they are doing in real-time,” explains Patrick Dann Dorzin, deputy operations manager at Acceso. With Farmforce’s help, Acceso has tested and sold 800 t of groundnuts since its launch and has begun to expand its portfolio to include other crops such as lime, mango, moringa, sorghum, sisal and castor.

Enhancing aggregation

The efficient distribution of fresh produce is not entirely reliant on technology; aggregation centres and collection points play a key role in ensuring food supplied by smallholder producers makes it to the market in the safe, fresh and high-quality condition required by buyers. Through its FoodTrade programme, the NGO Farm Africa has focused its support on farmers’ organisations, village aggregation centres (VACs) and satellite collection points in Tanzania and Uganda. The NGO builds the business and governance capacities of these farmers’ organisations and VACs to help them establish long-term links with buyers and sustainably grow their business.

Using digital market information systems, Farm Africa has also enabled farmers’ organisations and VACs to monitor market prices, which ensure the aggregators have leverage to negotiate a fair and competitive price for produce. Improved aggregation and access to market information, has helped supported organisations and VACs sell 104,700 t of aggregated produce and gain higher prices than the value most farmers would previously have received at local markets. At the farmer-level, Farm Africa has worked to advocate the benefits of aggregation to farmers and, in just over 2 years, 72,800 farmers have started aggregating their produce.

Run like clockwork

Kenyan start-up, Selina Wamucii, allows buyers to source, aggregate, and redistribute fresh produce from African smallholders to markets (domestic and export) through its mobile platform. To join the platform, farmers simply text Selina Wamucii a code and, with the data, the company is able to map a farmer’s location, their produce and the volume harvested. Working with over 3,000 farmers, the company organises them into small groups according to crop variety and coordinated by produce agents. At harvest, the crop volume produced is recorded on the platform and farmers are immediately paid via their mobiles; a traceability code is also generated so that the produce can be tracked from its origins to the market.

Selina Wamucii then grades, packages, distributes and markets the produce under 10 different brands, including Mount Kenya Fresh AvocadosKenya Herbs & Spices and Essential Oils of Africa. “We’re tapping into the power of mobile phones to transform the value chain while passing the benefits of an efficient chain on to the farmers and produce buyers,” explains Kariuki Gaita, co-founder of Selina Wamucii. The company’s success is evidence that with the right technologies and relevant capacities in place, food produced by smallholder farmers across the world can meet the demands of international markets.

Stephanie Lynch

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.