Transforming agriculture with Digital Innovations
Identifying problems that need solving can lead to the birth of great and sustainable businesses. It is exciting that are starting to see the birth of game changing businesses. Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to create solutions that help our economy and customers enjoy new conveniences. Having looked at the current state of agriculture sector in the economy we felt that it was necessary to focus on how we can contribute to the sector as entrepreneurs through innovation.
We kicked off this interesting debate on Twitter this week. We sought to initiate a debate on how start-ups could step in to shape the growth of the sector. This was after we discovered that according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (“FAO”) that Zimbabwe has over 10,000 dams dotted across the country, making it very possible for all year round farming activities that do not necessarily need to rely on rains. We wanted to understand what entrepreneurs in the sector can do.
We were not sure what to expect in terms of responses, but what we got was quite interesting. First the idea that start-ups need to innovate in the sector was very much supported and well received by following the tweet.
The issue of information sharing was brought to the fore. There is a big problem in the sector, where information appears not to flow freely and more importantly does not reach the intended users. Now clearly without information, cropping decisions and marketing possibilities become impossible. This is a big problem worth solving. Attempts have been made to solve this problem in various ways, through radio programmes, newspaper articles, magazines and websites. We feel that more can be done in this area. A careful study of trends and changes in weather patterns accompanied by planting dates and expected harvesting dates and prices could be useful information that many farmers would be willing to pay for.
Then there is the problem of marketing of farm produce and of course producer prices.
@JMuchavhaira tweeted “I think what is lack(ing…) is synergy of the stakeholders which include the retailers and the farmers. Many smallholder farmers are able to produce what many retailers are importing but how do they communicate and close the gap so that all can benefit?”
This remains a huge problem in Zimbabwe despite the fact that there are plenty of middlemen who are aggregating and offering such commodities to retailers across the country. Small scale farmers often complain that the prices they get paid pale when compared to the prices paid by consumers in the supermarkets. If farmers could reach the consumer directly it could mean better prices for the consumer and higher profits for the farmer. Any ideas on a business model that could solve this problem?
Well it looks like some new entrepreneurs are rising to the occasion and introducing a new channel that appears to be gaining traction in the country. Through social media and mobile money some clever entrepreneur has figured that the average housewife in the city does like going to the supermarket anymore. Freshinabox.co.zw is doing just that and appears to be growing fast. Such fresh business models can be scaled across cities and borders and earn the country foreign currency.
It would be interesting to see how this idea started! Most start-ups begin with experiments. Freshinabox has expanded to Bulawayo barely a month after making it in Harare and has even launched a portal for diaspora clients too! They are focussing on linking customers with farmers ensuring fresh deliveries of products. It is not difficult to see how supply and logistics fit into this business model. When we saw that @HwindiApp and @freshinbox are collaborating to make deliveries easier we were not at all surprised. This is as it should be. Collaboration is the key to fast growth and impact. Are they are address a real need? YES!
Another interesting start-up that caught our attention in the #Zim4AgriStartups debate is Zagric. Its founder Wilson Charangwa says “We @zagric1 through our online classifieds are aggregating industry data creating a digital marketplace and information portal empowering farmers to make the next informed decision. Our categories cover the whole agriculture value chain in Zimbabwe.” Access to affordable inputs is a big issue in Zimbabwe. If farmers can access inputs in a transparent and open manner this would help improve productivity in the sector too.
It is quite clear that digital innovations can improve productivity in the country’s agriculture sector. A few months ago we also featured @youfarmzim, a crowdfunding platform that is linking those who want to invest in agriculture with those with farms. For its role @youfarmzim takes 20% and the farmer and investor share the balance. Such platforms can improve access to funding and allow those with excess funds to be linked to farmers in need of working capital.
Still on markets, although not exclusively an agriculture products marketplace, Flexi Africa @RealFlexiAfrica is trying to link Zimbabwean farmers, artists and entrepreneurs by providing a platform for them to sell their products to regional markets. In the spirit of inclusive trade and access to markets, Flexi Africa indicated that they were also keen to expose local farmers to the wider African market through their platform. Platforms like these could lead to the broadening of markets, if they make it easier for those who want to export to do so by simplifying the process. They cannot do it alone and need to work with Zimtrade and RBZ to make this dream a reality.
This article was orginally published in the Business Times.
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- Posted on 23 November, 2018
- by Administrator