“The internet for people with no internet”

By Dennis Odera, Africa Business Co-ordinator

Although I was taught that you should not judge a company solely on its slogan, over the course of my professional career I have observed that the most revolutionary companies have slogans that mirror their ambition and audacity to transform (initially) their respective fields and (eventually) the entire world for the better. When I read the slogan, “the internet for people with no internet” I took notice.

What do the words, “the internet for people with no internet” really mean? Does that slogan make any sense? Initially, I was unable to grasp the spirit (yes, spirit) behind the slogan but the more I got to learn about WeFarm (the company behind the slogan), the more I understood what it really meant.

WeFarm is a platform that allows smallholder farmers to access vital agricultural information on their mobile phones (including those that are not internet enabled) through SMS messages. Many smallholder farmers in developing countries do not have ready access to the internet. Many more smallholder farmers in developing countries do not have access to important agricultural information that has the ability of solving most of the problems they face on their farms.

With WeFarm, however, farmers are able to ask their peers questions, respond to questions asked by their fellow farmers and share vital agricultural practices or trade secrets that they have been practicing and that have worked for them. WeFarm enables smallholder farmers around the world (WeFarm is currently in Kenya, Uganda and Peru) to crowd-source information from their peers and they can do this without having to access the internet (understand the slogan now?)

One of the 45,000 farmers already registered and using WeFarm, Paul, was looking to start growing a new crop in his farm and asked, “What type of watermelon grows best in Kisumu? How long does it take to mature?” Less than five (5) minutes later, he got a response, “Watermelon Crimson Sweet does really well in Kisumu. It usually matures in about eighty (80) days.” Thanks to the WeFarm platform, Paul was able to get an answer, that would have otherwise troubled him to obtain, in less than five (5) minutes.

Think of the myriad of problems smallholder farmers face on the ground e.g. identifying what pests are causing harm to their crops, trying to find out what fertilizers are good for their crops etc. If they were able to get real time solutions to the problems they were facing, how much more yield would they be able to harvest? How would the increased profits from their bumper harvests impact their livelihoods?

Paul, instead of having to rely on the trial and error method of farming or second guessing himself, was able to get a solution to his problem in a matter of minutes. WeFarm is helping Paul and other smallholder farmers to find solutions to their problems easily and pretty quickly.

Many companies around the world trade on or rely on the produce of smallholder farmers. It is said that 75% of the food in the world is produced by smallholder farmers. Most of the companies who deal with smallholder farmers have been looking for ways to train and communicate directly with their farmers. They want to inform them of new farming techniques that may improve their yield, warn them against use of certain chemicals that may render their produce unsellable, prepare them for foreseen or unforeseen events etc.

Last year, for example, a lot of farmers were frightened about the possible effects the El Nino rains would have on their farms. Some farmers were afraid they would not be able to cultivate while some were afraid that the rain would destroy the produce that they already had on the farms. As a result of these conversations, farmers were able to be trained on the different ways to store excess rain water, they were informed of the different plant varieties they could buy that were resistant to a lot of water etc. The conversations generated on WeFarm enabled farmers to be able to better prepare themselves against the El Nino rains.

WeFarm also enables companies and/or organizations to study trends and patterns of farmers and prepare themselves to deal with what is actually happening on the ground. Last year, a solar company wanted to promote the use of solar energy amongst farmers. Initially they thought that farmers would only be interested in purchasing solar solutions for lighting but based on the conversations farmers were having on WeFarm, they were able to learn that farmers want solar solutions tailored to their farming needs. Farmers were looking for solar incubators and solar water pumps which would cut their costs and increase their profitability. The solar company was thus able to tweak its strategy on how it wanted to approach farmers.

The beauty of WeFarm is the value it adds to the entire supply chain. It allows farmers to easily access information that they can then use on their farms to improve their produce; it enables companies and/or organizations to communicate directly with farmers to ensure they are well trained and that all their agricultural produce meets their required standards; it enables companies and/or organizations to study trends and issues affecting farmers and plan accordingly. The WeFarm platform adds value to every player from the farm to the consumer of agricultural produce. WeFarm is an all in one solution to agricultural problems.

Uber has revolutionized the ride hailing sector with its slogan, “Everyone’s private driver”. Google has revolutionized the search engine and many other sectors with its slogan, “Don’t be evil”. Although we should not judge a company by its slogan, WeFarm looks set to join this select group and revolutionize the lives of smallholder farmers with its slogan, “The internet for people with no internet.”

WeFarm’s goal is to reach 1 million farmers by the end of 2016 and in order to do so the business is currently raising £2.3m in Series A funding.

Website: http://www.wefarm.org

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