One Acre Fund: How a Mobile App Prepares Smallholder Farmers for a Successful Harvest
By Sue-Lynn Hinson
The Transformational Tech series highlights Cisco’s nonprofit grant recipients that use technology to help transform the lives of individuals and communities.
More than 84 percent of agricultural producers are smallholder farmers, according to Our World in Data; meaning their farms are less than two hectares. While they produce one-third of the world’s food, many of them experience poverty themselves and, paradoxically, often don’t have enough food to feed their families. The good news is, growth in agriculture could be up to two to four times more effective in raising incomes amongst the poorest, compared to growth in other sectors.
With the audacious goal of solving global poverty in mind, One Acre Fund (OAF) has been working since 2006 to supply smallholder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa with the resources they need to improve their harvests, raise their incomes, adopt environmentally friendly farming practices and diversify crops to increase resilience to disasters. Among their services which are facilitated by over 6,000 field officers, across nine countries, OAF offers flexible financing wherein farmers can purchase high-quality seeds and fertilizers on credit and repay a dollar here or a dollar there as they get money; delivery of inputs to locations within walking distance of every farmer; training; insurance; and access to innovative products and technologies.
Originally, OAF offered a once-a-year delivery of seeds, fertilizers, and other farming products from centralized warehouses to farmers’ rural villages, just in time for planting season. In 2019, they launched the Tupande program in Kenya, which includes a one-stop shop for quality farm supplies in the form of bright yellow shipping containers called dukas (Swahili for “shop”), set up in the rural villages closer to the farmers. These dukas are transformative because farmers can now access the supplies they need locally, all year round. To-date, OAF has opened 110 dukas across Kenya, with the goal of having 220 by end of year. Their goal is to expand to 330 dukas by mid-2023, with each scaled to serve about 1,500 Kenyan farmers; and ultimately launch the program in other countries in which they work.
Tupande Goes Digital
With the support of Cisco’s Global Impact Grant program, OAF has developed the Tupande mobile application, which went live in Kenya in April 2022. The app enables farmers to browse OAF’s product catalog, compare prices, view item photos and descriptions, determine what’s in stock at their local duka, and order – all from their mobile phone. “The digital penetration is a lot higher in Kenya than it is in many of the other nearby countries,” explained Claire McGuinness, Senior Analyst of OAF’s Strategy and Partnerships. “It’s a good area for us to test, learn, and roll out [new technologies] to farmers.”
Julius Tovesi, an entrepreneur who supports his family and broader community in their farming endeavors, said “I first heard about the mobile app through an Officer at the Tupande Kakamega duka who walked me through how to navigate it. I looked through it, compared prices and products on offer with those at the duka, and I was impressed, and haven’t stopped using it since!” Once an order is placed from the app, farmers can either go to their local duka to pick up their products, or they can have them delivered straight to their homes.
The app is not only convenient for farmers, but it also significantly improves OAF’s operations by reducing the amount of time field officers spend handling orders. With this time savings, they can engage with more farmers to deliver training and other value-added services. “The point of leverage for us, historically, has been thinking about how our field officers can serve more people,” explained Claire. “Because the more people who can be served by one field officer, the more efficient the program becomes, and the more people you can reach. [The Tupande app] came to us as the logical next step of reaching even more farmers. It offers farmers a lot more flexibility, because while they can place an order with their field officer, they also don’t have to wait for them to come around to place an order.”
The Tupande app is also a way for OAF to better engage with a rising generation of young farmers who grew up with tech and prefer tech-led solutions. As older farmers are retiring, OAF is focused on leveraging technology to attract and retain this younger generation of farmer.
Gearing up for scale to feed a growing population
While it’s still an early-stage pilot, the Tupande mobile app could enable OAF to reach 50,000 to 100,000 entirely new Kenyan farming families within the next few years.
“The app is a great way to leverage trust that we’ve built over time and allow us to use it to reach so many more people so much more efficiently.” Claire went on, “There are 50 million smallholder farming families in Africa. We’re laser focused on the idea of scale and how we can get to those additional farmers.”
This is especially important since it is estimated that the world’s population will grow by at least two billion people by 2050, and increasing smallholder farmers’ yields will be a critical part of ensuring there will be enough food to go around. Cisco is proud to support organizations like One Acre Fund that are using technology to help to reduce poverty, increase food security and build thriving resilient communities.
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