We are working to extend the benefits of using smartphone apps in agriculture to smallholder farmers in developing countries. The resources available on the internet and in commonly used apps in the first world could significantly increase the profitability of smallholder farmers in developing countries, if the smallholders had access to even a fraction of it. Unfortunately, there are some significant barriers preventing the resources from getting to the people who stand to benefit from it the most. First, the information tends to be in English, which is generally useless for the vast majority of smallholders. Second, the information is spread out all over the internet. Finding it takes a bit of searching skills, time and bandwidth; all resources in short supply for smallholders. Third, even if they could locate the information they want, it tends to be in a fairly sophisticated writing style, which, given the generally low functional literacy rate among smallholders, would be incredibly difficult for most to decipher even if it were translated for them.
At i1P2P, our vision is to provide the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers with the resources they want, when and where they want them, in a format they can readily use. We will do this by developing a platform of seventeen smartphone apps specifically designed for smallholders to use without special training or instruction. The key components of this design process are:
- All content will be in the farmer’s language.
- All content will be in simple, easy to understand writing styles.
- As much content as possible will be in the form of infographics.
- All content will meet the standard of being practical, useful and beneficial before it is included.
- The interface will be user friendly and make the information easily accessible.
- The apps will use as little bandwidth as practical to keep end user costs to a minimum.
Smartphone enabled peer-to-peer micro-lending
The purpose of the peer-to-peer micro-lending app is to provide farmers with the financial resources they need to maximize the profitability of their farm. The app will reduce loss of time and money by removing the farmer’s need to travel in search of a loan. The loans will save the farmers money by reducing their interest rates to 20% APR. On the average 5 month, $230 loan in Myanmar, this represents a savings of $54.62 which is 3.8% of net earnings for a smallholder farming 7 acres of rice. The loans will also reduce the farmer’s risks because they will be unsecured loans, meaning the smallholders won’t lose their farm if they can’t pay. The loans will increase farm productivity by providing the money needed to purchase high quality inputs such as better seed and fertilizer that farmers would otherwise have done without.
Linking Farmers to Markets
The purpose of the app for linking smallholders with buyers is to improve market efficiency. By linking farmers with buyers to coordinate buying and selling, the app will increase profits for everyone involved and reduce post-harvest loss. Farmer’s profits will be increased by ensuring the timely collection of their produce, which has a relatively short shelf life after harvesting. Buyer’s profits will be increased because they will be able to plan efficient pick up routes and prearrange onward selling.
Linking Farmers to Suppliers
The purpose of the app for linking smallholders with suppliers is also to improve market efficiency. By aggregating neighboring farmer’s supply orders, the app will give the farmers access to benefits of economies of scale, such as lower bulk prices, reduced transportation cost, and bargaining power. This app will also give smallholders access to a greater variety and quality of supplies than they would have access to in traditional markets. The app will also give farmer’s the ability to rate products and vendors, giving them a voice and making their opinions count.
The purpose of the crop insurance app is to mitigate the devastating effects of failed crops which can wipe out a family’s meager savings and make them dependent on the good will of others to avoid starvation. The effects of a single failed crop, both physiologically and financially can drag a smallholder down for years. Crop insurance can simply be built into the loan process to ensure coverage and reduce the risk to both the lender and the borrower.
The purpose of providing market information is to inform farmers of current prices for their products in various local markets so they can make well informed selling decisions and avoid being cheated by shady buyers. This app will provide farmers with prices for all farm products locally available so they can determine if it would be profitable to diversify into other crops. It will also enable farmers to track market trends so they can determine the best time to sell their produce or plant a different variety for a slightly different harvest time.
The purpose of the investing app is to provide smallholders with a secure and profitable means of saving their annual earnings until they need the funds. By giving smallholders the ability to invest their own earnings, a rice farmer who grosses $2,520 on the annual sale of 12 tons of rice from a 3-hectare farm will be able to realize an additional $150 in income over the course of the year. This alone represents a 10% increase on their net earnings of $1,443.
The purpose of the weather forecasting and reporting app is to provide smallholders with the most accurate weather information possible for them to determine planting and harvesting times. By encouraging smallholders to report rainfall on their farm, highly accurate local records and tracking will become available. In the case of abnormal conditions, this reporting will raise early alarms of possible failed crops to mobilize large scale interventions and facilitate timely insurance payouts. It will also generate accurate localized databases for farmers to track trends and plan future crops.
The purpose of the alert app is to provide farmers with actionable early warnings to mitigate the effects of diseases, pests, severe weather and other emergencies. By also encouraging smallholders to report crop, animal and even human diseases and pests effecting their family and farm, this app will enable the real-time tracking of outbreaks to facilitate prevention, mitigation and early recovery efforts.
Banking (Digital Financial Services)
The purpose of the banking (Digital Financial Services) app is to extend formal banking services to smallholders, who tend to not have such access locally. This will give smallholders the options of paying bills electronically, saving for major purchases, setting aside money for school fees, etc.
The purpose of the personal finance app is to both provide basic budgeting and expense tracking software, as well as to provide basic personal finance education.
The purpose of the buy/sell/trade/borrow app is to improve cooperation and coordination within the smallholder community. By listing postings based on their distance from the smallholder’s farm, the app will provide smallholders with a wide variety of market options and information not currently available. Not only will this app enable farmers to post things they have or are looking for, such as breeding stock and seeds, but also enable veterinary service provides and others to post when and where they will be offering services. The borrowing section will facilitate farmers lending their neighbors tools when needed which will further build the community.
The purpose of the social media app will be to connect smallholders with one another and with people involved in the farm value chain outside their local community. By building a strong online community, the app will encourage the sharing of knowledge, experience, ideas and stories. It will also give farmers a forum for raising concerns and getting support when needed. By connecting smallholders with a broader community, they will gain exposure and become an active part of larger conversations.
The purpose of the electronic library app is to provide in-depth information to smallholders who want it. This app will provide access to a wide variety of subjects that smallholders may be interest in, such as nutrition, first aid, hygiene, solar energy, construction techniques, etc. If what they are looking for is not available, the app will give smallholders the ability to request information on any subject which will then be translated and added to the library.
Audio and Video Sharing
The purpose of the audio and video sharing app is to enable P2P sharing of best practices. The app will give smallholders the ability to share their ideas and discoveries with others. It will also provide a forum for training and education because showing is better than telling when it comes to farm practices. A smallholder doesn’t need to be able to read or write to learn or teach via video.
The purpose of the reports and statistics app is to provide detailed information to smallholder that want it. This app will give farmers, vendors, buyers and other value chain players access to the vast amount of statistics currently available and that we will be generating to inform their decision making and business planning.
The purpose of the local news app is to give smallholders a voice in reporting stories that are important to them. This will promote local community cohesion and provide a broader perspective on world events by reporting stories and ideas that otherwise would go unreported.
On-line and Continuing Education
The purpose of the continuing education app is to raise the education level of smallholders by giving everyone the chance to learn at whatever level they are currently at. This app will provide for foundational education in areas of literacy, math and critical thinking, but also cater for more advanced training in water and sanitation, health, nutrition, advocacy, business, etc.