Safeguarding the world’s food systems is now an immediate priority. In order to do this, we must look to the experts - smallholder farmers - who produce 70% of our food. Producers Direct is owned and led by smallholder farmers - from the smallholder farmers who represent the majority of our Board members, through to our investment in the farmer and youth leaders who deliver our activities across smallholder communities internationally.
Overall, Producers Direct works with and benefits the livelihoods of over 1 million smallholder farmers in East Africa and Latin America. For the last decade, we’ve pioneered a model committed to building resilience for smallholders, promoting sustainable food systems and powerful market linkages, and empowering farmers to manage sustainable and diverse farming systems. Our award-winning solutions include Wefarm, which originated as a Producers Direct project (2010-2015), before being spun out as an independent start-up from 2015.
As a result of governments’ responses to Covid19, restrictions on movement in different countries is constraining farmers’ access to inputs, technical support and markets to sell their products. Fresh produce is accumulating on farms, resulting in food loss. FAO recommends that countries implement core measures: bring collection centers closer to smallholder producers to reduce the need for mobility and accelerate the development of e-commerce for smallholders. We want to go further, and provide smallholder farmers a solution to continue producing sustainably and selling their products safely.
We will adapt FarmDirect, our pioneering farmer-designed digital tool, to support food value chains, allowing vulnerable groups, particularly female smallholder farmers, to access key services (training, data) and still sell their fresh produce without traveling to local markets.
Our adaptation focuses on digitally replicating the benefits that smallholders would gain from being part of a cooperative. In particular, two key benefits. Firstly - the power of aggregation at scale, particularly the increased negotiation power a farmer gains from selling as part of a collective, rather than individually negotiating small volume sales. Secondly, collective ownership. Just as farmers are members of a traditional cooperative, farmers equitably share any profits generated by FarmDirect.
Crucially, accessibility will be via either a smart or a dumb phone - dependig on a users’ realities. So how does it work? When Agnes has surplus pineapple, she uses FarmDirect to connect with other female farmers who also have surplus. Working collectively, Agnes not only has the potential to negotiate better prices. She can also join with others to supply larger volumes to buyers who she could not reach when selling alone. For example, longer-term, this could include supermarkets. Olistina’s transaction records are also digitised, building her credit history and therefore enhancing her access to financial services.
Product aggregation will be led by youth, who aggregate the surplus produce from the farms and deliver it directly to buyers (who also have the ability to access the digital platform). Payments are digital, decreasing the chances of contagion.
FarmDirect’s system can be adapted to support multiple farming systems facing the current Covid-19 restrictions, offering services that span multiple crops, and addressing the multiple issues that farmers face to farm sustainably. These include access to markets for multiple crops, data to support on-farm management, including soil and weather, yield tracking and predictions across multiple crops, and digitised training.
The development of this system is only possible for an organisation that already has a strong network of smallholder producers and youth leaders in place internationally. This strongly positions Producers Direct as the right organisation to deliver this.