FarmAgg: Data driven sustainable agriculture tailored for smallholders
Empower rural smallholder farmers by digitizing agriculture with holistic end to end solutions and facilitate entry to global value chains
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Thiriyaya Agro Tech Park (Pvt) Ltd.
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
(1) FarmAgg is an IT Vertical within the Thiriyaya Agro Tech Park (TATP) Pvt Ltd. TATP is currently working on replanting a cashew plantation in the eastern province of Sri Lanka that was abandoned during the 30 year conflict. FarmAgg came out as an internal tool for farm management as well as engaging out growers.
(2) Dedugala Tea Factory - GIven FarmAgg's ability to support other value chains in agriculture we engaged a tea factory to bring in its small growers into a digital platform. (3) One of the key challenges for last mile digitisation in farming is the lack of financial services. We are working with governemnt entities, a NGO, IWMI a private insurer to develop a new index based weather/agri insurance (4) Faculty of Applied Sciences, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka - TATP entered into a MOU with WUSL to engage its faculty/students to be involved in the applied research components of the plantation and agtech verticals (5) Group of other interested volunteers
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Colombo (Head Office);
Kuliyapitiya (WUSL - Research Centre);
Thiriyaya (Plantation location)
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean with a total area of 65,610 km²
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
All of us engaged in the project are citizens of Sri Lanka (SL). Most of us have worked in sectors other than agriculture/plantations and were drawn into the industry over the last 3-5 years. The agriculture sector, which contributes approximately 7.7%to the country’s economy and employs 27% of the population, more than 38 percent of whom are women. There is a risk that if agriculture productivity does not improve and the sector does not start to modernize through diversification, commercialization and value addition this will lead to a number of macro level problems including political, social and economic turmoil. This imbalance in the income to population ratio has drawn us (mainly young professionals) to look at ways to improve the adaptation of technology and climate smart agriculture practices to increase the productivity of the lands under cultivation and contribute back to the country.
SL agriculture is characterized by a non-plantation sector and a plantation sector. Of the country’s approximately 2.3 million hectares of agricultural land, 80 percent is used for non-plantation food crops, comprising rice, maize, fruits, vegetables and other crops that are primarily grown on smallholder farms. About 1.65 million smallholder farmers operate on average less than 2 hectares and contribute 80 percent of the total annual food production.SL has no natural lakes and Irrigated agriculture mainly comprises of water distributed through major man-made irrigation schemes built from ancient times.
Agriculture policies have encouraged import substitution of basic agriculture commodities and neglected the domestic fruits and vegetable sectors despite growing domestic demand and potential for export growth. SL demand for food has mostly been met by increased imports and given the weakening currency pressures this has created most food products in Sri Lanka to retail at prices higher than some developed countries.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
A video available on YouTube about Sri Lanka as a tourist destination with some video footage across the plantations (Credits: Intro Travels)
Sri Lanka (SL) is an island nation in South Asia, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. It is divided into nine administrative provinces and 25 districts, with Sri Jayewardenepura-Kotte as the capital city and Colombo being the largest business city. The official languages of SL are Sinhala and Tamil, and the currency is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR).
Early SL was primarily agricultural. As settlements shifted to the dry zone of the country, an elaborate system of irrigation by means of artificial lakes and canals was constructed by the kings of the day. By then, Buddhism had been introduced to the island. Religion and culture flourished under the patronage of the ancient kings of SL. Settlements gradually moved southwards across the island mainly due to the threat of invasions from Southern India. Trade began to assume importance in the economy. Early trade centred on spices and precious stones, and soon attracted Arab, Persian, and Chinese merchants. Coffee was introduced as a plantation crop, and this was later replaced by tea in the hilly regions. Rubber was planted in lower elevations. Railways and roads were built, and an economic and social infrastructure came into being. The economy developed around plantations.
SL cuisine has been shaped by many historical, cultural and other factors. Contact with foreign traders who brought new food items, cultural influences from neighbouring countries as well as the local traditions of the country's ethnic groups among other things have all helped shape SL cuisine. Influences from Indian, Indonesian and Dutch cuisines are most evident with SLcuisine sharing close ties to other neighbouring South and Southeast Asian cuisines
SL climate includes tropical monsoons: the northeast monsoon (Dec to Mar), and the southwest monsoon (Jun to Oct). Its terrain is mostly low, flat to rolling plain, with mountains in the south-central interior
A majority of population in SL is in rural sector 77.4%. Urban population share of the country is 18.2% while the estate population consists of 4.4%.
SL secured the self-sufficiency of rice, a consensus has recently emerged within government/policy makers that the country should capitalize more strategically on the opportunity to diversify the production structure out of the relatively low value food crops and move towards high-value agriculture and promote agriculture exports. This structural shift is critical to sustaining income growth going into the future, accelerating poverty reduction and reversing the trend in increasing inequality. Since most of the fruits and vegetables not only generate higher income as compared to rice but demand more intensive labor input, higher levels of technology input, better crop management, and investments in post-harvest management, marketing, and better organized value chains overall, there is also significant potential for employment growth and more productive jobs in agriculture. This shift would also imply moving towards a more high-value production structure, agro processing and value addition activities, and increased competitiveness.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Current Status of the Agriculture/Food System in Sri Lanka (2020)
Around 35% of SL’s population is dependent on agriculture. Yet the value added by agriculture to GDP is less than 10%. Naturally, 85% of the poor in SL are in rural areas where agriculture is the main economic activity.
About 45% of the poor are below the age of 25. The average wage of an agriculture worker in 2015 was half that of a services worker and two thirds of an industrial worker.
Rural unemployment accounted for 80% of total unemployment in SL. Yet the entire agriculture sector suffers from an acute labor shortage. Unemployment is highest among the rural youth.
Future vision related challenges for Food System in Sri Lanka (2050)
Ideally the first mechanism we would like to address is the adaptation of AgTech in the rural agriculture economy. This will being in a better engagement of youth into the sector and will drive productivity gains that will increase the agriculture contribution to GDP.
In addition to the above the use of AI, Big Data, Robotics in the industry will be able to create a system where new industries and use of science and technology will disseminate in to the sector. It will be vital to gear the infrastructure of the farms to equip them with the necessary hardware and software to benefit from such advances as well as to equip the future labor force with the necessary skill levels as the needs of the agri sector worker will be completely different from that of the current farmer today.
Theme specific challenges for Sri Lanka
Environment: Changing weather patterns and in particular, the rainfall in recent years have emerged as the prime risk for the entire agriculture sector including food crops, export crops and livestock.
Economics: About 1.65mn smallholder farmers operate on an average area that is less than 2 ha. Such small holdings operating as separate economic and decision making entities cannot engage meaningfully in commercial agriculture due to their poor access to capital, technology, value chains and markets.
Culture: The low profitability of smallholder farms leading to the increasing reluctance of rural youth to engage in agriculture resulting in severe labour shortages
Diets: There is ample evidence that household food insecurity is a significant problem in the country. About 5.2mn people equivalent to a quarter of the population are estimated to have been undernourished in 2014. The depth of hunger for SL in 2014 was 216 kcal/capita/day, indicating a medium level of food deficiency among the undernourished people. A further 2.5mn is estimated to be added into the population by 2050.
Technology: Private sector in agriculture space in SL has been dominated with a few large traditional companies and as result both public and private underinvestment in R&D, Sri Lanka has fallen behind in the generation of new knowledge and technology as well as in the distribution of new technologies that are critical for modern farming.
Policy: Agriculture policies have encouraged import substitution of basic agriculture commodities and neglected the domestic fruits and vegetable sectors despite growing domestic demand and potential for export growth.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Even though a number of challenges can be seen at the macro level, we at FarmAgg believe that whatever offering we do in our platform should first and foremost serve the farmer and we design our product offering with the following
1. The farmer will always demand a lower cost for inputs
2. The farmer will always demand a higher price for the produce/output
3. Any service we provide will be required instantaneously
The second element we want to focus on is getting a smooth process for interaction between the “farm to form” value chain and have a structured process to collect data in an open and transparent manner and have a more open interaction/communication linkage between the “Food Value Chain Actors”. The value chain that is most common in SL are famers providing goods to local processing centres that
Once the above is done, the third element we then intend to develop is to share the platform with “System Influencers” especially policy makers and government based extension officers and research centres to use the platform for digital delivery of their services which will reach the last mile farmer at a fraction of the current cost and services will be delivered in a smoother manner.
Our main service offerings will include Farm Management, Farmer Advisory Services, Supply Chain Management, Risk Mitigation Tools, Certification and Traceability and Market Linkages. We intend to address the theme specific challenges as follows
Environment: We intend to educate farmers on climate smart agriculture practices and look at mechanisms to adopt community based farming ecosystems. We also intend to rollout a Risk transfer through weather index/crop insurance based on location based insurance policies adopted with remote sensing technologies.
Economics: A digital farmer profile including geo location and biometrics of farmer linked farm activities is a key first step in digitizing the farms and getting them into a link where service providers from agri-inputs to financial services can offer services directly to the ground level farmer. This will mitigate the challenges with regard to economies of scale and will contribute to lowering costs as well as getting an improved market linkage to find the best buyer for the produce.
Culture: The adoptation of new technology in farms will drivw the youth population back into the agri sector
Diets: Farmers will be given knowledge on producing goods with high nutrients that are demanded by the market and nutrition requirements in diets for their families
Technology: Our offering will focus on bringing technology to farmers who are probably first time smart phone users and will this as the first step to engage them in a digital value chain.
Policy: There will be a number of advantages with such a platform for policymakers. We will however only focus with government advisory/extension officers and enable them to reach the last mile farmer digitally to avoid unnecessary travel / time related cost.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The Key Objective of our project is to digitize smallholder farmers and to create a digital identity and footprint so that such farmers can obtain better services from various parties engaged in the agriculture value chain. The main feature we will push in the first phase is farm digitisation with a push for the adaptation of climate smart farming practices with a focus on soil and water conservation.
Food and nutrition as well as energy security is threatened by competing demands on land and water. Most importantly, environmental degradation has reached critical levels. Business as usual is therefore not an option, and sustainable development will require transformative change. We intend to educate farmers on this matter and transform them from the heavily labour dependent practices to modern tech-based faming.
A large number of farmers don’t have access to financial services especially insurance. This becomes a big bottleneck in adaptation of new technology in rural farms. We aim to create a channel for farmers to digital access to financial services and there by ease the need for growth capital.
Given our interactions with rural youth, it should be noted that the lack of interest shown by the youth for agriculture is not merely financial as agriculture does not meet their aspirations in general. We intend to create a digital culture where farmers of the future can be proud of the work they do encourage more educated urban youth to go back to farming. Use of autonomous vehicles, IOT sensors and remote sensing at the ground level and the AI, Big Data based desk analytic work required will be a drastic change from the current farmer profile and we believe such advanced technologies will create the drive needed to put the youth back into the fields.
Whilst the future vision we have for the country is ambitious and has a lot of moving parts to bring together in the long term we believe above points will be a good starting points to make the project a reality.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Our vision for the overall Agriculture/Plantation sector and empower all rural smallholder farmers by digitizing agriculture with holistic end to end solutions and facilitate entry to global value chains. The theme specific challenges we wish address in this process are as follows and are expanded from the previous section
Theme specific challenges for Sri Lanka
Environment: Climate research has revealed that over the last century or so, the mean temperature of the island has risen along with an increased variability in rainfall. Whether the total rainfall has changed is yet unclear. Long term projections, however, suggest that the temperature will rise further with increased rainfall in the wet zone along with a reduction in rainfall in the dry zone. Such extreme climatic events can have significant impacts on both food and non-food crops and result in serious repercussions on the national food security and foreign exchange earnings, while causing severe hardships to the large number of families that are dependent fully or partially on agriculture.
Economics: The potential agriculture sector scenario beyond 2020 has to be seen in the light of the likely developments in the rest of the economy. With a less than 10 per cent value addition to the GDP at present, agriculture cannot be the leading force in the economy. Nevertheless it can become a much more productive and efficient sector, providing affordable nutrition to the populace in a sustainable manner while providing a high standard of living for those engaged in agriculture. Export Agriculture covering both traditional export crops and non-traditional crops such as fruits and vegetables, flowers and foliage can make a significant contribution to the sector, if modern technology is used for growing and value addition.
Culture: As more than 80 percent of the poor are in the rural sector and agriculture is the main driving force of the rural economy, promoting sustainable agriculture is the key to reduce rural poverty, end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition. It is vital to engage the youth and future generations in this sector by making it attractive with innovations in science and technology.
Diets: Sri Lankans need to educate themselves as consumers at large on better nutrition and appropriate changes in food habits. Arguably, healthy food consumption with reduced starch and sugar, and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables may somewhat reduce the present high dependence on water for agriculture overall. Medium to long term results are possible. Driving this change in the consumer from will make a shift in the producer segment in the long run.
Technology: Provide farmers with technology solutions which save water, labor and agro chemicals. The following have been identified as essential by various stakeholders: mechanical row seeding and weeding, increasing the capacity of the soil to retain moisture, rainwater harvesting, micro irrigation using solar pumps, and more information to farmers on how to select crops to match the soil quality. This requires access to knowledge as well as appropriate machinery and equipment. This activity if executed well can bring in positive results in a short period of time.
Policy: The new national policy framework “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor” of the Government of Sri Lanka has identified to develop a “People Centric Economy” and the following has been identified as the sectorial policy drivers - Agriculture development through advanced technological innovations, Building up a healthy and productive nation guaranteeing the people’s right for safe food, International export business through various value added products backed up by new technologies. The new government removed all taxes applicable to the agriculture sector and has pledged to introduce a “New National Agricultural Policy‟ after an in-depth review of the present policies and engaging stakeholders. Given this view of the government we believe it is an appropriate time for an organization like ours to explore the possibility of bringing this vision to reality.
Overview of the Tea Sector and our Reasons for choosing it to be a pilot for our vision project
Given the large vertical we are targeting in both agriculture and plantation sectors of the country. We wanted to explore a sub sector we can fully concentrate on drives towards a pilot project and decided to initially focus on the “Tea” industry in SL. (Picture 1)
Largest Employer In The Plantation Sector - The Tea Industry employs more than 600,000 directly and is estimated to be the source of income for 2.2mn Sri Lankans
Second Largest Global Supplier Of Tea - 2300 hectares are cultivated with tea and 310mn kgs of tea is produced annually bringing in USD 1bn+ of export earnings to the country
An Industry With Limited Innovation Over The Last Few Decades - Value addition in the sector is quite limited with majority of exports done in bulk form. High value teas such as Green Tea and Organic produce is less than 2% of total production. Tea value addition is less than 1% of GDP
Inefficient Yields - The yield of green leaf per acre per month is estimated at 500kgs, therefore, given the small land parcels the incomes cannot support the rural family units.
Low Wage Industry - Over the past few years there has been numerous disputes with the workers and plantation owners due to wage matters. The industry is still unable to afford LKR 1000 (USD 5.50) daily wage.
Stakeholder Engagement/Food Value Chain Actors
The local tea industry players have not seen any major disruption in terms of technology or business model. The general stakeholder mapping is done in three tiers (Picture 2)
The regulatory authorities are functioning under the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Export Agriculture. The line agencies are the Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB), Tea Research Institute (TRI), Tea Smallholders Development Authority (TSHDA) and the National Institute of Plantation Management (NIPM) function as the regulatory tier.
The mid-tier consist of the tea factories and brokers and functions under the Colombo Tea Traders Association (CTTA). The sub organisations are the Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA), Colombo Brokers Association (CBA), Sri Lanka Tea Factory Owners Association (SLTFOA), Tea Exporters Association (TEA) and the Federation of Tea Small Holders Societies (FTSHS).
The producers are organized with 3 groups who are also included in the above namely the PA, SLTFOA and FTSHS.
In terms of the value chain in the tea sector the Food Value Chain Actors as identified in the FSVP guideline can be mentioned as the farmer, tea factory (processing center), Colombo Tea Auction (Broker based mandatory auction center for tea produced in SL), Exporter, Bulk Buyers, Retailers. In developing the project we intend to engage at least 4 such actors and engage other regulators and service providers to build an ecosystem.
The FarmAgg solution to the Tea Industry (Pilot Project)
The offering we give to small holder farmers will primarily focus on Climate Smart Agriculture Practices, Modernizing Farming Practices and getting a Fair Share of the Agri Value Chain to the farmer (Picture 4)
In some preliminary research we have undertaken the small holder farmers are willing pay a small subscription fee to obtain the services we showcased. However the smart phone penetration in to the segment is quite low and the farmers may not be able to purchase a device upfront, hence a strategy give a phone with a payment scheme may be required to market the product.
Once the offering is done lowering of cost with adaptation of lowering the cost of inputs as well as adopting regenerative climate smart practices will be a key focus. One point the small holders in SL can adopt is to look at the possibility of diversifying the income sources. A good example would be to look at dairy/livestock industry for additional income as well as a source for fertiliser. This can be done wither at individual or at community level.
Another key aspect is to look at financial inclusion as most small holder farmers do not have access to mainstream banks and usually depend on factories for advances or borrow from off market money lenders who charge extremely high interest rates. The vulnerability of the cash flows is one of the main reasons for banks staying away from this segment. Therefore we believe that developing an innovative insurance scheme will enable financial inclusion as well as make the farmers resilient against the risk of climate change.
The GERMANWATCH published the “Global Climate Risk Index 2019” this year confirming earlier analysis that less developed countries are generally more vulnerable for climate change than developed countries. Sri Lanka is listed as the 2nd most affected country in 2017 and yet insurance schemes against climate risk is at a minimal level. We have engaged a number of private insurance companies, a reinsurer, a weather station service provide and a couple of NGOs that are policy advocates to pilot an insurance scheme. There is interest from tea factories to obtain group insurance for both themselves and the farmers.
Another factor we identified in our research was that it is mostly the families of the people engaged in agriculture that have nutrition deficiencies. Therefore we need to take a deep look at the land use planning. If growing certain crops such as tea is not giving them the yields necessary to feed their families wither switching to other high value crops or turning the partial/small section of the fields into home gardens for own consumption will have to be explored.
Last but not least we understand that there will be a number of interconnected dependencies for a pilot of this magnitude to work and are willing to explore in detail a step by step mechanism to make the project a success and keep focusing on the big picture vision
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?