Akorion Company Limited is a youth-led private business providing mobile door-to-door service delivery to enhance farmers’ production and marketing activities in the agricultural market ecosystem through the use of ICT tools and mechanization.
Working with Open IDEO and using Akorion’s passed experience of working with the youth using ICT, the partnership will in one year expand the existing VAs network with an additional 150 youth as VAs, of which 30% will be women, earning 4,800 USD annually through door to door agricultural service delivery to 22,500 small holder farmers in Uganda.
With the majority of smallholder farmers in Uganda being aged 65 years and above, there is a need to increase youth participation in the agriculture sector. Uganda also has a very large and growing youth population who lack economic opportunities, and can earn a living by providing production services such as planting, input sales, bulking/marketing, and post-harvest handling to these farmers.
Akorion has developed an innovative and unique ICT platform called EzyAgric, a software suite that supports a network of over 456 youth village agents equipped with smart phones across the country who create digital profiles of smallholder farmers and connect them to production support services. Currently, Akorion has profiled 26,000 farmers and is providing services to 42,000 farmers. With this expertise in technology and innovative service delivery, Akorion aims to bridge the gap of extension in the agricultural market ecosystem and reduce the ratio of extension workers to farmers from 1: 50,000 to 1:500 by engaging youth as village service providers (known as village agents, or VAs) who provide both on and off farm agribusiness services to farmers.
Akorion Company Limited has revolutionized agriculture by providing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools that make agricultural production more efficient and cost effective. Akorion has also led the way in promoting agro mechanization that reduces labor intensity and promotes better agricultural practices. Through the use of such technologies, Akorion demonstrates to youth that agriculture can be an exciting and profitable career, resulting in increased youth employment.
Ugandan youth (10 – 35 years old) make up 78% of the total population and a majority do not find it attractive to work in agriculture, a sector that employs over 66% of the working population majority being 52 years old. This is mainly because the value chain is labor intensive and the negative impact on the production levels of smallholder farmers. In addition, the youth currently working in agriculture find it to have unreliable income since the majority of them only provide agricultural produce bulking service for 2 to 4 months per year. The majority of youth have therefore resorted to lower income generating activities compared to agricultural potential.
Akorion believes that the solution is to attract the youth to agriculture, by providing them with the income generating on and off farm activities, through ICT and labor saving technologies. The youth are recruited and trained as community based agricultural service provision agents (village agents - VAs). They are then equipped with the smart phones installed with different mobile software to periodically collect farmers’ biographical and production data. This information is then used by the VAs to provide appropriate door to door agricultural services to small holder farmers such as; genuine agro inputs delivery, soil testing, planting, and link them to competitive markets using labor saving agro machinery. In addition, this information is used to create a market driven eco-system that leverages mobile software to enhance efficiency and transparency in the provision of services to small holder farmers. This eco system brings together exporters, value addition processors, traders, agro input suppliers and financial institutions in the agricultural value and supply chain, connecting them to farmers.
With this intervention, VAs participate in the agricultural value and supply chain for 6 months/year resulting to 50% income increment due to the commission earned and increased economic activities involved for each agricultural production season. From Akorion’s experience, the youth like smartphones because they can use them for other social purposes like; social media, taking photos and video recordings. In addition, mechanization makes them efficient by saving their service time to farmers. A VA on average works efficiently with 200 farmers to become sustainable. Akorion currently has only 456 VAs and 42,000 small holder farmers but there is a need for the model to be extended to the rest of 19M farmers in Uganda.
USING e-VAM TO CONNECT FARMERS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS
In order to increase employment for youth in agriculture through service delivery, Akorion plans to target jobs at the most critical stages of the value chain, including input sales, planting, post-harvest handling, and marketing. As the VAs are providing the above mentioned services, they are collecting data about the production progress of the farmers using EzyAgric. With farmers’ consent, this information is shared with the various agriculture stakeholders (financial institutions, input suppliers, agro machinery providers, produce off takers, value addition processors, and exporters) through online accessibility. With ICT and door to door service delivery the farmers and agricultural stakeholders have benefits such as; cost effective supply chain monitoring and efficientt periodic demand and supply aggregation.
Fig 1: e-VAM
From the e-VAM above, using the information from EzyAgric, exporters and value addition processors provide marketing services because they are assured of the quantity and quality to be supplied by the smallholder farmers, financial institutions, and crop insurance accelerate farmer’s stable income because they are closely monitoring the small holder farmers. Agro inputs and equipment suppliers can easily aggregate the demand of their products throughout the value chain. The VAs act as the entry and exit point to the smallholder farmers throughout the production season.
Potential services youths can be involved in as VAs at every stage of the Agricultural market eco-system include:
- Production (inputs sales, planting services)
- Post-Harvest (shelling, grain cleaning, drying)
- Marketing (bulking)
How ICT tools are used by VAs to provide the above mentioned services:
Production and post-harvest phase
Using EzyCollect (a module of EzyAgric), the VA collects farmer’s records (biographical and demographic data, production data, inputs demand, and product supply) and maps the cultivated land using GPS. This data is used to connect the farmers to a financial institution. The same information is used to generates precise aggregated inputs demand along the value chain from the genuine input suppliers to ensure a cost effective and genuine supply. The farmers’ data collected will be updated seasonally by the VA for a continuous service delivery.
Using EzyCollect information, the VA through EzyExtension (a module of EzyAgric for extension) will be a point of sale for agro inputs from genuine suppliers and provide farmers with information on better agronomic practices and topics such as recommended input usage and handling, conservation tillage, weather forecasts, post-harvest handling, crop insurance.
The EzyMarketplace (a module of EzyAgric) allows VAs to provide farmers with market information like market prices and diversified competitive markets at the same time updating the exporters and value addition processors of the production levels (appropriate quantity and quality) of the farmers.
e-VAM involves not only provision of agricultural information and linkages but also information dissemination to players in the agricultural market ecosystem and is complimented by data driven door to door timely and efficient service delivery up to the level smallholder farmers in a sustainable manner.
e-VAM is sustainable because it incentivizes farmers to access genuine inputs, production services, loans, crop insurance, and markets at a lower cost.
This in turn is an incentive for the village agents who earn income through commissions and service payments from the services rendered through out the agricultural value and supply chain.
In addition, Akorion has developed partnerships with the private sector entities (banks, input dealers, and insurance companies) whose major aim is to reach the smallholder farmers with the services and are therefore willing to pay for the service rendered by Akorion through EzyAgric.
e-VAM creates more sustainable youth employment opportunities by attracting youths to careers in agriculture where they can achieve employment of 4 - 6 months per year as compared to bulking services for 2-4 months per year.
e-VAM also increases youth income by at least 50% due the increased economic activities of service delivery the VAs are providing in each production period of the value chain.
Increased household income of the small holder farmers by at least 30% through the use of genuine agro inputs, post harvest handling and quality markets.
Increase food security for smallholder farmers by at least 25% because of better agricultural practices and timely production.
PURPOSE OF OPEN IDEO FUNDS
Specifically, through the grant, Akorion will:
- Procure sample equipment to be used during the technical trainings and by 150 VAs in service provision.
- Train 150 VAs in digital profiling, soil testing, inputs sales, planting, spraying, digital financial services, shelling, and bulking and provide ongoing technical and business skills support to the VAs in order to deliver quality services to the farmers.
- Mobilize at least 22,500 small holder farmers in maize, beans, and coffee to create demand for available services that include: financial services, crop insurance, soil testing, improved agricultural inputs, mechanized planting, spraying, and post-harvest handling services.
- Enhance and customize EzyAgric system to support the mobile point of sales and enable the village agents to access profiled information, and effect easy payment transactions for inputs and produce by the farmers.