New mobile phone-based agricultural application launches
THIKA, KENYA (May 2013)—
Smallscale farmers are set to benefit from a new web based application which monitors farmers activities remotely hence reducing loads of paperwork required in order to access markets.
Farmforce, the world’s first mobile-phone based business solution is set to manage out grower schemes with smallholder farmers has been launched today by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA). Farmforce helps ensure food quality and farmer incomes.
In countries where the backbone of the agricultural sector is formed by farmers growing on two acres or less, the software has the potential to make a particularly profound impact. Kenya’s Agriculture Secretary Dr. Wilson Songa said: “Farming in Kenya is above all about smallholder farming. But most of the smallholders sell their produce outside the formal market, and thus earn less money. Tools like Farmforce can help make "Farming as a Business" a reality, since they make it much easier for agribusinesses to source from smallholder farmers. This not only helps small farmers to earn a better income, but also increases food production and food security."
The end of Farmforce's two-year development coincided with a major blow to the Kenyan agricultural sector in December 2012: the European Union began testing 10% of all Kenyan exports of green beans and peas because some previous shipments had contained pesticide residues above the legal limit (known as Maximum Residue Levels- MRL). Although the justification of the increased testing is debatable from a risk point of view, the EU remains a key agricultural export market for Kenya, so the impact was profound: after intensified testing began, January sales fell 25% compared to the previous year. For the 50,000 smallholders who grow the majority of Kenya's green beans and peas and sell their produce to wholesale exporters, this meant a serious loss of income.
The Kenyan horticulture sector has taken major steps to rectify the issue since December, but managing production with thousands of scattered smallholders remains a formidable challenge. The introduction of Farmforce is set to change this: Dr. Stephen Mbithi Mwikya, CEO of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) said, "Smallholder production has suffered severely and the industry has become increasingly reluctant to engage. However, mobile technology solutions like Farmforce encourage the industry to transform our outgrower operations which will now be based on real-time management information and traceability." Apollo Owuor, Agriculture and Corporate Affairs Director of Kenya Horticulture Exports (KHE) adds, “We have participated in the development of Farmforce because we are committed not only to continuing but also to expanding our cooperation with smallholder farmers. Expansion was not possible as long as outgrower management was based on pen and paper. Farmforce is the first tailor-made management tool to organize the cooperation with smallholder farmers; it opens new avenues to increase our supplier base.”
Dr. James Onsando, Director of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) further adds, "Traceability and food safety are not only important for export, but equally for the Kenyan market. Real-time information can help strengthen internal control systems, improve compliance with food safety standards, and increase transparency and traceability. For KEPHIS as the regulator, those are all very important improvements.”
The Syngenta Foundation and its partners developed Farmforce to manage production by smallholder farmers and monitor their compliance with food safety standards. It is the first tool of its kind that employs mobile technology, which field agents of the exporters can use to update their records and monitor quality standards. “It has the potential to help the Kenyan horticulture industry avoid another similar MRL crisis in the future,” says the Foundation’s Fritz Brugger. “By assuring quality, Farmforce helps secure a market for smallholders' produce.”
Farmforce manages the production process, provides real-time traceability from the smallholder farmer’s field, and monitors compliance with food safety and sustainability standards such as Global GAP. Additionally, Farmforce supports other aspects of outgrower management, such as loans, produce purchases (also using mobile payments), management of decentralized warehouses, SMS communication with farmers and staff, and monitoring of farmer trainings.
Any aggregator working with smallholder farmers can use Farmforce. The potential clients include cooperatives, farmer business organizations, exporters, and processors. Since Farmforce is a web-based mobile technology solution, users do not have to install special software, but can simply access the services through a normal Internet web-browser. Farmforce is not restricted to horticulture, it can be deployed for all types of crops produced in outgrower schemes to reduce transaction costs and link more farmers to markets.
Dr. Marco Ferroni, Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation said, "linking smallholder farmers to formal markets frequently faces three hurdles: poor quality, insufficient quantity, and high transaction costs. Professional buyers and producers often leave smallholders far behind. But this can be -- and must be -- changed. The Syngenta Foundation’s new transactional platform can boost the number of farmers who earn a decent income producing for processors, agribusinesses, exporters, and retailers across developing countries. Farmforce starts here today in Kenya -
and it will spread fast to Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, and beyond."