YAP Proposal #15: “Connecting rural farmers to the market” (Charles Batte, Uganda)

MoBFiT

MoBFiT – Technology connecting small-holder rural farmers to the market.

I am asked that question more often than not, “why is a 28 year old medical doctor like you so passionate about agriculture?” And so often I take a moment to ponder about the past 8 years I have closely worked with farmers and managed my own farm – the Empower Community Farm and therein lies the answer, agriculture did not just make me who I am – it is actually the real deal, it is not just cool but also MoBFiT.

I was born in Kamwokya; one of the most impoverished slums in Uganda, a community characterized by nail biting poverty, unemployment, crime and drugs. My parents struggled to financially sustain a family of 8 children in the city. We therefore moved to Katiiti; a rural village 105km away from the capital, where it was cheaper to live because we could grow our own food and sell off the surplus for income. The closest market was in Buwama, 20km away. It was costly to transport all our produce to the market and we were never sure that we would find customers to sell too. Because of the perishability of our farm produce, we were constantly under pressure to sell lest the produce goes bad and further looses value. I personally watched as my mother who had invested so much energy tilling the soil, weeding and harvesting was exploited by middlemen who paid far less than the market price under the pretext that the produce would get spoilt soon if we did not sell to them.

This is the story of the over 60% of the Ugandan population involved in grass-root agriculture today (UBOS 2013), that is over 20 million people facing this marketing dilemma and seeking a durable and sustainable solution. With mobile phone penetration at 50% (UCC 2014) in the country, there is an opportunity for us to harness technology to connect smallholder farmers directly to the market and it is for this reason that I came up with my tech innovation for farmers – MoBFIT.

Majority of tech solutions currently available that connect farmers to the market are applications supported on smart phones, which farmers do not have or use the more expensive USSD technology. We have identified that gap in this market place and decided to develop a solution that is supported on the most basic GSM mobile phone that majority of our rural farmers posses. This broadens our addressable market and ensures we reach out to those farmers that are most affected by this problem.

MoBFIT (Mobile agri-Business Financial Information Tool) is a simple but robust GSM supported agricultural supply chain management software and mobile market place that directly connects farmers to buyers at a low cost via SMS technology. When a farmer sends a text message with information about his/her produce to our short code number, our system generates a unique identification number for them. We receive offers from buyers and filter out for who is paying the highest for a particular produce, we then connect these buyers directly to the farmers. Our farmers are happy because they can negotiate prices before harvest, are paid upon delivery and our buyers have time to plan and get their produce on harvest day.

MoBFiT will reduce the cost of marketing farm produce by 85%, enhance farmers’ bargaining power to get the best prices for their produce and broaden their market while eliminating the dependence on exploitative middlemen. By digitizing the agricultural supply chain we will generate data imperative for policy formulation that improves the sector and be able to solve the longstanding problem of food waste. Government agencies monitoring regional agricultural productivity and output, food wastage, food security will be able to purchase access to our real time agriculture related data that we will cluster according to regions based on GPS locations of our beneficiaries. We will create jobs for youth by recruiting developers, marketeers, statistics analysts and administrators thus reducing the worrying 80% youth unemployment rate currently in Uganda. We will convince youth that Agriculture is actually cool and “MoBFiT” and thus encourage more youth to get involved in the sector and become self-employed.

We have already marketed our product directly through our customer discovery process that involved market research, focus group discussions with farmers in communities and public announcements at markets. We have integrated feedback from our customer discovery process into our solution based on human centered design approach, designed our prototype and recently won the +256Rising hackathon in Kampala. The Youth Agripreneurs Project’s (YAP) support will enable us to finalize our prototype design, launch our product, market it through advertising drives on radio, TV, and partnering with cooperatives and SACCOs that lend farmers money.

MoBFiT can generate income from revenue streams that include: SMS text charges for both farmers and buyers, registration and subscription fees for stakeholder, commercialization of data obtained, advertisement for Agricultural tools and service providers, software franchises thus breaking even within a year and becoming a financially sustainable youth led entity.

Opportunities like YAP enable us as young people in the agri-business space to develop networks with peers, collaborators and potential partners. They further enhance our business development skills in areas of finance and marketing. They provide us with mentorship from business experts, access and connections to potential investors/funders that could culminate in Securing direct venture funding for instance grants or investments for our initiatives. We gain access to a group of like-minded entrepreneurs from whom we can learn and with whom can share experiences. They generate massive visibility for our work, awareness and credibility by being associated with such a recognized program, from press and media.

We have already created a team that is diverse yet so compatible, with varied backgrounds, skills, experiences; we seek opportunities to harness its potential while furthering each member’s social entrepreneurial development. We are a close knit-group of associates working together as one coherent team. We believe we have the commitment, passion and experience to deliver this agri-business solution to the farmers that need it the most.

Blogpost and illustration submitted by Charles Batte (Uganda) – batchaux(at)gmail.com

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.


This post is published as proposal #15 of “YAP” – our “Youth Agripreneur Project”.

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83 thoughts on “YAP Proposal #15: “Connecting rural farmers to the market” (Charles Batte, Uganda)

  1. Hullo people do take time to read through my Blog on how we can connect rural farmers to the market, I will be very grateful for your comments. Do like, share and tweet the blog to your networks.

    Thank you all so much.

    Be blessed and keep smiling.

    1. Mr. Batte the proposal is perfect.
      U just need to work on quality assurance of the products Vs. Reliability of the buyers given the variety of options available on the market and the urgency with which the products are required.

      1. Thank you so much Mr. Waira, we will surely work on that. Are there any people you know working in this similar space, you could introduce me to them and facilitate a meaningful engagement.

        Looking forward to hearing more from you on that…

        Thank you.

        Charles

  2. Reblogged this on batchaux and commented:
    Take some time to Read, Share, Like and Leave a comment on my Blog about connecting farmer’s to the Market via Tree Adoption Uganda idea ‪#‎MoBFiT‬
    We will together change the world.

  3. Yes this is a great idea that will move Ugandans to greater mountains. I would like to encourage you to fighting for our dea country. Am so proude of being your OB.

    1. Thank you so much Kakeeto you are most kind,

      As a young person what else do you think we can do to make Agriculture more attractive to the youth and so that we get more youth engagement?

      Thank you so much

      Charles

      1. Making it a profitable and sustainable venture, just like any good business. And markets such as those that will be provided from MoBFiT are much needed.

  4. This is Brilliant! Uganda needs homegrown solutions like these! Thank you Charles for this solution. I hope YAP sees the value in this initiative that we Ugandans see.

    We can’t wait to see this working!

    1. Thank you so much Nansambu,

      Are there any other consumer or even farmer perspectives you would point to that work like ours could support?

      Thank you,

      Charles

      1. Sure, I think MoBFiT can support not only fresh farm produce markets but also various consumers from individuals to even companies which use agricultural input or even restaurants that need a sustainable supply of fresh farm produce.

      2. Also, by providing ready market, the farmers can be encouraged to increase their production and to develop from just carrying out subsistence farming.

    1. I am very glad to hear that Musaazi, I would be thrilled to work with you and learn more about the cooperatives and how we can leverage their network. Do get in touch please.

      Thank you.

  5. Very inspiring @ charles….
    Might also help link youth to various farming experiences which they can incorparate with their grad school knowledge n push agric to another level.
    I like MobFiT

    1. Certainly a partnership with makerere University is one of the things we are looking at as we develop MoBFiT further. I would be very excited to see how that youth can integrate and leverage MoBFiT for internships et cetera.

  6. Good work done.I am one of your faithful followers,because I have a similar passion as you.The solutions of Africa’s challenges lies with Africans.I believe the penury painted in Africa is artificial and we can realize this through identifying the huge potentials we sleep and walk on. “The hunter will forever be hailed as the hero,until the lion learns to write his own story”.Lets educate ourselves as African and hail our own.MoBFIT is a victory to Africa and not just Uganda.I will like to replicate this success story in my home country Ghana,maybe we can talk on that later.I wanna find out whether the use of the technology has a cost implication to the farmer or customer?
    Don’t just stop yet,because Africa needs more from you.Africa is proud of you.

    1. Thank you so much Kamal for those kind comments. The charge on the Farmer is very minimal it is the same charge one would spend on sending a text message for example.

      Could you give me some insights into farming in Ghana? what it the situation like?

      I would be glad to continue this conversation certainly.

      1. Thank you Dr. Charles for the reply.I believe the plight of the smallholder farmer echoes throughout Africa.Ghana’s situation is not so different.About 60% of Ghanaians are into agriculture related livelihood.About 70% of the nation’s poor and 54% of the nation’s extremely poor live in the Northern Savannah Zone(which is where I hail from) and female-headed households constitute the majority of the poorest.Yet the area produces the most healthy and nutritious food produced in Ghana and serves as a major food basket to the country.I guess you see the irony in the scenario painted. Even though yields are sometimes low due to lack of extension services and climate change effects,their plight is worsened by non-availability of ready markets for their produce.Leaving them to the mercies and terms of middlemen who buy it at extremely low prices than the market price.
        So I believe a solution like MoBFIT is long overdue and more of such home grown solutions are needed to reverse the trend and improve the lots of the small holder farmers.I’ll once again commend you for your selflessness and always keep in mind that if you intend to do good for yourself and others,the whole world will conspire to help you achieve it.I guess you are a living testimony to this.
        #VictoriaAcerta

  7. Charles this is an amazing project and I believe it can help so many farmers in the country, which areas are you looking at starting with?

    1. Certainly Winnie, we intend to pilot this in Mpigi and then grow slowly and steadlily into newer areas in the country in a period not so far away we will be serving the entire country and neighbouring communities.

    1. Thank you so much Gertrude, you have alwasy been an ardent supporter for our work. We always appreciate your support and hopefully we will get centenary bank to endorse this someday.

    1. You are most kind Malick. we will surely be bringing this to west Africa soon. In fact I will be in Senegal next week what insights about west Africa can you give me that would be helpful in understanding the local context?

  8. Great Idea, however how are you going to handle the issue of middle men – I see this as being their space as well and thus potential key stake holders.

    1. The middle men are certainly an integral part of the discussion and we do not intend to outcompete them or throw them out of the chain, our vision is to integrate them, by digitzing and mainstreamng their operations making it more official and transparent.

  9. This is a great initiative Charles, good to see that you have continued solving and addressing the issues that farmers face.

    1. Africa is very dependent on Agriculture and certainly Africa grown solutions are imperative to this growth. we hope you can join us on this journey.

  10. Yeah.. superb initiative.I have had a hand in agriculture before and most of the challenges are familiar. I was wondering its seems you’re planning to cut out middle men.. its true they are exploitative but currently they hold the agricultural infrastructure. They own the truck, ware housing, freezing equip, etc. Just wondering if you can find a way to bring them on board so that you work with them to standardise prices on a win win basis rather than totally pushing them out. Otherwise great work. Keep up the spirit.

    1. Upson, this is simillar to what Franics asked and let me preable with the fact that I would be glad to discuss more.

      The middle men are certainly an integral part of the discussion and we do not intend to outcompete them or throw them out of the chain, our vision is to integrate them, by digitzing and mainstreamng their operations making it more official and transparent.

  11. Very interesting and creative project. However, there is one moment that is not very clear to me.
    Is there any “protection” for farmers and for the buyers? If as a farmer I receive an offer from the buyer – how can I be sure that he won’t cancel it at the last moment when it will be even more hard to find a new customer? The same is for the buyers – how can one be sure that the farmer will provide him with all harvest he suppose to? Or if the provided food is a poor quality – what options will a buyer have then?
    Otherwise, the idea seems very reasonable and well thought-out. And I hope that you will bring this project to life.

    1. Margo, great insights here. feedback control is one thing we are embedding a lot in our software this will enable us ensure control on what is promised and what is delivered. Even when the buyer and farmer share the burden of risk equally, the farmer has the opportunity to vet various buyers and choose who offers the best price, but also the customers have the time to sample the produce and ensure they are getting the quality that meets their needs. That is why we want to market before harvest time.

  12. This idea is so impressive. It is also very telling of the kinds of innovations existing out there to assist farmers in East Africa. I find it very interesting because for centuries farmers have looked for the best ways through which they can easily meet their customers without having to give up making good money from their products. However, since I know of the existence of other ideas like these in the market, my only worry is how the plan for widespread distribution and rural penetration would be and whether there is a USSD component for short messaging for customers who are not able to access internet or have analogue phones.

    1. Thank you Simeon, the entire operation will be GSM enabled, the GSM is the most basic phone any farmer could own – it will be via SMS sent to a short code like 3453 this is all to make it more accessible to farmers with no smart phones and to also avoid expensive means like USSD.

    1. Thank you so much innocent we are as well looking forward to starting the implentation of this. ANy insights from the farmers you have me, how do you think they would receive this?

  13. It inspires me to carry out agriculture. It seems there are better prospects than what we are used to seeing normally. Great work, very inspiring.

  14. This is quite innovative and your passion towards actualization, I must say have been amazing. Great work Charles!

  15. Excellent idea. This is what has been missing in the agriculture sector. As you mentioned its a solution to so many problems we are facing as a country that is entirly depending on agriculture. It’s an empowerment to New agriculturist and a game changer.

    Keep it up Dr batte.

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