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.
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