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Farmerline puts technology to work for African farmers

Farmerline puts technology to work for African farmers

farmerline photo.jpgMonday 10 June 2024

Oikocredit partner Farmerline provides a comprehensive range of services for African smallholders, from agricultural and pricing inputs to logistical and field support, as well as access to markets.

Technology is helping African farmers improve their productivity and income, as the work of Farmerline demonstrates. The Oikocredit partner provides innovative and sustainable solutions for farmers across West Africa, including in Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo and Benin, helping them tackle challenges such as access to supplies, communication gaps and even climate change.

Founded in 2013 by Alloysius Attah and Emmanuel O. Addai, Farmerline is often called ‘Amazon for African farmers’. It began by delivering daily voice and SMS agronomic messages to 800 farmers in Ghana’s Ashanti region through its Mergdata platform. Since then, the company has established itself as a major player in Africa’s agricultural technology (agritech) sector.

Oikocredit has invested a total of USD 2 million in Farmerline.

“We are very proud to have Farmerline in our portfolio of equity investments. Farmerline develops solutions focused on the needs and challenges of small-scale farmers in Africa,” says Sébastien Rigaud, Equity Manager at Oikocredit.

Investing in agriculture can help alleviate rural unemployment and poverty, while contributing to local food security.

“Our partnership with Oikocredit stems from a shared vision rooted in empowering communities and driving sustainable change,” says Alloysius Attah, CEO and co-founder of Farmerline.

Last year, Farmerline was recognised as one of seven African Technology Pioneers by the World Economic Forum.

farmerline photo

Taking a farmer-centred approach to complex challenges

The challenges facing farmers in Africa are numerous and complex. Insufficient knowledge of agricultural technology, limited access to quality fertilisers, and gaps in communication between production areas and markets are all barriers to efficient and sustainable agriculture in a region where the sector is essential for food security.

Adding to these operational challenges is the climate crisis. In recent years, alternating periods of severe drought and bad weather affect crops. As a result, farmers are experiencing low yields due to irregular rainfall, which has a considerable impact on their income.

“Many farmers are dependent on rainfall. If it doesn’t rain, their crops won’t be watered, which will affect the bottom line,” explains Lily Akorfa Keledorme, Head of Impact and Learning at Farmerline.

To support the sector, Farmerline adopts a holistic, farmer-centred approach. The strategy combines the following elements:

  • Digital tools in the form of apps and technological platforms are being developed to provide farmers with relevant information and services, even in the most remote areas.
  • Logistical resources are mobilised to efficiently manage the distribution of agricultural inputs and finished products.
  • Field agents are deployed to provide direct support to farmers, including training and personalised advice.
  • Agricultural resources are brought together to provide information on best practice, crop varieties and crop management techniques.
  • Agri-food partners are called on to create commercial outlets and ensure the effective marketing of agricultural products.

Strengthens farmers’ resilience with Mergdata

Farmerline’s secret weapon is Mergdata, a technology platform it has developed. The software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform is licensed or white-labelled to traders, development partners and other stakeholders. It has been deployed in 48 countries and can integrate information around a variety of data points, including weather, market price, supply chain and agronomic data.

With Mergdata, Farmerline is making a large-scale commitment to farmers by registering them digitally, easily mapping agricultural plots and facilitating direct communication and payments.

“Mergdata enables other companies to support farmers within their own value chains. The tool promotes principles of traceability, compliance and transparency, while encouraging practices adapted to climate change, such as regenerative agriculture and agroforestry,” explains Sébastien.

The system automates detailed reporting for stakeholders, integrating with existing business information systems to certify compliance with sustainability standards. It simplifies sustainability reporting for agri-businesses by verifying the legal origin of products and tracking their journey through the value chain. This provides agri-businesses and farmers with the information they need to make informed decisions, improving efficiency at all levels.

Mergdata also enhances food traceability, helping food companies to comply with EU standards. For example, it can be used to map farms and ensure that farmers’ crops do not contribute to deforestation.

Promoting financial inclusion

Farmerline is also actively promoting the development of financial inclusion mechanisms by working with agribusinesses to ensure the majority of farmers have easy access to finance for inputs, without having to resort to traditional banking processes.

This approach further strengthens the partnership between Oikocredit and Farmerline, in line with their joint commitment to empowering smallholders and developing sustainable agriculture in Africa.

“Oikocredit’s support has enabled us to expand in French-speaking West Africa, offering innovative solutions such as our farmer helpline in local languages. Together, we are building resilient agricultural ecosystems, serving farmers with integrity and dedication. Inspired by our progress, we are committed to driving meaningful change,” Alloysius says.

Supporting farmers with education and training

But technology alone isn’t enough to bring about significant change in farmers’ lives. They must also acquire the knowledge and resources to use these tools effectively.

In response, Farmerline has developed an educational component. The company organises regular training courses to provide farmers with the skills they need to better manage their crops and adapt to changing climatic conditions. The training also helps to boost farmers’ confidence.

Results have been encouraging, Farmerline reports. More than half (57%) of farmers said they were putting into practice what they had learned in the training programme. An equal number (56%) reported an increase in their productivity, measured by harvest volumes.

Enhancing capacity for online assistance

Farmerline harnesses the power of mobile phones using the Mergdata intelligence platform. Farmers can simply call a local number in several African countries to obtain information on climate-smart practices, market prices, market services and local weather. In Ghana, this number is 399.

Making this information accessible to smallholders helps them manage their farms efficiently and profitably for the benefit of their families.

Since May 2023, Oikocredit has supported Farmerline in extending the service to Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. The budget for the expansion project is EUR 412,400. Farmerline contributed 40% of the budget, with funded by Farmerline with the Smallholder Safety Net Extension Programme (SSNUP), of which Oikocredit is a participant, putting in 60%.

The helpline has been successfully launched in all three countries, with 80,000 small farmers registered. These include:

  • 43,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire
  • 5,000 farmers in Togo, and
  • 32,000 farmers in Benin.

As part of the project, at least 10% of farmers were able to increase their incomes thanks to connections made in the agro-industry and improved access to inputs and fair markets.

Participating farmers will also benefit from a better understanding of their crops, the adoption of new practices that contribute to more sustainable farming, and an increase in product yields for farmers who benefit from the full package (inputs, education and access to markets).

Looking to the future with expansion across Africa

Originally launched in Ghana, Farmerline is now expanding into Côte d’Ivoire. It  has launched helplines in Togo and Benin. Further expansion will cover farmers in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria.

The expansion aims to reach more small-scale farmers across West Africa, aligned with Farmerline’s mission of agricultural empowerment. Benefiting from recent funding of USD 20 million, the company is introducing advanced technologies such as Darli AI, an interactive voice response system designed to provide farmers with essential agricultural information and support services. This initiative aims to bridge the information gap and boost agricultural efficiency and productivity in Africa.

Farmerline is also working to extend its impact on women, recognising their specific challenges in accessing finance despite their greater creditworthiness.

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