Are the Days of Rotting Produce Behind Us? An Interview on Digital Farmer Profiles With Andrew Mack
This post originally appeared on mSTAR's blog.
An agriculture revolution may be on the horizon. Mobile technology, remote sensors, blockchain and big data are beginning to transform the lives of smallholder farmers, changing how farmers grow food, access credit, apply pesticides and so much more.
mSTAR interviewed Andrew Mack, the Founder and CEO of Agromovil and the Principal of AMGlobal Consulting. Agromovil — profiled in Digital Farmer Profiles: Reimagining Smallholder Agriculture, the new report from mSTAR, USAID, Feed the Future and Grameen Foundation — matches farmers, transporters and purchasers to get crops to market faster, capturing value for smallholders and consumers. Agromovil has won a World Bank-supported startup competition, graduated from USIP’s PeaceTech Accelerator and is set to launch in Colombia in early 2019. This interview is part of a two-post blog series on digital farmer profiles.
mSTAR: What are key issues smallholder farmers face today?
Andrew Mack (AM): Farmers around the world are producing more and are more and more connected to “best practices.” But farmers today lack two key things:
1) An easy way to get products to market when products are at their freshest and most valuable, and
2) A simpler way to connect more directly with markets, bypassing some of the many intermediaries that siphon off the value of their production in the current agriculture ecosystem.
mSTAR: What is Agromovil and how does it use data to tackle those issues?
AM: Agromovil is an app-based platform that helps make the match between producers, transporters and offtakers. It allows farmers to match with the transport they need, when they need it and to find buyers that use the platform (called the MATCH). It enables transporters to build optimized routes picking up from various small farmers, making transport more efficient and profitable, and getting crops to market when needed (the BATCH). And, it enables all parties to pay on the platform, avoiding the need to take large amounts of cash to the field, making transactions safer and helping bring small farmers into the banking system and building credit histories (the PAY). Using data around location and production, our algorithms for optimized pickup and our matching functionality enable big efficiency gains. MATCH, BATCH and PAY is simple for everyone to understand.
mSTAR: How did you come up with the idea for Agromovil?
AM: I have spent more than 30 years working around Africa and Latin America. Everywhere I go I have seen the same image — a smallholder farmer sitting by the side of the road with his or her bags of produce waiting for transport, waiting while the fruits of their labor and the economic future of their families go bad in the hot sun. After a particularly busy four years of travel, touching more than 20 global south countries, I created a team at the office to look into the issue and found two interesting things.
1) We found that that the market need for a solution was enormous (over 30 percent of crops never make it to market in nearly every emerging market and $150 billion in loss each year).
2) We found that new connectivity and demographic trends, like younger farmers returning to take over land farmed by their parents, meant that the underpinnings of a new dynamic were there. Three years ago, a solution like Agromovil wouldn’t have been possible; today it is.
We got to work, building partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University, the Toyota Mobility Foundation, co-ops and banks, and working with farmers, transporters and experts in the development agencies. We did a lot of listening and refined our ideas. It has been amazing.
mSTAR: What are keys to make digital farmer profiles successful for smallholder farmers?
AM: Digital farmer profiles need first and foremost to be relevant to the number one issue for farmers. The number one issue is not the quality or quantity being produced, it is income. Farmers are simply not earning what they should be earning. Transporters are working too hard to pick up too few goods and offtakers are paying too much — they would also like to get their goods more directly.
Profiles need to focus on production as a business. We do this by enabling ratings, helping create credit and payments histories and in other ways. There is tremendous value in the production and simple business data that is trapped (along with goods) inside the current inefficient ecosystem. This value needs to be captured more efficiently.
mSTAR: USAID has identified sustainability has a stumbling block for the success of digital farmer profiles. How do you see getting around this stumbling block?
AM: No part of technological innovation exists on its own. All pieces need to return to the key needs of producers and the parties that serve them, and this means money. Sustainability will come when farmers are able to unlock the “freshness premium” that consumers will pay. It will come when transporters can unlock a “route premium” and more efficiently serve small and remote communities. And it will come when farmers and buyers can capture a “directness premium,” bypassing intermediaries that cost a lot but add little value. Our goal is to create more than sustainability. We’re aiming to help the sector grow, and all of this depends on unlocking trapped value.
Andrew Mack is internationally recognized for his work on corporate social responsibility, public-private partnership and Internet policy, working with clients like Chevron, AT&T, Anheuser Busch, ICANN, the World Bank and Toyota.
Watch mSTAR’s new video on digital farmer profiles here: https://youtu.be/4r_IxShUQuA