The problem our project solves
To control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments had to implement tough measures that include social distancing, travel restrictions and even restrictions with regards to which industries can and cannot operate.
The agricultural sector, despite being deemed “essential” by all governments during the pandemic, is suffering from a shortage of seasonal migrant labour due to travel restrictions. Many seasonal workers in the agricultural sector are not able to get to the farms where they used to work. This situation is already disrupting key agricultural activities (i.e. harvest) that are key to maintaining a constant flow of food, as well as farmers’ incomes.
In parallel, unemployment rates are skyrocketing across most sectors due to the strict measures required to stop the spread of the virus. Some analyses estimate that 59 million jobs might be at risk within the EU.
Traditional channels have not been able to solve these issues.
The solution we bring to the table
FeedFarms.eu has developed an online platform where farmers can solve their seasonal-labour needs.
The platform, free to use for job seekers in the seasonal-agriculture market, uses location technology to help find available farm workers near to their farm.
Workers can register on the platform for free. When creating their profile, they will be asked about:
- personal details
- how long they are willing to travel
- availability, and
- verification (i.e. proof of right to work or/and ID).
Once registered, they can conduct a search and find farms with labour needs.
When creating their profile in the platform, farmers will include the following details:
- personal details
- farm location and
- farm description.
Once their profile is set up, they can conduct a search and find available workers in their area. Farmers will pay a 2% commission as administration fee on all transactions. This will be the main source of revenue for FeedFarms.eu. Additionally, centralising transactions will, indirectly, address other underlying problems within the agricultural seasonal-labour market, namely unfair/unethical practices such as people trafficking and tax avoidance.
To ensure trust across users, both farmers and workers will be able to provide a review for the counterpart.
With regards to the infrastructure used:
- The website for validation and feedback has been built on Squarespace.
- Front End: Next.js app built with React, Node.js, styled-components and deployed on Zeit. Client deployed: https://feedfarms.now.sh/
- Back End: Rest API built on Node, using Express deployed on Digital Ocean. Data layer: MongoDB. API deployed: http://220.127.116.11:1336/documentation/v1.0.0
And tools used:
- Team lead: MS Word and PowerPoint, Google Docs, canva.com
- Designer: Pexels.com, Adobe XD, Loom.com
- Developers: VS Code, Github, Postman
What we have done during the weekend
During the hackathon, we built a prototype of a platform that provides a solution to the current pandemic, prepared a 2’ pitch video including a memo of the platform, and prepared the current written report. It has been an intense and enriching journey full of team-work and excitement.
Following conversations with 2 mentors, the idea was refined on Thursday evening by the project lead. The project needs were evaluated before midnight, and on Friday the project lead conducted an intense search for talent. After discussing the idea with a further 3 mentors and 4 participants, the final team was assembled on Saturday morning. The idea was then rounded further and agreed. Then, a work-plan was decided before noon and tasks were assigned to each member of the team according to his/her skills.
From Saturday afternoon to Sunday at noon the group got involved in long hours of work on the different aspects of the project. Due to a few time constraints within the team, a reassessment of the situation was made on Sunday afternoon and, although and API was fully completed, the team took the difficult decision to change the initial plan with regards to the completion of the prototype: A non-code approach was implemented in order to be able to focus on ensuring that the user experience was properly explained to the audience. In a few hours, a basic prototype was built on Squarespace including the most essential features.
Finally, the video was assembled joining the different elements produced by all team members: prototype, pitch, images, figures, etc. On Monday morning, the submission on DevPost was completed.
The solution’s impact to the crisis
Despite insufficient data available on exact figures about the impact of the problem at the EU level, sources indicate that the number of workers unable to reach the farms where they usually work as seasonal labour-force is in the hundreds of thousands.
Data from specific countries highlights that:
- In Italy, 370 000 workers seasonal workers per year contribute to around 25% of the country’s total food production.
- France has announced that it will need 200 000 seasonal workers to ensure the harvest of fruits and vegetables within the next few months.
- Germany estimates that 300 000 seasonal workers will be needed for the harvesting season.
If figures are added up, the disruption in the sector can probably account for over 1 000 000 seasonal workers across the EU. In consequence, these labour shortages could have a very negative impact on the income of farms and food availability across the supply chain.
When scaled at the EU level, the solution proposed has the potential to have a positive impact in thousands of farms and provide employment for hundreds of thousands of citizens that used to work in other sectors and lost their employment due to the current pandemic.
The necessities in order to continue the project
To ensure the continuity of the project, the team has laid a working-plan for the weeks following this hackathon:
- Speaking to 10 farmers and 10 seasonal workers to progress with the validation of the idea.
- Financial analysis of the project: expected revenue and costs.
- Continue to develop the client and integrate with the API.
- Finalisation of MVP with views to conducting a pilot.
- Selection of a region to conduct a pilot. 10 farmers and 100 workers will be “recruited” and invited to test the platform.
- Following the pilot, the team will conduct a situation re-assessment based on: a) Set of interviews conducted with farmers and workers followed by a qualitative analysis. b) Analysis of users’ engagement and journey within the platform.
- Partnerships with private and public organisations will be sought.
- Partnerships with language professionals, to explore language barriers among seasonal workers (other migrants).
- Exploration of possibility for cross-industry integration (beyond the agricultural sector).
- Development of engagement: Farmers are the platform’s source of revenue (a 2% is charged on each transaction). For the platform to be sustainable in the long-term, a substantial amount of contracts need to circulate within the platform. The main motivation for farmers to use the platform is the continuous availability of registered workers. A number of incentives will be developed to engage workers and make FeedFarms.eu the preferred channels for job seekers in the seasonal-agriculture job market.
- Analysis of problems for which has not yet found an answer: a) Workers that do not even own a smartphone. b) Workers without a bank account.
- A work plan for scaling up the project to the whole of the EU will be produced. Partnerships at the national level will be seeked and collaborations with public administrations will be studied.
With regards to the recruitment needs, the below requirements have been identified:
- Mid level UX designer.
- Product manager: also responsible for community management and user success.
- Marketing manager: also responsible for social media and PR, and localised social media content.
- CEO: also responsible for finance, strategy and business development.
The value of our solution after the crisis
Beyond the pandemic, FeedFarms.eu has the potential to contribute to the positive transformation of a market that employs millions of people across the globe.
By increasing the availability of information and transparency in the market, both sides (farmers and workers) will be able to make more informed choices and contribute to a stronger food system.
Although the “new normal” post pandemic might still include legislations on social-distancing, cross-border travelling will eventually be reinstated. Feedfarms.eu will be ready to provide seasonal workers (national and from other countries) the tools to resume employment and strengthen both their employability and stability. Some of these features will include:
- Teaming-up with other workers to be able to respond to job offers as a group rather than as an individual.
- Capacity building: free courses (with the option to upgrade to premium) will be offered in the platform.
- Career-development schemes will be integrated within the platform to create career progression paths to seasonal workers.
- Accommodation: In many cases, overseas workers have no access to accommodation or are offered very poor conditions. FeedFarms.eu will offer workers information about affordable (yet comfortable) options.