Empowering Smallholder Farmers With A Living Wage through Direct to Consumer Technology

Small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa have trouble getting access to low cost capital, which limits the productivity and growth of their operations. We built an app to get farmers capital by connecting them to individual buyers of produce and livestock, under an advance subscription model. This solution works towards SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Smallholder farmers make up over 60% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa. 23% of the region's GDP comes from agriculture. These farmers have no access to capital for ongoing operations. They cannot get insurance, loans, or secure supplies and infrastructure. It's also difficult to sell produce and livestock once it’s ready. This limited access to capital also inhibits their ability to build savings to bolster against loss due to weather, health and/or deflated prices. Additional capital also enables them to improve their lives in other ways, such as educating their children and gaining access to healthcare. By empowering small farmers, we empower a large segment of Africa's population and enable them to improve their standard of living.

Introducing Huzag: The CSA for the Smallholder Farmer

Huzag is a mobile app that connects small farmers to individual buyers of produce and livestock. "Huz" means "connected," in Kinyarwanda, the native language of Rwanda. Thus, the app name means "connected to agriculture." Huzag is for small farmers in Sub-Saharan African countries and their local network of buyers.

What it does

Users log into a stand-alone, unified app experience using Facebook technology that imports contact details. The landing page experience shows a scrolling stream of photos of agriculture products for sale, either now or in the future. The app requires connectivity to load data, though users can browse data offline. Additionally, though higher bandwidth is needed to load photos, buyers can call sellers using lower bandwidth.

To sell: Sellers upload a photo from their mobile device. They are prompted to enter information about the item for sale: weight, date available (now or future), location.

When saved, the listing appears on the scrolling home screen. Sellers have a trust rating that increases with every successful sale. Their rating is listed alongside their items for sale.

To buy: Buyers select an item of interest from the scrolling home screen. They may toggle the home screen to a map view to see all items for sale in a certain area. Buyers may "like" an item, which prompts them to save it to a list, call the seller using details provided on login, or, in the future, buy now (requires payment integration).

Buyers are also prompted to choose to make a one-time purchase or to subscribe to make many purchases. The subscription model, like a "community supported agriculture" or CSA, gives the farmer ongoing access to capital, predictable revenue, and collateral. Farmers guarantee delivery of crops and livestock on a regular basis, at the end of growing cycles.

How we built it

We used React Native and Account Kit. We used Account Kit specifically because it allowed us to access phone numbers. Phone numbers are important for Huzag because most of the users - local farmers - aren't on other forms of social media or email. Local phone numbers are their only source of digital communication. Account Kit not only made it easy to build Huzag, it made it possible.

Challenges we ran into

We used several services to build Huzag. There are many dependencies between the services and in development, they often crashed. We then had to debug them and edit the way the services came together. For example, when loading an image from an image service, it doesn't load and you find out that the images are blocked. Upon a deeper inspection of the package, you can usually edit something to make it work.

What we learned

Though many services and packages go a long way to reducing development effort today, it's still necessary to do proper integration work. Set everything up, test, debug. It's still a time savings, but don't expect everything to be plug and play. Every integration is unique and every set of integrations presents its own challenges.

What's next for Huzag

Phase 2:

  • Using computer vision for crop disease detection
  • Creating co-hort geography zones that group farmers in certain regions together. (Farmer co-operatives). This group would take on shared risk, providing greater leverage for negotiation with insurance brokers, farm supply companies, infrastructure providers etc.
  • Sell data to farm companies so they can better target their market -- create direct to farmer purchasing model from supplier > farmer.
  • Integration with payment systems to handle payments in-app
  • Integration with weather forecasts and historical data to first entice farmers into the app, then make recommendations for delivery horizons (e.g. "There is a storm coming, it is suggested to delay your produce delivery date by 2 weeks.)

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