Scaling Farmerline’s 399 Services, information and quality farm inputs for farmers via innovative financial services

Farmerline’s 399 Services connects farmers to financial services, information, and high-quality input to increase their yield & income.

Photo of Alloysius Attah
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Farmerline

Year founded

2013

Initiative stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $250k - $500k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • More than 100,000

Organization type

  • Social enterprise

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development
  • Nutrition

Headquarters location: Country

  • Ghana

Headquarters location: City

Kumasi

Location(s) of impact

Ghana

Website

http://farmerline.co/

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/farmerline/

Twitter URL

https://twitter.com/farmerline

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

There are an estimated 3.4 million small-scale farmer households in Ghana, the majority (82.5%) of whom live in rural areas. About 79% of rural households do not have savings accounts, while only 12% have access to credit. Additionally, in Ghana, 40% of the fertilizer on the market is counterfeit, untested, and hazardous to both crop and farmer health. This proliferation of low-quality inputs causes crop damage, reduces farmer income, and forces rural farmers to travel far to access genuine input.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Famerline 399 Services makes information, inputs, and financial services available directly to farmers through innovative mobile technology. Farmers can dial the 399 code on any mobile network in Ghana to subscribe to the services. Once farmers have subscribed to the service they have access to daily information on climate, pest and disease forecasting, and best practices sent to their phones via voice technology in their local languages as well as the ability to participate in our mobile savings and credits service to save money and directly purchase high-quality fertilizer.

Our business to farmer (B2F) solution capitalizes on high mobile usage to provide rural farmers with access to crucial information and foster financial inclusion while also increasing availability of affordable, high-quality inputs.Through using Farmerline’s 399 Services, smallholder farmers can increase their yield, income, and productivity to build resilience and become successful entrepreneurs.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Farmers have increased their revenue by over 50% as a result of using our products and services. In regions where nearly half of farmers earn less than $1 per day, and where almost half of farmers are women, this income increase has dramatic implications for improving livelihoods in rural areas.
Soybean farmers, on average, increased their yield by 2 bags/acre while fish farmers improved their income by 55.6% as a result of bundled services received from Farmerline.
Farmerline partnered with Kiva to invest $50,000 in providing input loans to 100 farmers. 68% of the farmers were first-time borrowers and 35% of them were women. Farmerline has recovered 91% of the principal and 98% are on track for repayment. In June 2017, 720 farmers have accessed 1,700 units of high quality inputs at Farmerline’s field workshops. A partnership with with MTN, a local MNO, and our network of 100 field agents will help scale this scale this blended service to reach 50,000 farmers in 2018.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

In addition to 399 Services, Farmerline runs a B2B operation to help a range of clients and partners throughout the agricultural ecosystem streamline their farmer supply chains. Mergdata, Farmerline’s proprietary software, offers data collection, analytics, food traceability, and certification audit solutions to food companies, NGOs, and development organizations seeking to improve engagement with the farmers they work with. Mergdata helps both our clients and their farmer supply chains save time and money. Through Mergdata, Farmerline has made $1M in revenue over the past four years. Part of this revenue is reinvested into 399 Services.
Farmerline is currently raising $1.5M to reach one million farmers through both 399 Services and Mergdata by 2020

1. Grants -18%
2. Earned income- 82

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Farmerline offers bundled quality input and financial services with voice messages at an affordable price point for farmers. Our competitors focus exclusively on apps and SMS solutions paid for by NGOs that are not suited to the needs of remote, less tech-savvy farmers. Further, our innovative technology offerings are not only data-driven, but also impact-focused to improve the livelihood of rural farmers and how they are engaged in the food/agribusiness supply chain.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

I co-founded Farmerline with a plan of using technology to transform millions of African farmers into successful entrepreneurs. This mission was largely inspired by my time on the farm. I spent the first 15 years of my life working on the farm with my auntie and sister. This time exposed me to some of the biggest challenges small-scale farmers go through to access information and services in order produce and sell food. This experience coupled with my passion for writing software programs led me to create Farmerline. What excites me most about this company is its potential to become the best technology company in Africa, thanks to the talent of our team and the market-drive approach behind our products and services. We will be the “Amazon for farmers”: an offline & online marketplace in rural Africa where farmers can quickly access high quality information, products and services.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Social media

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

When farmers dial the 399 USSD code on their feature phone in Ghana, they have the option to join the network for weather forecast and market price updates in their local languages and/or opt-in to a direct purchase, mobile credit and savings program that provides an opportunity to access affordable and high-quality farm inputs. Subscribers are better informed and enabled to manage farming risks, boost productivity, and increase profits.
The mobile credits and savings enables farmers to save and access funds to purchase resources that are typically inaccessibile and expensive. Using our unique credit scoring algorithm, Farmerline works on-the-ground with farmers to assign them a credit score and lend them $25 to $50 of high-quality input on credit. The mobile savings option is a layaway wallet through which farmers can save their funds to purchase farm inputs by making micro-payments toward products through mobile money.
Farmerline maintains a strong connection to its beneficiaries through our Farmer Services and Customer Success teams, who guide farmers through adoption of our technology as well as facilitate 6 to 8 weekly training and check-in workshops for the farmers. The benefits of our product offerings spread quickly through word of mouth in our rural markets, and we have a network of 100 field agents that reinforce this through conducting outreach and recruitment with potential new customers.

Focus area

  • Rural Development

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

Farmerline’s 399 Services is helping rural smallholder farmers in Ghana to access vital products and services that increase yield and income. Farmers engage with 399 Services through their feature phones in their native languages.

Providing farmers with high-quality resources at an affordable price and crucial information tools is vital to facilitating more sustainable productivity and farm management. Farmerline is working to reduce the harmful effects of counterfeit inputs by making genuine fertilizers accessible to farmers at a cheaper price. Counterfeit inputs are untested and dangerous, posing serious threats to food safety, the environment, and health. Typically, to buy genuine inputs, rural farmers must travel far and face expensive prices. The reasonably-priced, high-quality inputs purchased through 399 Services are directly delivered to farmers at workshops or by local field agents.
Farmerline has also prioritised gender equality in the development of 399 Services. Women constitute over half the agricultural labour force, producing 70% of Ghana’s food stock. 95% women are involved in agro processing and 85% in food distribution. Their major challenge is access to credit and saving their incomes. The 399 Services mobile credit and savings product is targeted at the rural woman farmer through female field agents and women led workshops to ensure gender equity in financial inclusion opportunities.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

When farmers gain access to information and genuine resources, supply chains become more sustainable, productive, and transparent. Farmerline works with all stakeholder categories in the agricultural value chain to make farmers more prosperous.
In addition to better supply chains, Farmerline creates an opportunity for financial institutions to reach new farmers. Many financial institutions are eager to provide savings and credits for farmers but are cautious of the limited infrastructure, data, and monitoring tools available to mitigate risk. Our credit scoring algorithm and agent network creates a bridge between these financial institutions and rural farming communities. Doing this facilitates improved access to finance for farmers, but also an expanded customer base for participating banks.
Farmerline is working with approved suppliers to help farmers mobilize funds for their products - which have been pushed out of the market by cheaper, counterfeit alternatives.

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

In addition to 399 Services, Farmerline operates Mergdata, our proprietary software platform offering certification audit, traceability, and data analytics services to a range of partners and clients in the agricultural ecosystem. Farmerline has been profitable since 2015 and has generated over $1 million dollars in revenue over 4 years. 25% of the revenue from these B2B sales is reinvested into 399 Services. Currently, we are raising $1.5 million seed round($300,000 already raised) to further scale both 399 Services and Mergdata.
Farmerline earns revenues through the information subscription and commission from products sold to farmers. In 2018 we will reach 50,000 farmers with information and 10,000 with affordable farm inputs.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

We hope to show how that making supply chains more sustainable and meeting global food demand begins with making farmers more successful and driving rural opportunity.
In the medium term, we aspire to be the “Amazon for farmers”: an offline & online marketplaces where farmers can easily access affordable and high quality products, services, and markets through our proprietary mobile apps and well trained field agents.Our long term goals is to inspire an African Agriculture that is not reliant on aid, and a forward industry led by trade and the youth where there are fewer people at the bottom of the pyramid.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

We will invest $200,000 in domestic scaling and piloting 10 Farmerline Fulfillment Centers in the farming communities we work in. These Fulfillment Centers will serve as distribution outposts for 399 Services where farmers and field agents can more easily access the inputs they purchase. Not only will the Fulfillment Centers improve our distribution and go-to-market strategies, but they will also serve 24,000 additional farmers per season with high-quality fertilizer and create 400 new jobs for youth.
We will invest the other $100,000 into launching 399 Services information network in Ivory Coast by leveraging existing partnerships there with mobile network operators, traders,agribusinesses and development workers.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

Farmerline’s B2B platform, Mergdata, has reached over 200,000 farmers across 11 African countries in partnership with over 30 clients and partners in the agribusiness,food brands, food makers and development sectors. As we work to scale 399 Services in Ghana and West Africa, we will reach 1 million farmers through both operations by 2020.

We will grow our field agent network and enhance their branding to continue to appeal to smallholder farmers. Famerline field agents will target executives of farmer associations and farming community leaders to market the product to farmers at various workshops.

Our model for geographic diversification of 399 Services in Ivory Coast will be to scale the information services first since it does not require any new technology, and then expand farm input service offerings once we have done enough market research, built out a local office and formed the necessary partnerships.

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

Farmerline has an impact-driven team with a diversity of skills: with 28 full-time staff, including 9 world-class software engineers and data scientist; 8 M&E specialists; and 11 business development experts. Our Farmer Services team work closely with the farmers to ensure our products meet their needs, running 6-8 in-field workshops weekly. Farmerline’s Corporate Services and Growth teams focus on securing B2B clients and managing partnerships that help enable the company to innovate and increase revenue exponentially. Each of these teams are well resourced to run like a mini company within Farmerline. Each team member is empowered to make critical decisions relating to their roles but these decisions are guided by the strategies developed by the management team.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

Forbes Africa, 30 Under 30 - Co-Founder Alloysius Attah (2017)
King Baudouin Africa Development Prize (2017)
CNBC Africa Young Business Leader of the Year Award - Co-Founder Alloysius Attah (2017)
Echoing Green Fellows - Co-Founders Alloysius Attah and Emmanuel O. Addai (2014)
Financial Times/IFC World Bank Group Transformational Business Award

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

Farmerline is pioneering how the industry deploy self-sustaining innovations for small-scale farmers in Africa. We work closely with farmers on-the-ground as well as stakeholders at every point in the supply chain to continuously innovate our product and services offerings to make agriculture a more sustainable field. Enhancing the efficiency and transparency of these processes ultimately enables rural farmers to make more informed decisions and become more productive. We work with the private food sector actors to heavily invest in the farmers in their supply chains.

We were the first company to deploy an audio information service for African farmers in their native languages. We released case study based on the technology in 2014.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018

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Photo of Mouhamadou Moustapha Seck

Really interesting your work.