‘COVID-19 shows the importance of technology in serving farmers’

Meet Ebenezer Oppong

Ebenezer Oppong is the Farmerline Zonal Manager for the Nyinahin Zone, which is made up of Atwima Mponua and Atwima Nwabiagya Districts in the Ashanti Region.

Atwima Mponua and Atwima Nwabiagya Districts in the Ashanti Region.

He is one of Farmerline’s over 200 field agents, whose role is to deliver relevant training and resources to farmers in their communities. With his smartphone in hand, Ebenezer uses the Farmerline’s Mergdata software to register and collect data on farmers, create their digital identities, including generating digital ID cards, conduct credit scoring and monitor loans. With Mergdata, Ebenezer can receive input requests from farmers and their community agents as well as monitor sales and input distribution.

Ebenezer says each day working for Farmerline brings new experiences – learning new lessons, meeting new farmers and helping them overcome their challenges.

However, with Ghana also in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Farmerline is finding ways to continue to serve and engage farmers. With limited travel, field agents like Ebenezer are delivering essential inputs farmers need to cultivate their farms while observing all safety protocols. Ebenezer says the technology Farmerline relies on means he is still able to communicate with the farmers, community agents and agro input dealers he cannot easily reach in these times.

Mergdata provides field agents with information on farmers and insights into field activities that help them to serve farmers

“Because we align our work with technology and we have a platform where we keep data of all our activities and operations, it becomes really easy to stay in touch with farmers and other partners.

I have all the information I need to reach and support farmers on my laptop and my smartphone. This simplifies my work in the field and keeps me connected to our farmers even during these uncertain times.”

A dashboard on Mergdata’s credit scoring feature

If Farmerline relied on manually inputting data, Ebenezer says he would be dealing with a major headache during these times of COVID-19.

Farmers’ challenges are complex and this makes it important to have some key insights on each farmer in order to recommend the right support. If we were doing a lot of things manually, you may skip some key activities or forget some things that you’ve recorded about a farmer. And during such pandemics, farmer engagement would be a real challenge.

Because of Farmerline’s way of operating – using technology and digitising all our operations – we are able to keep track of every activity and monitor the growth and impact we’re having in farmers’ lives. All the insights from the field are available at the tip of my fingers.”

Likewise, the farmers can reach out to him with any concerns, questions or feedback.

“Farmers now see us as partners in increasing their yield and also bringing them up financially,” he explains. “The farmers rely on us for, not only quality inputs but also information which helps them in their daily work.”

Our commitment to Farmers

Our focus from the very beginning has been to create lasting profits for farmers by providing them with the resources and knowledge they require to thrive. With over 80% of our food coming from smallholder farmers, it is obvious that productive and thriving smallholders will contribute greatly to healthy and thriving African economies. But amidst imposed restrictions during the COVID-19 outbreak, there are bound to be unintended consequences on food production and supply. With over 250 million hungry people already in Africa, we cannot afford more hungry and desperate Africans at this time.

Our strategy is to work from the bottom up. By getting closer to our farmers in these times, we are learning about their unique challenges and developing solutions that will help them to continue food production that will sustain food supply.

We are also maximising the use of digital tools to engage farmers. Together with selfless volunteers and partners, our teams are working around the clock to keep farmers informed about COVID-19 and how they can protect their households at this time.

Read more about our COVID-19 messages to farmers here.


#LeaveNoFarmerBehind

COVID-19; how we are working to keep farmers and employees safe

Ghana has not been spared from the COVID-19 global pandemic. As countries across the world instigate lockdowns, close borders and advocate social distancing, we here at Farmerline have also been changing how we work. We want to keep safe and keep supporting our farmers and Ghana’s food value chain. We are also strongly focusing on keeping our farmers informed as to how they can stay healthy and keep doing their vital work.

Since Ghana confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 on March 12, Farmerline’s 54 staff, split between our offices in Accra and Kumasi, have quickly changed how we work.

When Ghana announced the first cases, we allowed team members who commute to work via public transport to work from home if they wished. However, as the cases increased and Ghana initiated a partial lockdown, we have moved all of our meetings online.

Adwoa Adadzewa Afrifa, Farmerline’s Acting Head of Corporate Operations is working to make sure our team members in Accra and Kumasi have the logistics and systems they need to operate.

“We have ensured our staff have data to work from home, and regular check-ins with team leaders to ensure all needs are addressed. We have also ensured our field staff have the IDs and resources they need to continue serving farmers,” Adwoa says.

Farmerline, like many other organisations across the world, has had to deal with challenges due to COVID-19, including altering plans and postponing activities because team members cannot be present in person. However, Adwoa says these challenges are also bringing the team closer together.

“We have learnt how resilient and innovative people can be in the face of unplanned situations like this. Our teams have been very collaborative during these times, and we have witnessed a true demonstration of one of our key values; succeed together,” Adwoa says.

Working with farmers during COVID-19

It is not only our team members in the offices who we need to think about during COVID-19. Farmerline remains dedicated to smallholder farmers. Our field agents are delivering essential inputs farmers need to cultivate their farms while observing all safety protocols.

We are also reaching out to farmers across Ghana through mobile voice messages to give them vital information and awareness of COVID-19. These messages are going out in local languages.

So far, 7,844 farmers have received 43,732.5 minutes of COVID-19 tips in Twi

We are also running a campaign on social media to enlist volunteers to record voice messages in 13 additional local languages. Volunteers are recording messages in Ga, Ewe, Dagbani, Hausa, Fante, Bono, Dagaare, Sisaala, Frafra, Nzema, Gonja, Mampruli, Waale.

Using World Health Organisation information, the messages explain what the virus is, how it spreads, the symptoms to look out for, and who is most at risk from it. They also detail how farmers can protect themselves from it and what to do if they fall sick. 

Margaret Addai, a cocoa farmer in Bipoa, which is in the Ashanti Region, has received the messages in Twi. She says the messages are crucial for farmers like her.  Without them, she says she would not have been aware of the risk everyone faces from COVID-19.

“We (farmers) live in rural communities; not everyone here has access to a radio set that will help them keep abreast with news and trends. But even the poorest in these communities have access to a handset, so information sent through the mobile phone is the surest way to keep people informed in these times,” she tells us.

“Once they receive these calls, they will learn what is going on and be able to put the tips into practice. Not everyone is aware of these protective measures that Farmerline shares with us. For instance, some people will mostly wash their hands when they are about to eat. But with the education people become more aware and wash their hands more often.”

If you work with a farmer group that will benefit from this service contact us via email: team@farmerline.co

If you would like to volunteer to record messages in local languages, please send an email to team@mergdata.com

FARMERLINE’S MERGDATA NAMED TO TIME’S LIST OF 100 BEST INVENTIONS OF 2019

Today, TIME reveals its annual list of the 100 Best Inventions that are making the world better, smarter and even a bit more fun. Featured on this list, is Ghanaian-founded Farmerline’s proprietary software, Mergdata

Mergdata is a web and mobile application that is powering over 200,000 farmers across 13 African countries. The software’s modules for farmer profiling, mapping, certification, traceability, messaging and digital payments are used by over 60 organizations to qualify and provide farmers with the necessary resources they need to increase productivity and profit.

To assemble the 2019 TIME Best Inventions list, TIME solicited nominations across a variety of categories from editors and correspondents around the world, as well as through an online application process. Each contender was then evaluated on key factors, including originality, effectiveness, ambition and influence. The result: 100 groundbreaking inventions that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible.

In recognition of this nod, Famerline’s Chief Technical Officer, Emmanuel O. Addai, said,

“This is an endorsement of our avowed principle to use technology to solve the everyday problems of farmers across Africa. Kudos to our dedicated engineers, past and present, who have supported the vision all these years”.

Farmerline is a Ghanaian company that focuses on creating lasting profit for farmers through direct efforts and partnerships. In Ghana, the company uses digital tools and a network of well-trained field agents to provide input financing and intensive training to over 12,000 farmers.

Read Farmerline’s feature here: https://time.com/collection/best-inventions-2019/5733119/farmerline-mergdata/

See the full list here: time.com/bestinventions2019

Farmerline Steps up Efforts to Increase Youth Engagement in the Cocoa Value Chain

Farmerline has launched a game which seeks to educate and incentivise Ghanaian youth into partaking in the cocoa value chain. The game introduces an added experience to Farmerline’s CocoaLink mobile application by bridging the divide between learning and having fun. At the same time, it reels in the attention of the younger generation into different aspects of the cocoa value chain, and the opportunities available to them. 

The game employs the format of the popular TV show, ‘Who Wants To Be Rich’. The goal of the game is to attain 1,000,000 points by answering 15 questions on cocoa and chocolate. As part of the launch, a quiz competition will run till the 30th of December with winners announced each week based on the total score on the leaderboard at the end of the week. Even though it is open to young people, cocoa and chocolate lovers, the quiz is limited to only players in Ghana. 

The Cocoalink app was created by Farmerline in partnership with Hershey and World Cocoa Foundation to train farmers, and encourage Ghanaian youth to be involved in the Cocoa value chain through interactive digital media contents on the mobile application. With over 5,000 app downloads, users have spent 92,000+ minutes learning best agricultural and business practices on the app, CocoaLink has established itself as a resourceful and timely tool for farmers and extension officers across the country. Together with partners like the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the application has been able to contribute to the adoption of Climate Smart agriculture practices through its Cocoa Zones feature.

5000 + Downloads

92,000+ mins spent learning

Download the CocoaLink App today and start learning!


Designing Meaningful Experiences at Farmerline – Oluwatobi Babalola (UX Designer)

October 7, 2018… I took a one-way flight to Ghana to resume as a User Experience Designer at Farmerline. It was a tough decision for me as I had lived all my life in Nigeria and spent most of those years in Lagos, Nigeria. I had told my folks I would return to Lagos after 6 months if I was unable to cope.

The journey so far has been filled with unique experiences that, when put together, have shaped me into the kind of designer I am today. One amazing moment for me was seeing some lead farmers and field agents use our designs. They were excited to use the product but at some point, they struggled. It really helped me understand that usability testing is a key part of design and development. It is important to see your users use products you built so you can build better experiences for them. We had to fix and re-test the parts they struggled with so that they can use the feature seamlessly.

It is a year now and it feels like I joined yesterday, I am alive, here, and still pushing pixels at Farmerline. Over the last year, much of my work has been dedicated to designing features and products that provide relevant and meaningful experiences to the entire agriculture value chain from organisations to lead farmers. It’s been challenging as expected and I am grateful for the amazing support I get from my teammates.

It’s been challenging as expected and I am grateful for the amazing support I get from my teammates.

WHO IS THE FARMER’S PARTNER FOR GROWTH?

According to Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, to every extension officer, there are about 2000 farmers who need to be served with information and resources. The disproportionate number of extension officers means that many farmers go about their farming activities with little guidance, support and insight into best practices that will increase their productivity and efficiency.

Abigail Kyiriw is one of such farmers who has worked hard and tirelessly with little supervision over the years. She started her farming career as an apprentice on her father’s farm at age 20. She grows cocoa, plantain, pawpaw on 8 acres of land and rears sheep and fowls in Atwea, a farming community in the Ashanti Region. Abigail, now 52 years, has built a successful career in agriculture, receiving awards for the best farmer in her district on a number of occasions. Together with her husband, who is also a farmer, they have raised and educated their 5 children through their farming business. Despite her industry, Abigail shares that working as a farmer comes with enormous challenges.

Farming is a very demanding trade and farmers need all the support we can get to be successful in this space. Markets change, practices get advanced and now the weather patterns are also changing. It’s October and rains are as heavy as they were in June

said Abigail.

Aside from the limited guidance that farmers receive,  farmers have to deal with the risk of buying fake inputs. According to research by the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation and Monitor Deloitte in 2019, 30% of insecticides on the Ghanaian market are unapproved or smuggled. The seasonality of their crops also means farmers may not have enough money throughout the year to purchase quality inputs.

About six months ago, Abigail discovered a companion for farming business when Farmerline carried out a Farmer workshop in Atwea.

I had heard of the good works of Farmerline on the radio, so I was excited when they came to my community. I recognised immediately the role they will play to help me overcome pertinent challenges as a farmer so I did not hesitate to get the Farmerline card and sign up for their services.

Abigail Kyiriw and other farmers at a farmer workshop organised by Farmerline

Abigail now receives the guidance she had been lacking and weather forecasts on her mobile phone regularly. Aside from this, Abigail has been benefiting from Farmerline’s input credit program, under which she is provided with quality farm inputs that she can pay for on a later date.

“I get regular calls on weather forecasts and better ways to farm while I am on my farm. For me, these calls are not only informative but they really give me a lot of hope to do a good job as a farmer. I feel I have a companion who is always checking on me and giving guidance to succeed”, said Abigail Kyiriw.

Abigail is also the secretary of the Farmerline Farmer group in her community. She dedicates herself to organising group meetings, keeping records of the group and liaising with the Farmerline Zonal officer in her area.

“I have volunteered to help other farmers in my community benefit from the companionship and support I get from Farmerline. I want every farmer to become self-reliant and to be able to live decent lives.”

LAST MILE HEROES: Richard Brown; building relationships that create relevant solutions for smallholder farmers

The most robust solutions are often found when a bridge can be built between technical knowledge and experiential knowledge. Farmerline is an organisation that reinforces the need for such solutions in driving up productivity in the agriculture value chain. The company has been successful in its efforts because its team embodies this principle. Meet Richard Brown, one of the team members at Farmerline who combines his academic and practical know-how in his daily work with farmers.

Richard is a Zonal Manager at Farmerline. His work entails leading a team of smartphone-empowered field and community agents who bring Farmerline’s solutions to farmers in communities in the Asante Akim Central, North and South Districts. He has a degree in Agriculture, and field experience from time spent on his grandparents’ cocoa farm and prior job experience with Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Ministry. Richard’s knowledge and experience have made him cognizant of the need to build relationships with community heads and farmers in order to bring forth relevant solutions that will create lasting profit.

Read Richard’s interview, below:

  • How did you join Farmerline on its mission for farmers?

I joined Farmerline through a post a friend shared on his Facebook wall; I saw the position being advertised; the job description and I was fascinated about the mission of the Company and I decided to apply so I can impact in the lives of our rural Farmers.

I have always had an interest in Agriculture. My grandparents are Cocoa Farmers and I have had the opportunity of helping them on their farm activities. My education in agriculture and experiences in the field have enabled me to see the vast opportunities in the Agriculture value chain. There are numerous challenges rural farmers are facing that can be improved with access to the right resources and information. These challenges present avenues for innovative solutions like Farmerline. I am also very confident that these solutions coupled with the adoption of technology in farming can go a long way to improve the industry’s contribution to the growth of our economy.

Richard Brown interacting with farmers in the field
  • As a Zonal Manager, how do you lead your team to achieve set goals?

I lead a team of two Zonal Officers and 79 Community Agents in my operational areas. Our focus anytime we go into a new farming community is to understand the peculiar needs of the farmers and build a relationship based on trust with community heads and farmers. This is how we are able to successfully offer our solutions for improved farmer productivity. Farmers have vast knowledge in fieldwork even though some of their practices are flawed. So out in the field, we interact with them to exchange knowledge. They tell us how they go about their work and how they deal with challenges. We help farmers to see how new practices and technology can make their work and lives better. We provide all farmers with digital identity cards which enables them to access our mobile extension services and inputs on credit. We are basically extension officers whose work are enhanced by technology. 

A farmer sharing his farming experiences and challenges during a community workshop
  • How do you and your team stay motivated throughout the challenges on the field?

The impact we are making in the lives of Farmers is what keeps us motivated. It is always a proud moment when we see our technology and education on better agronomic practices increasing their yields and incomes. We are always elated when we deliver their input requests on time because we know that timely input delivery is very important to their productivity.
Farmerline’s regular training also provides us skills that help us to better engage, educate and identify farmers’ challenges. This also enhances our ability to offer relevant solutions to farmers.

  • In your experience, what are some of the opportunities that are available for young people in agriculture? 

More than ever, young people today, have the opportunity to transform the agriculture sector because of their exposure to technology. With technology, they can bridge the access gap and offer services to the industry across the value chain in the area of commercialization, sales and marketing of produce and processing of agricultural produce.

Learn more about Farmerline’s 399 services for smallholder farmers and its unique distribution model.



Preparing Ghanaian cocoa farmers for changing climate conditions

CIAT collaborates with CocoaLink to help young farmers mitigate the negative effects of climate change through digital maps

 

Ghana is one of the largest cocoa-producing countries, with over 40% of the population relying on the crop as their main source of income. Besides providing employment, cocoa has many other economic benefits for Ghana, which makes climate change a real threat to the country’s economy. According to climate projections in Ghana, the northwest of the cocoa belt will no longer be suitable for cocoa by 2050s if no action is taken; traditional cocoa regions will remain suitable, but stresses such as pest and disease pressure and drought are expected to increase; and the western region will remain suitable as well, but adaptation efforts are needed to avoid cocoa production losses (Bunn, Schreyer and Castro. 2018). To mitigate the negative effects of climate change, it is necessary for cocoa farmers to adopt site-specific climate-smart practices that can be implemented quickly and effectively.

As part of CIAT’s ongoing efforts in climate-smart agriculture (CSA), the Center formed a consortium with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Rainforest Alliance, Root Capital, and the Sustainable Food Lab to promote CSA practices for cocoa farmers in the world’s leading producer countries, including Ghana.

The overall goal is to enable farmers to produce more cocoa while adapting to the changing climate and cutting down greenhouse gas emissions. The effort in Ghana is thus part of a broader goal to ensure CSA goes beyond pilot projects and achieves wider adoption.

Achieving wider adoption of CSA practices

In order for CSA practices to achieve scale, CIAT partnered with the CocoaLink App to deploy the Cocoa Zones interactive map and associated CSA training materials. CocoaLink is a mobile application aimed to train and incentivize the next generation of Ghanaian cocoa farmers through interactive contents in a variety of digital media such as videos, pictures and interactive quizzes. The app was built by Farmerline in collaboration with Hershey and supported by the  World Cocoa Foundation, to increase cocoa actors’ understanding of climate-smart cocoa and also to increase youth engagement in cocoa production by sharing critical information and agricultural tips in an innovative way.

Through CIAT’s collaboration with CocoaLink, the Cocoa Zones section was created as one of the key features of the application. The Cocoa Zones is an interactive map created with cocoa production data gathered from the consortium’s CSA project pilot in Ghana. The map breaks down the main cocoa growing areas into five Climate Change Impact Zones and informs users about the characteristics of each zone. Users are able to know the current climate conditions, the impact of climate change and the adaptation measures to take at farm level in each zone.

 

 

The tool has great potential for Ghanaian farmers and extension workers, whose work is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The CocoaLink App also recommends a range of CSA practices that users can follow, depending on their investment capacity to reduce the impact of climate change. They can go from Minimum investment to build resilience, to Bronze, Silver, and Gold; which has the highest amount of resources needed to adopt the optimal adaptation practices.

 

“The Cocoalink app includes both the climate exposure work as well as a level of investment filter that allows farmers to choose their willingness to invest (gold, silver, bronze). These tools help farmers not only understand the impact of climate change, but also identify specific practices that they can implement on their farms to reduce their exposure to increasingly  uncertain climate. In short, the app allows farmers to develop tailored solutions based on their climate challenges and economic conditions thus avoiding the ‘one size fits all’ trap.”

         -Mark Lundy

          (Theme leader, Sustainable Food Systems, Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) Research area, CIAT)

Through videos, photos, maps, quizzes, and articles, CocoaLink shows in a practical way how users can build and run a farm business. The app also features approved inputs that farmers can buy to apply the right products for increased productivity. With over 2,000 app users having spent 92,000+ minutes learning best agricultural and business practices on the app, CocoaLink has established itself as a resourceful and timely tool for farmers and extension officers across the country.

As a scientific organization, one of CIAT’s goals is to deliver on development impact through the knowledge delved from their collaborative research work with partners. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is one of the areas to which the organization has dedicated many resources with the aim of delivering sustainable solutions in the agricultural sector to adapt to and mitigate the challenging conditions created by climate variability and climate change. CIAT’s collaboration with CocoaLink is part of such efforts to achieve impact on the lives of thousands of farmers and the cocoa industry at large.

Click here to download the CocoaLink App.

By Leila Serwaah Khalid and Natalie Gutiérrez

SOURCE: https://blog.ciat.cgiar.org/preparing-ghanaian-cocoa-farmers-for-changing-climate-conditions/

Boosting the ‘ground force’ with intentional field and leadership training

Field agents are the true connectors in most industries. They enable direct interactions that humanise brands and organisations allowing for stronger affiliations and a great feedback system. In the agriculture value chain, field agents are the sustainers and enablers of last mile transactions between farmers and other players. Their involvement in products and service distribution channels is a requirement to successfully manage a robust agriculture extension or distribution service in most developing regions. 

Systems and conditions in some developing regions make it challenging for agriculture service providers to easily distribute essential products and services to farmers who mostly live and work in remote communities. Connecting these communities to larger markets, therefore, involves huge investments. The Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship describes such investments as ‘accounting for poor infrastructure, retaining and growing a large network of motivated agents’. Farmerline’s mission to directly impact farmers’ lives and businesses, drove it to develop a unique distribution model which relies on people and technology right from the beginning of its operations. Farmerline’s network of over 200 smartphone-empowered field agents travels far and near to deliver vital services and information to farmers’ doorsteps. In order to sustain and grow its distribution system, Farmerline has, over the years, heavily invested in the field agent network. Agents are equipped with essential resources for field work and are given world-class training in using the Mergdata Platform, sales, leadership and communication. The organisation has partnered with renowned experts in these areas to deliver hands-on training that improves agents’ fieldwork. 

The training modules are also focused on equipping agents to overcome challenges while in the field. Earning the trust of farmers is one of the major challenges. By learning better communication techniques, agents are able to listen and interact in a manner that earns them farmers’ trust and attention. Earning a farmer’s trust allows further interactions that build understanding, informs Farmerline’s solutions and enables farmers to easily adopt the solutions.

The trainings are also delivered to boost agents’ ability to execute their work efficiently and thrive in the field no matter the condition. Whether working in a team or as an individual, agents are given skills that help them to come up with solutions even in situations where they may not be fully equipped to handle. They have clear roles and expectations that enable them to also work efficiently as a team. They are therefore able to focus on the most important things while saving time and resources.

Fieldwork is tough and comes with a lot of unforeseeable challenges. Training field agents is vital to keep them confident and motivated about their work. Training improves their skills and their approach to work. It allows them to stay focused on the goal of transforming smallholder farmers into successful entrepreneurs and keeps them driven to achieve this goal one community at a time.

Investing in field agents has enabled Farmerline’s operations to make great impact. According to a recent 3rd party impact assessment conducted by Acumen Lean Data, 65% of the farmers reached are receiving quality and affordable inputs for the first time. 89% of them are satisfied with the service and would like to continue working with Farmerline. The field agent network has been able to reach some of the most vulnerable farmers as 54% of the beneficiary farmers live below the poverty line. Over the next three years, Farmerline plans to leverage it’s agent network and technology to connect over 126,000 farmers in Ghana to extension services.

Farmerline’s growing field agent network is made up of a hierarchy of passionate people who move products and services from national centres all the way to individual farmers in farming communities. They connect smallholder farmers to information services; weather forecast, market prices and good agricultural practices. They also deliver quality and affordable farm inputs directly to the farmers. These field agents are at the heart of Farmerline’s operations, deploying last mile digital tools that facilitate subsequent interactions and transactions with farmers.

Learn more about our distribution model and the people who drive its success.


Securing the future of Agriculture in the face of an ageing farmer population

A growing concern in agriculture is the issue of the ageing farmer population. Globally, the average age of farmers is 60 years old, and young people are increasingly gravitating towards non-agricultural careers (World Farmers’ Organization, 2017), making the future of agriculture uncertain. Most young people fail to see agriculture as a profitable and exciting career option and Farmerline is focused on changing such perceptions. The organisation is tapping into the entrepreneurial opportunities that the youthful population of Subsaharan Africa presents to build a generation that will revitalise and boost the growth of agriculture. Below is a case study on Farmerline’s efforts toward achieving by the USAID’s Feed the Future initiative.

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‘COVID-19 shows the importance of technology in serving farmers’
Read Article
COVID-19; how we are working to keep farmers and employees safe
Read Article
FARMERLINE’S MERGDATA NAMED TO TIME’S LIST OF 100 BEST INVENTIONS OF 2019
Read Article