‘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

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.

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.



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.


LAST MILE HEROES: Evans Boateng, pursuing his passion one farming community at a time

Farmerline operates a distribution model that combines technology and a network of field agents to deliver information and resources that improve the productivity of smallholder farmers in rural areas. Farmerline’s growing field agent network is made up of a hierarchy of people who move these services from national centres all the way to individual farmers in farming communities.

Evans Osei Boateng leads Farmerline’s field team for the Agona Zone of the company’s operation in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Growing up in a farming household, Evans has witnessed firsthand the challenges of operating a farm without the needed resources. Now at Farmerline, he leads a team of field and community agents who cater to farmers within the Sekyere South, Mampong Municipal and Sekyere Central Districts in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. In this interview, we learn about how Evans’ passion for farming is fueling his day-to-day activities as a field agent and how he runs his team to provide Farmerline’s 399 services to over 5,000 smallholder farmers.

 

What are you responsible for as a Zonal Manager?

I am responsible for managing Farmerline’s Farmer Services in the Sekyere South(Agona), Mampong Municipal and Sekyere Central(Nsuta) in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, West Africa.

My work includes educating farmers about Farmerline’s services as well as good agricultural practices that improve their yields. I ensure that farmers get access to weather information, agronomic tips, market prices and affordable inputs through our 399 platform. We do this by regularly organising farmer workshops & visits in the farming communities within the three districts. I also manage a network of agents and local input dealers who help us to connect to farmers, distribute our services within the zone and maintain our relationship with farmers. I am assisted by Zonal Officers who are also in charge of the community agents.

 

Why did you decide to work in agriculture and at Farmerline?

I grew up in a family that worked in the sector. I saw how my family benefited from agriculture and this made me develop a love for farming at an early age. But there were challenges such as difficulty in accessing inputs and agriculture-related information since the agric extension officers were not always readily available. For me, Farmerline’s goal to bridge the gap between farmers and resources they require to increase their productivity is very personal, I relate to it very much. Joining Farmerline was an opportunity for me to improve family businesses and lives of many people living in farming communities who depend on farming for their livelihood. I am now able to help farmers with the kind of services that my family couldn’t have access to. 

Describe a typical day as a Zonal Manager.

The day starts very early for a Zonal Manager because we work with farmers who rise up early to visit their farms. On a typical day, my Zonal Officers and I attend pre-scheduled farmer workshops to introduce Farmerline services and products to new communities. Before these workshops, we make sure to connect and build relationships with the leaders and other key members of the community. We spend time educating the farmers on best agriculture practices during these workshops. We interact with the farmers to understand their needs and take their details with which we create digital profiles for them. My team and I also take farm input orders from these farmers who usually live far from input suppliers. We ensure that these orders are delivered to the farmers on time.

We also use the opportunity to get feedback from previously profiled farmers about our services and address any concerns they may have. 

 

What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

As a Zonal Manager, I feel accomplished when a farmer in a community within which we operate is able to improve their yields and profit through our services.  As a person with an Agricultural background and also having witnessed firsthand the challenges of smallholder farmers, I feel very fulfilled when through my daily activities farmers get information and quality inputs they need to improve their farming activities. You can tell their joy by the smiles on their faces whenever we visit and also through the recommendations they make to other farmers about Farmerline.

What are your hopes for the agriculture sector?

I hope to see the sector grow to be able to adequately produce enough food to feed the country and reduce our need to import food from other countries. I also hope that in the near future we will witness more farmers managing their farming activities as businesses that will churn out lasting profits through the help and support of the various stakeholders such as the Government and private organizations like Famerrline.

 

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

A Fellow’s Experience at Farmerline -Elisa Criscione

Elisa Criscione joined Farmerline as a fellow from October 2018 to March 2019. She supported the Corporate Services unit to manage client projects. In this article, Elisa shares her work experience during her 6-months stay in Ghana and how her work with Farmerline has shaped her perspective on the food and agriculture industry.  (more…)

Farmerline’s Schandorf Bright Adu selected for OFID Scholarship for One Young World Summit 2017

Farmerline’s Director of Farmer Services, Schandorf Bright Adu, been selected for the OFID Scholarship to attend the upcoming One Young World Summit 2017 in Bogota, Colombia (4-7 October).

Schandorf joins passionate young leaders from 196 countries who will descend on Bogotá for the summit, which brings together the most valuable young talent from global and national companies, NGOs, universities and other forward-thinking organisations.

With recognised leaders of integrity like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus lending their global stature to the delegate’s views as well as inspiring them to create positive change, Schandorf will play an active role in debating, formulating and sharing innovative solutions for the pressing issues that the world faces.

Having demonstrated leadership and affecting positive change through Farmerline’s farmer workshops and agent training in rural communities, Schandorf pointed out that it is an honour for One Young World to recognize Farmerline’s work with smallholder farmers in Africa.

“Getting an opportunity to network with leading experts in my field is always great. With Farmerline at a critical stage of its growth, where we are seeking to scale up operations to penetrate new markets and to improve the standards of living for farmers across the developing world, this summit will help us learn innovative solutions to global issues.”

Farmerline’s Schandorf Adu Bright delivers insecticide to Dwomoh Kwasi Christopher at his cocoa farm in Kyekyewere, Assin South District, Ghana. Farmerline has started distributing farming implements like insecticide and fertiliser to farmers at subsidised rates alongside providing farming tips through their Mergdata service.

Schandorf also clarified that while Farmerline’s Mergdata technology is already scalable and globally applicable, there are certain legal and cultural nuances in each regional market that Farmerline must understand to create the most effective product.

“Connecting with delegates that are experts in this field will be incredibly helpful in expediting this process. It will allow us to reach more investors and help us identify and form partnerships with other organizations in our field,” he added.

Meet Thomas Dzandu: An extension agent playing a role in sustainable national development

Farming is on the upswing in the Adansi Fomena district and no one could be happier or more enthused perhaps than Thomas Kwaku Dzandu, an extension officer and agricultural engineer who is helping Farmerline achieve sustainable agriculture.

But the enthusiasm, passion and child-like energy that motivates Thomas to bring his resourcefulness to rural communities are tested every day. As an extension officer, the expected impact that his intervention should have has not been realised due to inadequate funding, lack of logistics and relevant training, lack of promotion opportunities and poor motivation.

Thomas’ quest to transfer proven and accepted farming practices to rural farmers in a participatory manner and to teach them post- harvest processing and storage of their yield is proving futile.

“As an engineer who works as an agriculture extension officer in Ahinsan, Agogooso and Adokwai, I find this job challenging,” Thomas says.

But even within these challenging circumstances, Thomas’ commitment and drive keep fuelling him. He doesn’t care who gets the glory or credit, he just wants the job done and done right. “Being an agriculture extension officer comes with higher levels of commitment. It is all about leaving a good impression in the minds of rural farmers and helping them achieve the most yield and income.”

In many ways, Thomas is an example of a young, passionate Ghanaian seeking to transform agriculture, holding on to the belief that agriculture extension and advisory is one of the best techniques for improving yields and incomes for farmers. This conviction, Thomas has found, aligns with Farmerline’s commitment to transforming the lives of rural farmers through innovative mobile technology and information services.

He believes that Farmerline’s effective organisation of agricultural extension services in the country will, in the long run, transform traditional agriculture into a modern one for improved living standards of the rural people.

“It is challenging covering all farmers in an operational area but Farmerline makes work much more convenient with the introduction of simple notifications on mobile phones that inform farmers on what is important, which makes the work of the agent easy,” he said.

For Thomas, ensuring the dissemination of current best agricultural practices practice, helping organise cooperatives and implement secondary farming programs is the role he has to play to aid in national development. A role he has wholeheartedly embraced.

“My motivation to work with Farmerline is on the basis to support the good efforts of young entrepreneurs to solving the day to day needs of the ordinary farmer,” he added.

Farmerline’s Director to speak at 2017 West Africa Fertilizer Agribusiness Conference

Over 500 participants, including agriculture policymakers, agribusiness leaders and regional government representatives, are convening in Accra this week for the 2017 West Africa Fertilizer Agribusiness Conference.

The conference, which is a unique opportunity to meet and network with the key decision-makers that are opening up the African market for fertiliser trade, aims to explore the challenges and opportunities associated with boosting agribusiness in this West African region, with particular attention to the role that the fertiliser supply chain can take.

Our own Director of Growth, Research and Development, Worlali Senyo, will be speaking at the conference on Tuesday, 11th July, on the agenda “Innovation in West African Agribusiness”, from 4pm-5pm.

Other speakers for the event include Hon. Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, Chairman – Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Joseph Boahen Aidoo Chief Executive Officer – Ghana Cocoa Board, Dr Alex Ariho, Chief Executive Officer – African Agribusiness Incubators Network (AAIN) and Danquah Addo-Yobo Managing Director – Yara Ghana.

The conference will see delegates benefit from three days of dedicated networking opportunities and a comprehensive program of high-level speakers and moderators that will cover key market trends, project updates and supply and demand forecasts. The conference will also feature an extensive exhibition of the world’s cutting edge fertiliser and agribusiness technologies and services.

My Experience at Africa’s first World Aquaculture Conference

A week ago, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the World Aquaculture Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

Before embarking on the journey, I did not know what to expect but I understood the conference for what it was — an opportunity to discuss the potential of aquaculture production in Africa to support economic development and investment opportunities. It was that and much more.

Here is a summary of my experience…

Conferences can be stressful but ultimately they are rewarding and fun. Being in an environment with people from the same discipline is important as it connects you to others who are active in your line of work. You grow as a person, meeting new friends and industry stakeholders. New opportunities and prospects open up, sometimes from just a casual conversation in the corridor between scheduled sessions.

The atmosphere at the conference was intimidating in the beginning but became friendly and supportive with each session, which removed some of the formality. I thoroughly enjoyed my session as I passionately talked about how Farmerline uses mobile technology to impact the lives of 1000 fish farmers in Ghana by providing information on best management practices and market prices of fish. As simple as this innovation was, the audience was stunned by Farmerline’s approach of reaching smallholders with relevant information which transformed their way of practising aquaculture.  The question and answer period were amazing, with constructive peer assessment and informative critiquing. My knowledge was heightened in realising the major role Farmerline can play in advancing aquaculture in Africa. Positive feedback and compliments also reinforced the point that Q&As are proportional to the quality and effort that the speaker has put into their allotted time. I came away very excited!

My favourite moment was walking to my seat after my talk to a resounding applause. I felt so proud about Farmerline’s work and progress as well as the quality of my presentation as subsequent speakers made continuous reference to Farmer line’s technology.

I was also impressed by how wide the aquaculture sector is, globally, through the exhibition and inspiring talk on “Feeding The 9 billion: The Role of Aquaculture” by Dr.Rohana Subsasinghe of FAO during the plenary session.

Presenting for the first time at a major conference was for me akin to taking another major roller coaster ride of my your life. A continuum from excitement, elation and pride through to unease and anxiety. But surprisingly, I was very calm and I absolutely loved every bit of it!

It was also a pivotal experience for me and I hope to present more at such conferences in the future.

Here are some of the lessons from the conference…

I. Aquaculture is a very important sector as it plays a pivotal role in addressing 9 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

II. Though aquaculture in Africa has seen development, the increase in production has been gradual, unlike our Asian counterparts. It was established that Africa still has a long way go to in realising its potential in aquaculture to feed its growing population.

III. Aquaculture development worldwide is being hampered by the invasion of fish diseases. More recently, in parts of Asia, Africa and South America the incidence of the Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) is on the rise which is a threat to the tilapia industry. It is important to note that no report of any human health-related issues has been associated with the consumption of affected tilapia from any of the affected countries since the emergence of TiLV (CGIAR, 2017). In the midst of this daunting situation, is the opportunity to create and broaden career opportunities within the aquaculture field. This presents the need for fish health specialists and I encourage the youth pursuing related courses to take advantage.

IV. Ghana as a country is doing quite well in sub-Saharan Africa nonetheless there is so much we can harness from aquaculture in Ghana hence expanding our scope from the 2 main species (tilapia & catfish) to other indigenous species and also by learning from the examples of Egypt, etc.

 

 

 

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