Wefarm - Connecting Small-Scale Farmers to the People and Resources They Need to be More Successful
I have had the privilege to be involved with Wefarm and our CEO and Founder, Kenny Ewan since 2012 when I traveled with Kenny to Peru to pilot Wefarm. We succeeded in connecting a group of Peruvian farmers to a group of Kenyan farmers, despite a whole host of challenges, most notably a six-day power cut. I have been part of the team since 2016, and have seen us outgrow five office spaces (two in London, two in Nairobi and one in Uganda) and recruit an incredible team of passionate and committed experts in their fields. I am now Head of Partnerships at Wefarm and I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute to this digital series for Agrilinks.
At Wefarm we want to build a platform to help connect every small-scale farmer around the world to the people and resources they need to be more successful. In order to do that though, we have to be able to ensure the platform is relevant to every farmer, and as part of that relevance, we need to consider unique challenges like the language they want to use as well as the technology they have at their disposal. This means utilizing pretty sophisticated machine learning that is even able to work across SMS (text messaging).
Since our launch, we've connected nearly 2 million farmers in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and are continuing to grow at pace. Those farmers are able to successfully connect using just a standard mobile phone without internet access. Through the use of SMS, farmers can connect with other relevant farmers and receive information and knowledge they otherwise wouldn’t have access to, which could be anything from how to increase their income by improving crop yields to battling a disease which is decimating their livestock. Here are some examples of how farmers have used Wefarm to be more successful.
Behind the scenes, machine learning plays a large role in helping us make these relevant connections. For example, a farmer sends Wefarm an SMS to ask a question, but before we can send it on to the farmers best placed to successfully answer it we need to break it down so we can understand several things, such as the topic, the intent, and its language. In order to achieve this, we have developed the first large-scale dataset and Natural Language Processing (NLP) libraries for multiple regional African languages so farmers on our platform can communicate in the language that best suits them. At the moment the average time a farmer receives an answer to their question is 6 minutes. And because the information is always sourced directly from other farmers on our platform, each new farmer who joins both has the opportunity to ask and answer questions, ensuring the platform can always scale.
As mentioned, it’s not just people we want to connect farmers with, but also the resources they need to be successful. And one of the most common themes of questions on Wefarm is farmers asking what are the best inputs, products or services, where is the best place to buy them, and what is the best price for these products and services.
We have developed a marketplace within our platform that enables farmers to discover and buy quality products and services, often at a discounted price, from our network of authorized Wefarm retailers. To date, we have focused on connecting farmers to agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizer as well as non-agricultural products such as cooking stoves, mobile phones, and solar energy systems, which are also helping them expand their operations.
We started piloting the system in January this year, and we quickly hit over $1 million in sales over the first few months. But what’s been even better to see is that farmer repeat rate has also increased, demonstrating the value we are providing to our farmers. As they choose to use the platform more and more retailers have also reported significant increased footfall and sales— with one of our first retailers investing in an extra premises because of the lift in sales.
We have also begun to identify real-world trends within our unique multilingual data across markets. For example, we can track the price of commodities like maize allowing us to give more market-information to farmers. We can also identify topics and trends to allow us to map, for example, the spread of disease in a particular area. And we are delighted to be working with the Wellcome Trust on an exciting new project to tackle antimicrobial resistance.
As you can see our amazing team has a lot to be proud of this year. The continued value we have been delivering in helping more and farmers connect helped us secure $13m in investment from some of Silicon Valley and Europe’s leading investors. There is still so much more to do as we look to help connect every farmer, which we look forward to with our usual bold, collaborative, ‘own it and get it done’ attitude.