Ask any farmer in an emerging market and he will tell you of course rain clouds play a crucial role in his livelihood where weather determines whether his family will have enough food to eat or whether he can afford his children’s school fees this semester.

But what about the digital cloud? Is this relevant for smallholder farmers?

Cloud has become part of modern life – storage, email, information gather and sharing – for individuals and to an even a greater extent for businesses, cloud has become an integral part of our daily lives. However, while the technology community seems to be almost obsessed with ‘the cloud’ and its many applications for making our lives easier, few discuss its implications for the 4 billion people, over half of the earth’s population, who still do not have access to the internet and thus were until recently exempt from the revolutionary benefits of the ‘cloud’.

However, just as we have witnessed emerging market users leapfrog from phone-less to mobile or unbanked to mobile money we at nFrnds believe we are about to witness a similar leapfrog into the cloud. Today we have over 15 million committed users on our cloud-based platform who have already made that leap. From their experience we have seen that regardless of whether they are farmers, micro-businesses or the large enterprises that serve or supply these mass market users, they have just as much to gain from the cloud as a Silicon Valley techy or Wall Street business banker, here is why:

Device Agnostic Information Sharing

While in developed economies we often are overloaded with information, in emerging markets crucial and often life-changing information often remains inaccessible. While most people today have mobiles, the majority of these are simple phones and even as smartphone penetration is rising, the cost of data remains prohibitive to smallholder farmers. The nFrnds platform makes information accessible by allowing these farmers to access the cloud through any mobile device with no need for  data, whether it be tips on what to plant in the face of climate change, how to minimize post-harvest losses or the local and international coffee prices, farmers can access this information through a searchable knowledgebase built into the nFrnds cloud or via push notifications from other ecosystem players (e.g. cooperative leaders, agronomists, purchasers or suppliers). The cloud effectively transforms the farmers’ phones, regardless of their level of sophistication into an interface to the wide world of information.

Data Free Interactive Communication

Often, we mistakenly believe that a phone is synonymous with connectivity. However, phones are only useful as long as they are loaded with airtime or data, commodities that invariably run out. SMSes have seen a huge uptake in emerging markets but this communication channels is highly limited both by the budgets of the end-users and the technology itself. Through the nFrnds cloud, farmers can enjoy ongoing communication with a fixed monthly cost (less that $1 per user) and no data plan required, allowing for unrestricted, interactive communication. Not only does this enable the streamlining of value chains where farmers, agricultural companies, cooperatives, aggregators, input providers, transporters and other eco-system players can now interact and coordinate with one another, it also means that the businesses that serve these users can interact with them through interactive processes without the concern of time-outs, their airtime balance or data package running out.

 

Data Capture:  Traceability, Business and Loyalty solutions

Common practices in collection of data in resource poor settings is either manually paper based systems with the data then being painstakingly inputted into an excel sheet later or through a tablet, which often results in significant bottlenecks with one tablet only being able to capture one farmers data at a time. However, the nFrnds platform provides surveys that can be conducted through any mobile device interface with the data collected being stored in the cloud and thus immediately available for analytics. This has far reaching implications ranging from the ability to track and trace produce right down to the smallholder level (e.g. each farmer inputs coffee beans supplied, tomatoes delivered or milk provided on a daily- basis) to the ability to capture individual farmer data (e.g. land productivity, crops, gender, fertilizer use, trees planted etc.) enabling the businesses that supply or purchase from them to build complete farmer profiles allowing them to better serve these farmers while ensuring stability and quality of their supply. This data can be captured and transferred through existing CRM or ERP systems that previous were irrelevant to such unconnected customers allowing these businesses to utilize modern business practices for interacting at every level of their value chain. For example, loyalty, a concept previously restricted to high margin markets given the extent it relies on capturing customer data and tailor making services to their individual needs suddenly becomes possible even for smallholder farmers. Agriculture companies can adopt rewards programs for high performing farmers, incentivize best practices and minimize side selling or encourage uptake of better inputs or farming techniques.

Financial Inclusion

This ability to capture data also has a significant impact on the farmers themselves as it can then be used to develop a credit score for individuals who lack credit history or collateral. Additionally, the nFrnds cloud enables banks and other financial institutions to offer a comprehensive range of mobile banking services connected to their core banking, ranging from loan applications, to savings wallets, money transfer or balance inquiries along with an advanced analytics platform that allows for A-B testing and rapid prototyping, ensuring the development of customer centric products and rapid time to market. Furthermore, the interactive communication enabled by the cloud based platform compliments these services providing the foundation for a robust branchless banking system where the financial institution, its staff, agents and customers can communicate on an ongoing basis as individuals or through saving or microfinance digital forums.

So is the cloud relevant to smallholder farmers?

From our experience, absolutely, given its ability to share information, facilitate communication capture data and enable financial inclusion of smallholder farmers with no need for data and from any mobile device. While nature’s thunderclouds will always play a central role in the lives of smallholder farmers, we believe that cloud computing has an equally crucial role to play in the lives and livelihoods of emerging market farmers.

 

About nFrnds

nFrnds is a groundbreaking cloud-based SaaS platform which provides enterprises operating in undigitized markets with all the advantages of a fully digitized digital economy – optimizing supply chains for lowering costs and increasing customer engagement for growing revenues and providing access to financial services. For more information on how the nFrnds cloud can benefit your business, customers, suppliers, farmers or beneficiaries contact info@nfrnds.com.

Caylee Talpert, VP Business Development, nFrnds

Nestle Coffee Farmers taking part in the BTPN Wow! Branchless Banking Program in Lampung, Indonesia

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nFrnds is working with its financial partner BTPN Wow! in Indonesia to bring a wide range of digital and financial services to the bank’s 3 million branchless banking users.

Farmers Workshop with Cooperative, Gakenke District, Rwanda, Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources

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nFrnds has a 3-year partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources of Rwanda (MinAgri) to provide information to the countries over 6 million smallholder farmers while capturing data from these farmers for the ministry’s strategic planning and policy decisions.

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