Support for Smallholders in Africa
Better Harvests and More Income by Text Messaging
Our employees provide advice on-site and give farmers tips for more productive agriculture.
myAgro's business model is based on giving smallholders in West Africa – mainly in Mali and Senegal – the opportunity to buy fertilizer and seeds. 70 percent of farmers in the region are women. Most of them have neither a bank account nor access to credit, and it is virtually impossible for them to borrow money. Because their average income is only one to two dollars a day, they have no money left over for expensive purchases such as seeds and fertilizers. But most of them have a mobile phone – so they can use myAgro's services.
Here’s how the program works: The farmers buy a myAgro Card in their village shop, for example, for an amount equivalent to 50 cents or one dollar. These are sums that they always have available at short notice. The card is provided with a code, which the farmers send via SMS to myAgro. The amount is then credited to their myAgro accounts. This enables farmers to deposit even the smallest amounts. Right in time for the start of the growing season, myAgro supplies seed and fertilizer to the farmers in their villages.
In the Senegalese village of Mbellengout, 120 kilometers from the capital Dakar, Fatou Faye was one of the first farmers to try myAgro. “It was impossible for me to raise 4,000 CFA francs (the equivalent of 14 US dollars) in one fell swoop to buy fertilizer,” she says. To transfer and save small amounts of money, however, fit the financial possibilities of Faye, a widow, and mother of seven children. Her first purchase consisted of fertilizer for peanuts and hibiscus. “When my field was in bloom, I was overwhelmed,” she says. Other women came to see and were also enthusiastic. As a result, they became myAgro customers. Meanwhile, 34,000 small farmers in West Africa are using myAgro and increase their prosperity: With the innovative pre-paid system for agricultural products, they are doubling both their net yields in the field and their income.
This business model helps break the vicious circle of poor harvests and poverty. “Smallholders no longer have to adapt their behavior to an outdated financial system. Rather, we are changing the financial system and adapting it to small farmers,” says Anushka Ratnayaka, who founded myAgro in 2011. Back then, she wondered: “Why is it possible to buy oil or sugar in small quantities, and for little money, in rural African regions, but seeds and fertilizer – the most important products for farmers' work – can only be bought in large quantities, which sometimes cost 100 dollars?” That was the starting point for her to look for microfinance models.
Today, myAgro is no longer just about financial assistance, but also about know-how transfer. “Our employees provide advice on-site and give farmers tips for more productive agriculture,” says Ratnayaka. Knowledge about nutrition, hygiene and crop plants is just as important as fertilizer and seeds to sustainably improve people's living conditions. This knowledge also puts smallholders in the position to work their own way out of poverty. For the on-site seminars, which are almost exclusively attended by women, myAgro developed five different modules on the topics of “A healthy meal”, “Dehydration”, “Hygiene in food preparation”, “How to cook a healthy porridge” and “Why okra and peanuts are so nutritious.” So far, more than 16,000 women have participated in the seminars.
"By working with socially committed companies, we want to help transform global systems and accelerate progress, especially when it comes to nutrition and health," says Dr. Monika Lessl, Head of Corporate Innovation at Bayer, which has provided a $600,000 USD grant to myAgro. Another important element in improving living conditions is tackling health problems. For example, many families in rural African regions suffer from epidemic worm infections. Children are affected in particular. However, the medicines to treat these infections are often unaffordable for those affected. This is why myAgro and Bayer are supporting a deworming initiative in which a total of 31,000 children were treated in 488 villages in Mali alone from May to the end of June 2018. “Free medicines also strengthen the families as a whole so that they can continue to develop their farms and find a way out of poverty,” says Lessl.
“Food from smallholder farmers feed a large segment of the world’s population,” says Liam Condon, Member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and Head of the Crop Science Division. “Yet many of these farmers live in severe poverty. That’s why we support myAgro, which can make a big difference with its innovative social business model.” myAgro’s success is not only sustainable – it is also getting well-deserved attention. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the billionaire, and philanthropist, has reported about myAgro on his blog. And in April 2018, myAgro received the Skoll Award, which endowed it with 1.25 million US dollars. Considered the “Nobel Prize” for social entrepreneurship, the Skoll Award recognizes companies that have proven that their business model contributes to solving one of the globe’s most pressing problems. In the case of myAgro, it is the fight against poverty and hunger.
“The better the harvest, the easier it is for me to look after my family,” says Fatou Faye, the smallholder in Senegal. According to myAgro’s wishes, as many farmers as possible should reach this conclusion. By the year 2020, the number of myAgro customers is expected to grow to 200,000, and by the year 2025 to one million. In addition to Senegal and Mali, the company, which currently employs 300 people, plans to become active in Tanzania in the future. Their long-term goal: see smallholders' daily income grow by $ 1.50. This would allow them to leave the poverty line – and rise to the middle class of society.