App links farmers to mobile economy

Monday February 10 2020
prosper01pix

Allan Asiimwe demonstrates how the mobile application that links farmers to markers works. Through their partnerships, they can now reach over 200,000 farmers spread across Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya. Courtesy Photo

Agriculture has undergone a series of revolutions that have driven efficiency, yield and profitability to previously unattainable levels.

However, according to a 2019 Digital agriculture paper by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal of a ‘world with zero hunger’ by at least 2030 will require more productive, efficient, sustainable, inclusive, transparent and resilient food systems.

So, this calls for an urgent transformation of the current agri-food system and digital innovations and technologies as part of the solution.

Coming closer to home, agriculture is fundamental to Uganda’s economy, contributing 26 per cent to GDP and employing about 69 per cent of the population.

Despite its huge potential, Uganda’s agricultural sector remains stifled by its largely traditional and subsistence nature.

Yet currently, technology presents an opportunity to transform agriculture through commercialisation, aggregation, and agri-business.

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Experts say technology can ensure efficient operation of the value chain activities from production to processing, logistics, warehousing; increasing access to market information for better decision making.

In order not to be left behind in the agricultural sector development, several Ugandans have designed digital solutions to help farmers organise their businesses. One of those solutions or platforms is Hamwe, a digital platform that is bridging the gap between farmers and the mobile economy.

Hamwe EA Company was founded six-years ago by two developers - Mr Allan Asiimwe and Ms Stella Lugalambi - who believe that for anyone to compete, they have to go mobile.

The company provides modern mobile solutions including mobile apps, mobile-optimised websites and local market search optimisation services support for farm enterprises.

Hamwe EA is a technology company that develops platforms for the agriculture sector to enable worthwhile communications and delivery for smallholder farmers.

“We do this through the digitisation of smallholder farmer’s profiles, provision of financial services like tailor blending and savings through partnerships with financial institutions, cooperatives and government,” Asiimwe shared.

So their target audience is an agricultural centered rural community with establishments in Rwanda, Burundi and we have associates in Kenya.

Motivation
Hailing from a farming community that deals in dairy production, their challenge was getting paid peanuts.

“Every time we would receive our payments, it was less because at the dairy cooperative where we delivered our milk, there were no records. At home, we kept records but they were never tallying with what was happening at the dairy cooperative,” he recalls.

Equipped with his knowledge in ICT, he decided to develop an application that would help the cooperatives in keeping and managing their books and records.

“I wasn’t looking at creating innovation for the world. I was trying to solve a household problem where we would deliver our milk,” he shares.

He thought his innovation was solving the problem of real-time communication with farmers to know how much milk has been delivered daily in time.

Later when they rolled out the platform, the cooperatives embraced it. They kept on asking him what else they could do for them to better manage their farms.

“That is when I resigned from my job and used my $10,000 (Shs37m) savings together with my business partner, to build the basic platform,” Asiimwe recalls.

Six years down the road, although cagy about the current investment, Asiimwe is happy that their business has multiplied.

Asiimwe said their motivation to start this platform was driven by the fact that there were several gaps within the agriculture value chain.

“We thought we would provide solutions or innovations to close those gaps like access to information, access to affordable credit and access to inputs and service providers who are genuine,” he said.

This motivated them to develop a platform that is modulated to solve a few of those problems within Agriculture.

The platform itself has been designed to enable users of any type of mobile or smartphone to access agricultural information.

So, unless you are profiled you cannot access these services. However, for farmers who don’t belong to cooperatives, they have created a channel on USSD where they can dial *284*3# and then register.

Once the farmers have registered, they will get a menu where they can opt for the various services.

“So, we aim to get farmers to subscribe to for example Agriculture content or information on weather, prices and farmers should be able to order for inputs,” he adds.

To avoid farmers from spending their hard-earned money on substandard inputs, the platform deals with genuine agro-dealers who are accredited or profiled to be part of the platform.

Impact
Since their model has been business to business, the response has been good for cooperatives and agribusinesses which are already advanced in their operations.

This platform embeds things like Short Message Service (SMS) for instant or real communication. It also enables payments with an element of mobile payment.

“Farmers who don’t have access to financial institutions or banks can be paid through their mobile wallets,” he explains.

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