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Uniting Farmers Worldwide Through 'WEFARM'

By Anika Tasnim Nishat

· Asia,Technology,Agriculture

Farming has been always a laborious practice since the time it began. Although a variety of techniques and mechanisms have been taken into account to solve the problems faced by farmers, many parts of the world couldn’t seem to puzzle out access to information. Although Information Technology (IT) has been developed with the help of a great deal of researches and explorations, people living in distant areas still lack this opportunity to access information. This is exceptionally true for almost 500 million small-scale farmers on the planet, who mostly live below the poverty line on less than $1 a day.

For a developing country like Bangladesh, it’s more than a critical issue to be considered. Poor farmers often reside away from the population center where they lack the means to educate themselves on farming methods and techniques. Because they live in distant areas, they can’t access the internet for sources of information related to farming. Almost 90% of them are out of internet reach.

One of the major limitations in designing ICT based services for rural farmers in the country is their low technology literacy rates. This is where Wefarm comes in to address this particular issue.

WeFarm was founded in 2015 by Kenny Ewan. It was originally developed as a project by the Cafedirect Producers’ Foundation, a nonprofit that works to assist small-holder farmers across the globe, and spun out as a startup. WeFarm is a free peer-to-peer service that enables farmers to share information via SMS, without the internet, and without having to leave their lands. They can ask questions on farming and receive crowd-sourced answers from other farmers around the world in minutes.

How ‘WeFarm’ functions

The main goal is to reach small-scale farmers who can’t access information on farming methods and techniques. The founder came up with the idea to create such a kind of network that can make a bridge between farmers around the world and affordable technology.

Soil erosion, crop disease, dealing with the effects of climate change, and the need to find ways to improve income earning opportunities are a couple of the common challenges faced by farmers who live in isolated regions. WeFarm allows small-holder farmers to share their own farming struggles with farmers in other parts of the world. In this way, they can ask for or share advice through sending simple SMS messages.

The messages are translated by WeFarm’s Peer Translation System in order for it to reach other WeFarm members around the world. The system counts on a team of volunteer translators such as language students, ex-pats, or anyone who wants to serve the project, to translate questions, tips and ideas disseminated by farmers. When a person sends a message to ask any help, it is received and then is instantly passed on to members who speak the language that the message was typed in. Basically, WeFarm acts as an agent who is responsible to deliver the messages to its members without the use of an internet connection.

Creating a chain between farmers

WeFarm is one of the first start-ups in the world to take a charity project through commercial venture capital funding. In the process, it has had to pivot from a nonprofit pilot project to a full-scale social enterprise, building an entire global organization and operational ecosystem from the ground up.

Additionally, the technology they use is built upon some of the most advanced machine learning technologies in existence today. One challenge is packaging and delivering this product to users through the humble small screens of old feature phones, in many different languages, and with just 160 characters per message.

WeFarm has overcome this challenge through smart design and information architecture. They have also figured out how to reach one of the world’s largest offline communities and bring them to a common network, through a unique combination of marketing activities.

A new hope for Bangladesh

Although Bangladesh has achieved enormous success in developing its ICT-based services for farmers, a number of challenges still exist while serving E-Agriculture to the greater amount of its grassroots farmers. Since Bangladesh has a large population and needs to feed a huge population, adopting a system like WeFarm can open up a new avenue for the country and its overall agricultural development. It will not only allow farmers to acquire necessary information but also help them to produce outputs at a large scale and develop their quality of livelihood in return.

WeFarm is an efficient way to tie a knot between the farming communities around the world and Bangladeshi farmers as currently, telecom networks cover all 64 of the country’s districts and almost 84 percent of rural households carry mobile phones. Adopting WeFarm’s system can be a great solution to the existing problem.

Currently, WeFarm’s peer-to-peer network is connecting over 660,000 small-scale farmers to vital agricultural information across Kenya, Uganda, and Peru. They have gained a huge user retention rate of around 90%. The incidents clearly reflect how this platform has been doing a great job of serving small-scale farmers. The founder’s further vision is to make an extension to Asia and other continents to create the biggest global network among farmers.

Because of their quality work throughout Kenya, WeFarm has received the recognition of Africa’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company, won Google’s Impact Challenge Award, TechCrunch’s Europas Tech for Good Award, and the European Union Commission’s Ideas from Europe prize, among others.

These tokens of acknowledgements clearly mirror WeFarm’s efficiency as a whole. Collaborating with them can bring about a major change for a developing country like Bangladesh where over 70% of its people earn their livelihood from agriculture.

For more information, visit http://wefarm.org, follow them on Twitter @wefarm and connect with them on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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