Cisco Foundation first began supporting Digital Green in 2014, recognizing the important role that technology can play in improving the livelihoods and food security of smallholder farmers. Digital Green’s tools boost farmers’ productivity and income by connecting them to transport options, markets, and training on agricultural best practices. With the current shutdowns disrupting traditional agricultural supply chains, Digital Green’s technology solutions are more needed than ever, connecting smallholder farmers to new markets and buyers, and helping them maintain their income and livelihoods.

This piece comes from Rikin Gandhi, Chief Executive Officer, Digital Green. With a Masters in aeronautical and astronautical space engineering from MIT and a Bachelors in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University, Rikin began his career at Oracle, where he received patents for linguistic search algorithms. He later joined Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets team, where he researched ways to amplify the effectiveness of agricultural development. The time Rikin spent in India’s rural communities changed his life. He developed a passion for helping rural farmers, whom he saw as heroes, which he channeled into co-founding Digital Green.

Globally, there are an estimated 500 million smallholder farmers, growing crops in five acres of land or less. Smallholder farmers produce 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Africa, yet they make a significant portion of those living in poverty, earning under $2 a day. Smallholder farmers grow food for self-consumption and sell the rest, but many opt not to participate in the market due to transportation costs or volumes required by buyers. At the same time, expansion in Internet access creates new opportunities to reach farmers in rural areas. With this in mind, Digital Green is exploring ways for digital technologies to connect farmers to markets.

Digital Green developed a mobile-based app, Loop, which connects farmers to transportation options, functioning like an “Uber Pool” for farmers to take their fresh fruit and vegetables to the market. Loop helps farmers save money by sharing a truckload, saves time by not having to travel to market, and makes money by selling at the best-priced markets. However, pandemic-related lockdowns limit the ability of trucks to operate. Farmers reported market disruptions and broken food supply chains; they feared production and income losses.

We already had been developing Kisan Diary as a digital ledger for farmers to record their agricultural sales and expenses, better manage their finances, and help farmers make decisions based on accurate analysis of their profit and losses. With farmers struggling to sell their harvests and consumers often unable to locate its availability, we repurposed the data that farmers were already recording in Kisan Diary to launch a directory to help buyers discover local produce, assess quality via photos, and purchase directly from farmers. It identifies farmers with at-risk perishable crops that need to be sold before going to waste and allows potential buyers to discover farmers and their products. From its deployment in early 2020, Kisan Diary has rapidly reached 6,000 farmers.

Kisan Diary gives us data on what crops farmers are unable to sell and what seeds and fertilizers they need for the upcoming season. For instance, input dealers, who sell seed and fertilizer, can use Kisan Diary data to understand farmers’ cropping plans and reach them with inputs necessary to a successful harvest. The data is also targeted farming content. Digital Green has a library of 6,000 videos in 50 languages; the most relevant videos are being integrated into Kisan Diary, giving farmers access to agricultural information which they no longer are able to receive in person due to social distancing requirements. By harnessing technology, farmers have access to new market channels to sell their crops even under uncertain times, which is critical for farmer livelihoods and for national-level food supply and access.

Digital Green is a global development organization that empowers smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty by harnessing the collective power of technology and grassroots-level partnerships. How are you and your organization reaching farmers? Share your ideas and feedback at contact@digitalgreen.org.

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