Giving local farmers a competitive edge

Prosper Biche is a yam farmer from Eastern Ghana. Until recently, he relied on an antiquated system to sell and transport his goods to the market. This archaic system meant that Prosper would sell his wares to individual buyers, who travel across the countryside on bicycles. These buyers would then provide the goods to processors in towns and cities, who were in charge of dispensing them to distributors, retailers and exporters.

This system was incredibly corrupt, as the original buyers understood that farmers like Biche were totally uninformed and unaware of the amount that processors should pay for their commodities. Buyers would take advantage of these farmers and purchase their produce for rock bottom prices. Luckily for farmers like Biche, a company called Esoko has an innovative technology that can change this system.

Through Esoko, Prosper signs up to receive ten price updates a week through SMS tools or the web, which helps him understand what his produce is worth and the opportune time to sell them at the market. And, believe it or not, this means big changes for a farmer like Biche.

Biche explains, “Before Esoko we didn’t know the prices; we just sent our products when they are ready. Now, we know the prices and also when to sell our products. Before, I sent my 100 tubers of yam to Accra and could get 20 Ghana cedis for it. Now I check prices and go to Accra when prices are good. I could get up to 200 Ghana cedis for the same 100 tubers.”

Biche, is definitely not the only farmer who is very excited about Esoko. There are many testimonies of farmers whose lives have changed because of Esoko innovation. If Biche and other farmers words aren’t convincing, the video above will do the trick!

And, for only $1 per month, this service has a tremendous return on investment. CEO and founder Mark Davies, a British entrepreneur who has built many technological ventures in the US, UK and Ghana, reported that farmers were being paid 20 to 40 percent more for their crops, which massively increased their income and quality of life.

Esoko also franchises out its technology to governments, non-governmental organizations and businesses, to save them the cost of developing similar technology themselves. Currently, Esoko is being used in nine African countries, including Nigeria and Malawi.

Esoko currently uses researchers to obtain data for most the agricultural markets it covers, but hopes in the future to have users supply information directly into to the system. Esoko is also expanding to include information on stocks, the weather and buyer location. They also are planning to coordinate transport and supply chain infrastructure.

While Esoko is currently funded by grants as well as subscriptions, it is transitioning towards a for-profit, sustainable business model that will consistently serve its farmers. Esoko employees estimates that in any one country it will need 10,000 individuals and 2,000 business customers in order to become profitable. Given that two-thirds of Africans are involved in agriculture, and 500 million have a mobile phone, this seems eminently attainable.