Wefarm - the world's largest peer to peer information sharing network for small-scale farmers
The world’s 1.5 billion small-scale farmers grow 80% of the food we all eat. Yet they live in isolated rural places, so most remain disconnected from the internet and the global digital economy. Small-scale farmers are some of the most disadvantaged people in the developing world: half of the world’s undernourished people, three-quarters of Africa’s malnourished children, and the majority of people living in absolute poverty live on small farms.
Without the internet, farmers have limited access to vital information whether they urgently need to overcome a problem or want to develop new skills. They also struggle to access quality affordable farm inputs or financial services and rarely receive fair prices for their produce. Nearly half the food they produce is lost at ground level and many struggle to feed their families, let alone pay for healthcare or invest in their family’s future.
With the world’s population projected to grow from 7 to 9 billion by 2050 and climate change wreaking havoc on arable land worldwide, increased pressure on the global food supply will only persist. So this a problem not just for the farmers, but for every single person on earth.
But there is some good news. 90% of small-scale farmers DO have access to a mobile phone and there is a huge body of knowledge contained within the global farming community. Which is why Wefarm exists to put small-scale farmers ‘on the grid’ using technology they have in their hands RIGHT NOW - basic mobile phones.
With Wefarm, farmers can share and access vital information on anything from how to increase their income by improving crop yields to battling a disease which is decimating their livestock. This is all without leaving their farm, spending any money... or having any access to the internet.
To show just how much our service is needed, over 1.3m farmers have joined since we launched in 2015 and at our current growth trajectory, in the next five years, we will connect millions of farmers worldwide. We are also building a digital ecosystem for global agriculture with farmers at the very centre. This ecosystem will not only provide peer sourced information, but ALSO connect farmers with products (like seeds) and services (like loans) they need to act on advice they receive AND become a brand new marketplace for farmers to sell their produce.
The billions of farmer to farmer interactions on Wefarm generate game changing insight into smallholder needs and challenges. This insight will transform the way that NGOs, governments and companies understand and engage with smallholder farmers. For example we can track a pest outbreak in real time so that immediate remedial action can be taken or give smallholders a voice in strategic decision making of multi million dollar commodities companies.
How does it work?
Our technology is at the forefront of breaking down barriers to technological development for farmers in developing countries worldwide. Wefarm uses the very latest machine learning technology to connect 'the unconnected' by (basic) SMS.
Meet Victor, a tea farmer in Kenya. He woke up one morning to find his tea farm being attacked by a pest he’d never seen before. So, he sends a free SMS to the Wefarm number. Wefarm’s machine learning technology shares Victor’s question with those Wefarm users most likely to have the answer to his question.
In this situation, it was Doris, a tea farmer in Uganda who’s been dealing with the same pest for over 20 years. Who better than Doris to share advice with Victor? She sends an SMS back and Victor, miles away and without any internet connection, receives an answer to his question within 15 minutes.
Victor gets the valuable information he needs to solve his farming problem – without needing the internet and without having leave his farm.
Our cutting edge technology
Wefarm has built a service which has already enabled millions of farmers in isolated rural locations to share information by SMS across four languages families: English, Swahili, Luganda and Runyakitara. As far as we are aware, we have developed the first large-scale dataset and built the first NLP models for multiple regional African languages, able to understand intent and to identify (with spell-checking) when a farmer talks about a specific crop. We have built custom algorithms to identify the users best placed to answer a question. And we have begun to identify real-world trends within our unique multilingual text data.
Moreover, as farmers start to gain access to smartphones, Wefarm will remain ‘channel agnostic’ - connecting farmers who have smartphones with farmers who still have basic feature phones. Our ability to recognise local regional languages such as Luganda and Ruyankore, will be fundamental to enabling these farmers to connect in the future and consequently share both knowledge and commerce.
What difference does it make?
Our network is growing exponentially by 2k farmers a day (it took nearly 5 months to reach our first 2k users in 2015). We recently processed over 1 million questions and answers in one month which is more than Quora and Stackoverflow combined.
We are on target to reach 2 million farmers by mid 2019, 15% of smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 and 30% by 202. And farmers use Wefarm A LOT - our active user rate is on par with Twitter (20%) and they keep using it - our retention rate (90%) is higher than WhatsApp.
And farmers tell us it really WORKS. 70% of farmers surveyed, reported improved prosperity since using Wefarm. They told us that Wefarm has helped them to produce higher quality product, increase yields, gain insight into market pricing, tackle the effects of climate change, diversify agricultural interests and much more.
Take Michael from Kenya, whose tea was affected by three different diseases. He asked Wefarm about each one and received solution from farmers who had already faced the same problems. Their advice ultimately saved his farm and nearly doubled his tea yield, which is ultimately helping him and his family access new opportunities.
In the future, Wefarm will empower millions of farmers across the world to have the power in their hands to work, grow and prosper, together.
If you have any questions