Whoever hurriedly reads the title above may not understand the use of capital letters differing WEALTH from wealth. However, no one would deny that Water and sanitation, Energy, Agriculture, Learning and skill building, Technology, and Health (in brief, WEALTH) are needed to create real impact and sustainable local, regional, and international development in the lives of persons living in the base of the pyramid.
Small farmer households form a very large portion of the developing world's population, and thus, of the entire world, and their well-being is critical to local sustainable development and to the food supply chain. Nevertheless, these households are constantly under jeopardy, due to reasons ranging from access to water and sanitation to unavailable multiple agriculture-related skills and techniques (which include soil testing, seeds quality, fertilizers, pests management, weather forecast etc.), to the lack of finance, marketing, and logistics advisory for their yield.
The farming cycle that needs to be handled by the smallholder farmer often requires him/her to deal with difficult situations with little knowledge and great uncertainties, consuming time and labor he/she should be expending with his/her land and culture.
Thus, an ICT-enabled small farmer centric approach capable of leveraging the income of such households and bringing in benefits to their quality of life, including access to education, health, vocational training etc., would empower farmers, create jobs, reduce inefficiency, and provide access to a myriad of information channels connecting different stakeholders in the agriculture chain.
This approach is possible and is becoming even more concrete through the work done in Orissa, India, by eKutir
), an innovation and knowledge hub operating as a sustainable rural development oriented enterprise. eKutir first ventured in to provision of ICT solutions for Agriculture with Grameen-Intel Social Business
), in Orissa, India.
The breakthrough with two "Agri tools" - Ankur and Mrittikka - has had considerable impact on the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers. Other than Orissa, Grameen-Intel is deploying this solution in Bangladesh and looking for pilots in the South-East Asia, to increase the outreach and impact of the ICT tools only. Grameen-Intel has been and continues to actively contribute in the space of agriculture with the domain expertise taken from eKutir.
Social tools developed by eKutir enable to track the entire portfolio of farmers and easily manage it. Essential ingredients to the best farm practices are clubbed together to provide optimized output from the planning to production and purchase. Seed selection, soil nutrient analysis and fertilizer use, and even risks mitigation solutions are all transformed into "Agri Tools" made available to smallholder farmers through the social entrepreneurship of last-mile agents who provide farmers with various essential and cost-effective services at the village level.
These social entrepreneurs are selected among those who know the agro domain and have the language and relationship skills, and the drive and risk taking capacity to co-invest in the project. They are supported by a sound but simple ICT network providing minimal hardware tools, easy to handle software and Internet access, what gives the project the characteristics of being scalable and replicable.
Thus, besides ICT4WEALTH, another concept is equally important for the building up of such a pioneering initiative, and this is a PIE Social Business Model, i.e., a Participatory, ICT-enabled, Entrepreneurial driven Model.
A PIE Social Business Model places the farmer as the major stakeholder and central to the agriculture ecosystem value chain, directing its work to the development of local communities. The ICT-enabled approach makes possible for the farmer to concentrate on his farming, while receiving advices from multiple stakeholders who generally operate in different channels through a single window tool localized at the village level. An entrepreneurial driven approach creates jobs, empowers the community and promotes change through local partnerships and capacity.
Impacts at community level include
reducing their fragmentation and isolation,
providing additional funds to redeploy into improving family health, education and self-actualization needs,
removing inefficiencies in the value chain formed by farmers, suppliers, end-marketers, and financers,
optimal use of resources, knowledge, expertise and best practices, resulting in maximization of yield and productivity, and
better market choices through better access to pricing information discovery and fulfillment.
Pilot projects conducted in the region of Orissa resulted in 27% higher costs for informed farmers, but also 15% higher production rates, 122% increased sales rates for better-varied crop, quality and quantity, and 423% increased cash flow. Last-mile social entrepreneurs recovered their capital expenditure in 7 months, while operating within 20% of total addressable farmers and offering a fraction of total types of services. In one year, these agents saw increased cash flows and stature in village hierarchy.
At the other end of the value chain, financers can provide credit and monitor the progress of the farmer, and eventual success of the loan. This is possible through better information on farmers holdings, crop distribution patterns, past income and ability to foresee future income, supply of quality seeds and inputs, involvement and advice of experimented agro researches and professionals, and increased price potential due to aggregation and leverage of better products and services.
Researchers and agriculture experts back in universities can now productively and conveniently interact in an individualized manner with a wide farmer-base without expending time and resources visiting farms to diagnose and address agriculture issues at grass-roots level, and thus coping with farmers' real problems and needs.
Partnering with eKutir and contributing to its ICT4WEALTH efforts, GrameenMobia Social Enterprise also seeks to ensure this concept becomes all-pervasive and is used for the common good and emancipation of persons living at the bottom of the pyramid. GrameenMobia and eKutir work together during the incubation phase, when those tools are developed and tested with the users in the field. Farmers give feedback at each stage of development and their suggestions are integrated into the system. Therefore, customization is an integral part in creating a data driven and objective decision-making.
GrameenMobia and eKutir function independently of each other, but eKutir is an "Innovations & Knowledge Lab" to GrameenMobia, where the testing of the prototypes is done with the operational implementation of the PIE Social Business Model. Once validated, social tools are made market-ready and rolled out with partnering grassroots organizations or implemented with the Government in a multi-stakeholder approach, thereby creating value and adding impact.
Through their direct work with small farmers in the field, financers, marketers, researchers and other professionals, and entire communities dedicated to agriculture in rural India and other South-East Asia countries creating WEALTH to generate wealth, both knowledge-driven eKutir and ICT-driven GrameenMobia Social Enterprises are contributing with more transparency and governance in the Agriculture sector. Connecting all those stakeholders and enabling them to operate in the same direct channel with farmers creates an opportunity for income generation and mutual development.
Vinícius is a graduate in International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo and current MBA student of Project Management at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.