Ghanaian technology company, Farmerline, CTA top 20 innovations in 2015, is empowering 100,000 smallholder farmers to become successful entrepreneurs by connecting them to agricultural information, services and markets. We spoke with Alloysius Attah, Farmerline CEO, on the challenges facing African agribusinesses, and the platforms that have supported the company along the way.
Farmerline’s mobile messaging platform allows governments, development partners and businesses to provide smallholders with fast and low-cost crop management updates, bridging the information gap in access to expert agricultural information and real-time data support. The innovative technology comprises an outbound voice messaging service, interactive mobile surveys for monitoring and reporting on agricultural interventions, and a dedicated support line that farmers can contact to answer specific questions.
“The main inspiration behind Farmerline is wealth creation for African farmers and African agri-businesses”, says Farmerline’s CEO, Alloysius Attah. “The size of the food market in Africa is predicted to be $1 trillion – much more food needs to be created by African farmers”, he continues. Towards this end, crucial data including weather forecasts, best farming practices, financial tips and market information are communicated directly to farmers to help them increase their yields and connect with markets. Farmer-based organisations and NGOs are also able to reach farmers in their local languages using the interactive surveys. “My mission is to throw more light to action, improve livelihoods for African farmers and share the best practices with my colleagues and other Africans on the continent. How they can use their hands, their talent and their brains to capture some of this wealth to make their communities and their families better.”
Building business resilience
Now six years in, Attah explains that the company has a deeper understanding of the problems they are helping to address, and the market they are working in. “Africa is not perfect so we have to stress test our goals. What are the root causes of our issues? Some of them will be within our control, like organisation change, some will be out of our control, like the economy of the country we’re based in,” he says. What is important, Attah continues, is to design a business that can withstand the challenges and realities of the local context. “People who look at challenges as stepping stones for the prize ahead will win in this market. The lights go out, the energy bill goes up, the currency gets devalued… all these things are going to happen because it’s Africa. Many things will come at you without you knowing, but people who survive are those who keep their eye on the prize.”
Whilst fully aware of the unique challenges, Attah thinks it’s time the continent was taken seriously as a place for doing business instead of a place to save. “I’ve been to many conferences around the world and many don’t consider Africa as a partner for business and wealth creation. From child labour to deforestation, they treat Africa as a continent that needs to be cured”, he says. In November 2019, Attah was asked to speak at the Global Business Forum Africa, which was held in Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, and focused on scaling up business connections between Africa and Dubai. “In Dubai, it was completely different. It is not about saving Africa or bringing aid, they want to work together to one goal and benefit. They said: you’ve got this, you know how to do this, let’s do business together.”
A profitable partnership
Since 2013, Farmerline has also received support from CTA, which in 2015 selected the company as one of their top 20 innovations benefiting smallholder farmers. Farmerline went on to work with CTA on their Apps4Ag Learning Opportunities initiative, which held 20 training workshops across Ghana to build the capacity of over 500 users of agriculture-related mobile apps. “CTA has also worked alongside us on many other projects, unselfishly exposing us to their audience, and giving us a platform to showcase our knowledge and insight as a growing company. It is not a stretch to say that CTA has been of tremendous assistance in the success of Farmerline's pursuit to create lasting profit for farmers everywhere,” Attah confirms. The company is also featured in the recently published CTA-Dalberg Advisors Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report, 2018-2019, which provides a first-of-its-kind review of contemporary data on digital solutions enabling Africa’s agricultural transformation.