How to bridge the gap between smallholder farmers and the market?

We had an interview with one of our venture builders, Arpana Philip. She is in charge for the development of Sokolink; our latest FoodFlow solution. She will be discussing her insights on how to efficiently connect smallholder farmers to the market.

What is market linkage? 

Market linkage is a pilot that Enviu is conducting as part of its Foodflow program in East Africa. The pilot is testing the creation of a transparent, fair, reliable marketplace for small holder farmers who, because of their size, location & dispersion are reliant on informal brokers. We create a marketplace by engaging big buyers, grouping small farmers into selling groups, conducting quality control, and organising logistics to move produce from farmgate to buyer. 

Why is Enviu piloting market linkage?

 In Kenya, where one-third of its population is food insecure, it seems surprising that as much as 50% of fruit & vegetables produced is lost after harvest. Enviu’s FoodFlow program envisions a food system with zero loss. This is accomplished through its chain of inter-linked social enterprises that provide third party services to the food industry to reduce food loss and improve farmer livelihoods. SokoFresh (an Enviu venture) is the venture at the start of this process, which provides cold storage at the farmgate. However, a critical component to incentivising farmers to use best practices such as cold storage is by connecting them to markets. Our market linkage initiative is being tested for minimal time from cold storage or farmgate to market thereby reducing loss, and the establishment of a transparent supply chain where farmers are informed about the players in the process, margins at each level, and the risks involved. Lastly, it provides the most important need of a small holder farmer – fair, reliable offtake.

What are we testing/validating with this pilot? 

We have begun testing with the Avocado value chain, and in our pilots so far, have been able to identify farmers with high quality produce, and pay them at least 50% above market price. Other questions we are validating are on how to create selling groups among farmers, how to control quality remotely, how to integrate technology into operations, etc. In terms of how we test this concept, we use the lean start-up processes and human-centred design to place the farmer at the centre of our solution. We spend time with diverse groups of small holder farmers trying to understand their challenges, testing out improvements, listening to feedback, changing approach, and triallingtrialing again. 

What are your interests with market linkage? Is this something you are passionate about?

 Oh definitely. Since my early 20s, I have been passionate about experimenting with financially sustainable business models that impact poverty. And the 15 million smallholder farmers in Kenya are some of the poorest in the country because they cultivate small parcels of land, incur high input costs, and are cut-off from markets. This means that most farmers are forced to sell their produce at/lower than their cost of production, trapping them in a cycle of poverty. During our study of farmers, it was evident that by providing farmers with access to markets, we would be directly improving livelihoods. This is why there is nothing else I would rather be doing right now than piloting market linkage with the Enviu team.