Farmer Capability Lab

More than 70 million smallholder farmers (SHF) work across Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) and grow 70-80% of its food, yet these farmers are marginalized. Smallholder productivity across SSA is typically low, at only 56% of the world’s average and many farmers produce barely enough to sustain their households. Smallholders lack access to inputs, financial services, market linkages and basic skills that are needed to improve their productivity and income.

Often when these emerging services are available, farmers lack the skills, information and trust to take advantage of them. At the same time, many of the innovative service providers trying to reach farmers struggle to build farmer capability and trust in a viable and scalable manner.

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At the Farmer Capability Lab, we believe that technology can provide avenues to help farmers increase their skills and effectively access and utilize financial and other value added services. The Lab will explore how combinations of trusted, farmer-facing institutions and technology-enabled content and communications can benefit farmers and the providers who serve them. As a component of the AgriFin Accelerate program, the Farmer Capability Lab will work with experienced partners to develop and test SHF capability tools and sustainable delivery approaches, establishing proof points around impact for farmers and viability for providers.

Farmer Capability can be built in a number of areas, including:

Improving Management Skills

Most farmers do not have access to up-to-date information on the best farming practices. Training farmers on new techniques and technologies can dramatically increase farmers productivity, while helping them farm sustainably over time. Improving agriculture in Africa is a clear priority to meet the challenges of persistent food crises. A clear challenge in farmer training has been cost and quality of service, given the large numbers and great distances involved in serving them.

Developing Market Linkages

Market access remains one of the biggest challenges that the smallholder farmer faces. Even if farmers can increase production, without stable access to markets, they cannot convert their productivity into higher income. Farmers often rely on brokers who offer very low prices. Burdened with financial strains and lack of market information, farmers are often price takers. On the other hand, buyers are increasingly seeking higher quality standards and traceability for products. The Farmer Capability Lab will work with digital platform providers to connect farmers more efficiently to markets, helping farmers gain fairer prices for their produce.

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Digital & Financial Literacy

While great effort is typically placed in developing products and services for smallholder farmers, often less emphasis is placed on ensuring that these products and services are understandable and useful for the farmer. Existing programs to build financial and digital literacy are often expensive and little is known about the real impact and cost.

Typically when donor funding for these programs end, the training also ends. The Farmer Capability Lab will test and track impact and cost of innovative new methods to build this capacity, communicating results to market actors serving farmers.

The Farmer Capability Lab will work in a number of ways:

  • Conduct farmer-centric research to inform tool design, building specific farmer feedback mechanisms to understand what works for youth and women;
  • Identify and engage leading ecosystem actors providing content, tools and platforms to train farmers, supporting and testing services and sharing learning publicly;
  • Identify and engage trusted farmer-facing partners to support service delivery, such as farmer unions, NGOs, MFIs, agrodealers and agricultural extension providers, working to model sustainable approaches;
  • Incorporate the Lab’s work in all AgriFin Accelerate partner engagements in order to increase farmer adoption and active use of products and services;
  • The Lab will offer a limited number of Challenge Fund grants on a competitive, rolling basis to organizations which have developed and tested capability-building tools demonstrating value for women and/or youth farmers. Partners may apply to the Fund for grants of up to $35,000 to support specific activities intended to scale the solution to at least 100,000 SHF.