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29 Posts authored by: community.manager

Opportunity International Bank Malawi has been working to expand financial services and products for smallholder farmers in Malawi. In partnership with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, OIBM successfully scaled up services to base-of-the-pyramid customers in rural areas, specifically for groOIBM.jpgundnut, soybean, and orange-fleshed sweet potato value chains.

During the partnership, OIBM disbursed more than 5,000 loans (50 percent of borrowers were women) with an average loan size of $93, and trained more than 10,000 farmers in good agricultural practices and financial literacy. 9,272 farmers benefited from OIBM’s banking services. One key to OIBM’s success was its focus on providing intensive training and support to its smallholder farmer customers.

Recognizing that an educated customer is a less risky customer, OIBM conducted not only conducted “group sensitization” sessions with farmers about its financial products, but coupled that with additional training on financial literacy and good agriculture practices. OIBM implemented these additional trainings by partnering with NGOs and government extension service providers. This helped keep costs low so that OIBM products could bring profit to the bank, and the bank could keep providing financial services to smallholder farmers in Malawi


Training farmers in financial literacy and good agricultural practices reduced OIBM’s risk for working with smallholder farmers, who tend to lack disposable income or hold assets that banks generally use to reduce their risk, since the bank can simply seize and sell an asset to cover their losses for a defaulting customer. When OIBM customers understand how to calculate “money-in” and “money-out” in terms of calculating their costs versus income for paying off a loan or credit product, they pay their bills on time. And when customers apply good agricultural practices, of which many lack knowledge, they improve their yields, making more to re-pay their loans and perhaps even expand their farming business, requesting higher loan amounts and other financial products that ultimately are more profitable for OIBM to administer. The trainings also incentivized farmers to access the financial services in the first place, and even sign up for more when they found success with their initial participation.


Farmers like Sophilina, who lives in the small village of Chilima in Lilongwe District, participated in the OIBM trainings and accessed OIBM loans. With access to these financial services, she was able to establish her own nursery for orange-flesh sweet potato vines. 


The lesson from this story for any entrepreneur or business working in base-of-the-pyramid markets is clear: Understand and invest in your customer in complementary ways. Doing so helps them to use your product effectively, benefiting them in multiple ways and creating stronger, better customers who can “graduate” into using higher value versions of your products. It is good for your customer, your business, and ultimately, the communities that you are working in.


How can your company integrate some of these practices in order to build a strong customer base in smallholder markets?

See more on the partnership: Equipping Malawian Smallholders to Increase Yields; Empowering Rural Women through Good Agricultural Practice Training

sophie sikwese

Opportunity Bank Malawi

Mark Sevier


The United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper has a section covering news explicitly about social enterprises.  Foundations, from Rockefeller Foundation and Omidyar Network to small family foundations, are funding them. A growing group of “impact investors” are also investing in them. So what are they, these social enterprises?


In October, members of the Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation team attended the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference where thousands of social enterprises and entrepreneurs met, alongside impact investors, government donors, and accelerators. At SOCAP, participants discussed the state of the impact investment sector and the role and definition of social enterprises and “accelerator” support organizations, which provide capacity building to social enterprises. There were numerous sessions to further define and codify concepts of social enterprises and the investment landscape, all looking at varying definitions and ideas. 


I kept my ears open for the most common themes about “what a social enterprise is”, and here is what I found:


  1. A social enterprise is a company or any organization that has profit as its bottom line, as well as a social impact bottom line putting people, planet, and profit on equal footing. 
  2. A social enterprise is any organization that provides solutions to societal problems through a commercial or money-making approach.
  3. A social enterprise is any organization that, as its mission, couples financial sustainability and social impact into their core business model/operations.


What these three themes have in common is that a social enterprise does not need to be a business; it just needs to have both a commercial and a social focus. For more conventional businesses, integrating a social enterprise model into their work can enable them to integrate social impact into their ongoing commercial operations. For traditional non-profits, developing a social enterprise spin-off can complement the social mission while making it a more financially independent nonprofit (rather than depending on donations). For newer start-ups – both non-profits and for-profits – being a social enterprise provides a pathway for making social impact and financial sustainability central to operations from the outset.

So, what is the bottom line for what a social enterprise is? First, a social enterprise is not a new phenomenon or type of organization. The sector is formalizing itself as one where business is done by making both money and social impact a priority in strategies and operations.  Second, a social enterprise makes money while making positive social impact.


SOCAP acts as a hub for bringing the sector together not only to further define itself, but to grow and do better. Organizations such as the Global Impact Investor Network (GIIN) and Toniic are educating investors to make better investment choices in social enterprises, and standards such as IRIS educate social enterprises on how to measure their social and financial impact. Entrepreneur networks and awardees, such as the Ashoka Fellows and the Skoll Awards, showcase what successful social enterprises and entrepreneurs look like. 

Below are some articles and resources helping to define social enterprises. Before you check them out, I’m curious: Do you define your organization or business as a social enterprise? If yes, what makes your business/organization a social enterprise? If not, how do you define your business/organization’s social values? Please share in the comments section below!

A few helpful resources:


One of goals of the Partnering for Innovation team at SOCAP was to bring back what they learned to you, members of the AgTechXChange! The last Learn! article featured advice on what type funding to look for, while this one focuses on looking at what makes a  “social enterprise” or “social entrepreneur.” You can find the first article here.

Last week, Evan - an intern with the AgTech Team - wrote about a key message she heard at the Global Innovation Summit in Washington, DC: the importance of human centered design (HCD) in scaling innovations. This bottom-up approach focuses on integrating customers, including smallholder farmers typically thought of as "beneficiaries," into what products/ services to innovate, how to build solutions, and how to distribute them.


After reading Evan's insights I wanted to share how one of the partnerships we invested in on behalf of USAID - with Grameen Foundation and Musoni - used HCD to improve banking services to bottom-of-the-pyramid customers. I am going to cheat a little, because Grameen Foundation explained the processes and results themselves in past Connect! posts. Here is the full link, and below are excerpts that capture how helpful HCD can be to companies working where all of us AgTechXChange community members work: emerging, and mostly agricultural, markets!


With funding from Feed The Future Partnering for Innovation and technical support from Grameen Foundation Musoni has designed and implemented a USSD solution, Musoni Mobile, which provides customers with account information and account management capability. The design process applied human-centered design approaches to make it user friendly for the customer who was engaged and involved in the entire process. The decision to use USSD and not a mobile application was informed by Musoni’s customer profile and the desire to deliver a simple solution that would be accessible, affordable and useable by people at the bottom of the pyramid.


The result of this end-user focused approach is demonstrated by the speed at which uptake numbers are growing. Less than two months after the pilot was launched, over 6,8772 clients have registered for the service and carried out more than 12, 857** transactions, all of which have registered a 100% success rate. Not a single transaction has failed. Achieving such a success rate is commendable for any technology solution, but it requires considerable effort to accomplish.


You can see that by using HCD, Grameen Foundation and Musoni's work together could reach thousands of clients, quickly. How does that look for individual clients? Let's find out about one farmer, Ruth (full story here), who went from being a farm hand to a farm owner!


Ruth remembers clearly when things changed for her family. It had been tough supporting her children while her husband struggled with alcohol. She spent her days working as a farm hand in her community in Kenya and her evening fetching water and firewood and preparing the family meal.  It was hard to afford food.


When Ruth joined Musoni, she saved up the little she had until she was able to get educational loans for her daughter's schooling.

Her third loan - a Kilimo Booster loan - gave her the break she needed for her family. Developed by Grameen Foundation and Musoni, Kilimo Booster is designed for smallholder farmers and offers repayment terms that match a farmer’s crop and cash cycles.


Ruth was able to buy a cow and rent plots of land to farm, and has continued to expand her business with additional loans.

Since Kilimo Booster’s launch in 2013, Musoni has disbursed over US$10million in loans to more than 6,000 farmers. Over the next year, Grameen Foundation will help it expand its outreach significantly through targeted marketing campaigns to reach even more farmers like Ruth.


Do you have experience working with HCD? If yes, tell your story below! Also, check out an interview with Steven Carleton, a self-proclaimed fanatic of customer experience and operational excellence, who has worked with industry giants like Apple, Genentech, and most recently, as COO of Global Shipping at eBay. He talks about the importance of being "customer-centric" and walking in the customer's shoes, in any size company! He also shares that senior leadership, including at C-Suite level, need to be driving company culture towards being customer-centric. Being customer-centric is certainly central to human centered design!

In Bangladesh, members of the AgTech Team* are working with The Metal, an agricultural company that is commercializing small-scale farm machinery through its farm machinery hubs. In collaboration with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, The Metal is introducing and selling mechanized reapers to local service providers who in turn offer reaping services to smallholder farmers. The reapers are sold through six full-service farm machinery hubs that sell, service, and promote mechanized equipment. Sales are coupled with extensive operations, maintenance, and business training along with a broad-reaching public awareness and marketing campaign.


The partnership to commercialize the reaper services through the farm machinery hubs started in 2016, and since then many lessons have been learned that are useful for sharing with members of the AgTechXChange. One of the key lessons is that mechanization products (reapers, tillers, etc.) are still not affordable or practical for smallholder farmers to purchase because they have limited financial resources and small plots of land. They simply cannot afford the relatively expensive machinery.


Given the limitations for smallholder farmers to purchase machinery, The Metal adjusted its business model to identify entrepreneurs who could aggregate farmers into groups. In doing so, farmers could rent reaper services. The local service providers learned, by working through this model with The Metal, that they were able to pay off the loans they took out to purchase reapers and make a profit by offering reaping services to farmer groups.


One 35-year old entrepreneur, Hafizur Rahman, became a local service provider and began offering reaper services to other farmers in his community. Hafizur bought a reaper from The Metal and received training in reaper use, maintenance, and marketing. In the recent rice harvesting season, he provided services to fifty smallholder farmers and earned $1,050. This amount covered his operating costs within just 25 days of the season starting. You can read more about Hafizur and other entrepreneurs who are benefiting from The Metal’s business model by clicking here and you can see The Reaper in action below! You can also read about business models that are generally relevant to effectively working in smallholder markets here

* The AgTech Team is the staff of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a USAID-funded program that helps to commercialize agricultural innovations in smallholder markets.

The Metal (Pvt.) Limited.Matthew Krause Bob Rabatsky


What We Are Reading

Posted by community.manager Jul 10, 2017

Check out some helpful resources that the AgTech Team is reading!


The Ag Tech Market Map: Maps out 100+ startups that are “powering the future of farming and agribusiness” around the world with a particular focus on the U.S. Check it out to learn about cool new ag technologies and to find out who is funding them.


WeedScout is a Bayer-developed software that crowdsources experts’ images to identify weeds. Dr. Hans-Joachim Santel, Weed Scientist at Bayer, says that weed identification is the initial step in weed control and to ultimately helping reduce errors that affect farm profitability. When a farmer correctly identifies a weed, they can apply the correct practice and treatment to control the weed, meaning less time purchasing unneeded chemicals.


In Uganda, Pineapple Crisps Are a Money Maker for Nakiwala. Nakiwala is processing fresh fruits for sale locally and in the EU and is continually innovating her business model to create more profit. Learn from her experience to kick-start your off-the-shelf business solution that supports development outcomes.


Agricultural systems don't just feed the world, they create jobs that keep rural and urban citizens employed and national employment levels growing. Learn about how smart partnerships boost job creation by centering planning on business models that connect farmers, buyers and the public sector.


Women in Mozambique bear the brunt of civil war, droughts and floods, which ultimately affects entrepreneurs and how they overcome civil unrest to keep their business’ going while creating strong social value locally.


Should America Keep Giving Billions Of Dollars To Countries In Need? This article discusses a fundamental disconnect between Congressional expectations for what aid should measure up to, namely national economic gains where funds are dispersed (rather than the outcomes discrete program are geared to contribute to, like agriculture gains, education improvements, etc.). Helpful for understanding current debates about US foreign aid.

Facebook, Google, Amazon…why are these among the most powerful companies in the world? One important, and undeniable, reason is because they understand consumer behavior. These top companies understand what drives their customers' decision-making, and they capitalize on that knowledge. What’s more is that they’ve done this by applying simple metrics and marketing frameworks such as segmentation, targeting, and positioning. Information that companies are already collecting - such as demographics, usage patterns, and monitoring what their customers like, what they search for, and what they purchase - can be put to even more work sooner rather than later.


Smallholders are our customers. Whether we are agrodealers selling inputs to smallholder farmers, buyers/processors sourcing products from smallholder farmers, financial service providers lending to smallholder farmers, or development practitioners, smallholders are crucial to our business models as valued clients. Understanding their behavior and what drives their decision-making has enormous potential in improving our businesses. Quality farmer-level data generate important insight that supports marketing and our overall businesses.


However, getting the right data at the right time, while fostering trust among value chain actors, can be complicated and the costs and considerations associated with data collection and analysis can be daunting. We need to recognize the need to invest in quality data rather than let its layers of complexity stop us from collecting it, analyzing it, and using it. Data doesn’t have to be complex. Basic metrics can be extremely valuable despite the numerous variables that need to be thought through for collecting it. The work needs to be put in, though - there is no silver bullet, no one metric, that will solve all marketing issues. There is no one data collection strategy that will work for every scenario. The practical challenges are the ones to focus on and solve.


Importantly- all the data collection, and later analysis, must all be done within our often razor-thin profit margins.  Therefore, data must be robust yet low-cost. Check out the two webinars below, if you haven't already, to get tips about the value of data, what types of data to collect to support marketing, how to collect quality data, and how to use all of this data using the concepts of segmentation, targeting, and positioning.

Have more questions, thoughts, or ideas? Simply ask and post them below! 


* Farmer-level data can also be used for social impact reporting, an integral part of working with any development donor working with private companies in smallholder markets. Check out this article for more on that!

Collecting Marketing Data


Using Marketing Data


Shocks like conflict and extreme weather have a disproportionate impact on smallholder farmers, especially women. Most smallholder farmers live harvest to harvest and don’t have a safety net to fall back on in case of events like drought. USAID and the larger development community have been increasing their investment in recent years in building farmers’ resilience to these shocks.


Such investments have been through programs that spread the availability of improved inputs like drought- and heat-tolerant seed varieties and irrigation technologies, and training farmers in good agricultural practices that increase crop diversification, reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, conserve water, and grow more on less land (“sustainable intensification”). Additionally, by increasingly focusing on agriculture as a business, development organizations are helping increase farmer incomes, enabling farmers to invest more in resilience-building activities and providing a financial cushion when shocks reduce or even prevent production.


As the private sector’s role in agricultural development increases so does its role in building farmer resilience. As providers of inputs and services, companies ensure that farmers have access to the products and services that enable farmers to prepare for and survive shocks. Private sector companies are also important drivers of innovation, developing and commercializing technologies that help build resilience. For example, better irrigation technology allows farmers to grow more with less water and legume inoculants reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer by harnessing plants’ natural nitrogen fixation. Some companies also provide services like training and demo plot management that help farmers learn good agricultural practices that build resilience. And unlike most development programs, which usually only last for a fixed period of time, private companies are invested in building a long-term, sustainable market presence.


With the donor community increasingly focusing on resilience, companies interested in partnering with donors like USAID may want to consider how resilience is built into their business operations and how this can help build stronger partnerships.


How is your company helping build farmers’ ability to get through shocks like drought or flooding? How might your activities connect to USAID and other donor development goals for smallholder farmer resiliency?

Sudden drought, floods, and other extreme weather changes gravely affect the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Weather fluctuations make vulnerabilities more difficult to plan for, let alone overcome. Unfortunately, these extreme weather variations also impact women more than men.*


International institutes and individual country governments are beginning to respond to this “asymmetrical” effect on women. For example, the Paris Agreement includes gender equality as a guiding principal, and forty countries have explicitly integrated gender into their nationally determined contributions (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. However, consider this fact: there are only 28 countries in the world that have equal land rights for women and men. This is in spite of research that shows women’s access to land is paramount to a nation’s food security.

Large-, medium-, and small-sized businesses are also contributing more and more to women’s equality in agriculture. They are recognizing the benefits women bring to their companies and to the social well-being of the communities where those companies operate. Below are three examples of companies that are explicitly focusing on women to find success in business and build progress towards social equality.

Before you read on, think of a few things your company is doing or could do better to explicitly integrate gender issues within your operations. What will you do to make it happen, and how can others help? Let us know in the comments section below!

  • Stewards Globe, a woman-owned company in Zambia, produces and sells certified seed varieties of groundnut, soybean, common bean, sunflower, and cow pea. In a country where the seed market is dominated by companies producing maize seed, Stewards Globe represents the first commercial supply of these food crop seeds that finally meets the growing demand among farmers. Stewards Globe uses an outgrower scheme – outsourcing production to smallholder farmers – and a marketing strategy that increases awareness of its brand through demonstration plots, field days, and promotional materials. It is working to have the majority of its outgrowers be women farmers. 


  • Solar Sister, also a women-owned company, operates in three countries - Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria. Its team of business development associates trains and advises women solar entrepreneurs. It also taps into the social network of the solar entrepreneurs to distribute solar energy solutions to the “last mile” of rural women.


  • Export Marketing Company Limited (EMCL) in Mozambique identified and selected 38 women entrepreneurs, training them on business management skills for marketing and sales of agriculture inputs and mechanization services. EMCL also equips the women entrepreneurs with technical expertise about the products and services, helping them to increase sales and thus income.

Importantly, the examples above are also creating community-level changes through business solutions. Smart business contributes to social and economic equality and stronger markets – tell us how your business is part of the solution!

* Read more here and check out more from the John's Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies Global Women in Leadership work!


What is striga weed?

Posted by community.manager Apr 10, 2017

Striga, commonly known as witchweed, is a parasitic plant that affects maize, East Africa's dominant agriculture crop. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, 1.4 million hectares of land are affected, causing as much as 80 percent crop loss. Such losses have catastrophic implications for the farmers that depend on growing maize because they often need to abandon their fields to the striga. With the African Agriculture Technology Foundation, a remedy is being commercialized: StrigAway. The video says it all:


StrigAway is an herbicide-coated maize seed that, when planted, reduces striga. It saves entire crops and incomes because it reduces farmers' risk of losing their business to the noxious weed. Commercializing it takes a mix of building demand, training farmers how to use the seed, packaging it for farmers to be able to afford, and demonstrating how it increases yields so that a farmer recoups the cost of the slightly more expensive seed. As Gospel Omanya says in the video below, "The math is clear because the yield brings the difference." What is that difference? With StrigAway seed, a farmer pays $20 to grow at least $200 of maize as compared to the conventional seed, for which $14 yields only $20 of profit.


Despite the fact that StrigAway brings such a clear benefit to farmers working in striga-prone areas of East Africa, it is not simple to promote it among farmers. A few lessons about commercializing seed that come from StrigAway include: 1) Packaging must clearly denote the seed's ability to knock out striga; 2) Agrodealers must be trained to market the product in terms of its properties to overcome striga; and 3) Most technologies, including seed, will need to build in climate-smart aspects in order for farmers to fully benefit, for example by bundling irrigation solutions.

The AgTech Team is always keeping up to date with interesting agriculture and technology-related resources and news. Below are some articles that we are reading and talking about. Have one you want to share? Simply post to Connect! or reply to this post below.


Measuring the impact of initiatives focused on smallholder farmers: Check out successful examples of tracking smallholder impact from the Grow Africa working group to help you better report and market how your company is beneficially impacting smallholder farmers.

Better Business. Better World.: If you aren’t familiar with the UN Sustainable Development Goals but you are working in emerging markets, this primer makes clear the connections between how businesses can profit while they contribute to the sustainable development goals.


Developing a Mobile Client Facing Interface: Musoni and Grameen Foundation are finding success in making loans profitable for farmers and the Musoni loan portfolio. Check out details about how to get inspired on ways for breaking into smallholder markets.


AgFunder News: This outlet always has great news about agriculture, technology, and investment. Check out their latest round-up of news from Latin America.


Global Accelerator Survey: Did you know that 70 percent of respondents to a recent GALI (Global Accelerator Learning Initiative) survey operate in emerging markets? To find an accelerator near you, or to better understand how an accelerator can help grow your business, check it out! While you are at it, consider applying for a SOCAP scholarship, where you meet entrepreneurs, funders, and businesses of all sorts who are making ‘doing good’ their business.

Over the last few weeks we looked at Last Mile Marketing and Last Mile Marketing: Targeting customer segments through personas, which are two key concepts for understanding smallholder markets more precisely. The third concept, positioning, builds on the first two concepts. Let’s summarize the three concepts before looking at positioning:


  1. Segmentation: Using data to understand the general marketplace in a more detailed way, and categorize customers into segments, or similar groups, for better marketing based on that data.
  2. Targeting: Analyzing the data from segmentation to understand which segments your product will most appeal to (and thus produce higher sales from).
  3. Positioning: Developing advertisements that speak directly to your target segments in a way that most appeals to them. 



Positioning a product means appealing to target segment needs, desires, goals, and dreams. Take four and half minutes to watch the below video. In it, the three concepts of segmentation, targeting, and positioning (STP) come together through a major brand, McDonald's. The video shows how McDonald’s uses data to understand its potential market segments and then positions its products in ways that “will be most compelling to a particular segment,” as Carol Sagers, their director of USA marketing, says.



The video highlights that STP insights are based on data; the data provides information about consumer behavior, values, needs, and lifestyles for targeted segments. Carol Sagers says “We are constantly, every day, all week long, collecting information and data about the different segments…and what we pull from these segments are insights, pieces of information that help us understand how to describe our products.” These descriptions position a product in a way that targeted segments will hear and be drawn to. In the video, we learn that McDonald's has a dedicated staff member at the director level for each of its major segments, from young adults and women to Hispanic and Asian consumer segments. The example of their southwest chicken salad is used to show how it is positioned to each segment, including sub-segments such as African-American men as compared to African-American women.


Of course, most small start-ups and companies operating in smallholder markets do not usually have a highly resourced marketing department. So what can we take away from the approach to STP that McDonald's uses as discussed in the video?

  1. Collect basic data about your current and potential customers through surveys. Integrate marketing data collection into your business processes, such as at point of sale or product delivery to make it as inexpensive and efficient as possible. If possible, combine this marketing data collection with any social impact reporting you may need do for a funder or investor. This way you are collecting data all at once instead of through several separate mechanisms. The AgTechXChange will be hosting webinars and written content about this so please ask a team member if you have a question!
  2. Create personas to understand what you know and don’t know about your customers. Here is a helpful tool for developing personas.
  3. At a minimum, create positions for your products to each of your known customer segments so that you can get as much bang from your marketing budget as possible.


Do you have questions about how to implement STP? Check out our online tool or ask a member of the AgTech Team anytime – just click on this link and type in your question!

A single product can’t be everything to everyone! It is therefore important to determine specific segments of your potential market that will most benefit from your product and thus purchase it. Deciding your target segments can be based on several factors including size, growth potential, competition, accessibility, and the fit with your product’s attributes. The process of targeting helps you assess and select the specific customer segment for your product.


Precise targeting depends on the level of understanding you have about your market. Drawing on any personas you determined based on surveys will make targeting a breeze. It is important to know that by targeting your marketing you won’t be excluding anyone from purchasing your product, but rather you will be able to focus your marketing budget on segments that are more likely to purchase your product.


If you already developed personas, great (if not, you can get started using our handy online tool). Use your own persona or use our AgTechXChange example from last week, Ben, to use the questions below to determine which of your personas are most likely to be able to use your product.



Ben is a 35 year old man living in Tanzania. He has a small business selling improved seeds. He recently expanded the product line to include complementary fertilizers that can be used with his company’s seed or other seeds. His biggest challenge is increasing demand for the products among smallholder farmers. Ben’s income is a little below average for his area.


NEED: Does this persona need or want my product? Is my product solving a problem for this persona? What about my product does this persona need?

Ben may need information that helps him understand smallholder markets in his company’s sales region. The information could help him use new frameworks and tools for not only understanding smallholders in his sales regions but also for conducting surveys to get data about his potential smallholder customers. Therefore, Ben may need new ways to access information, such as the AgTechXChange. For example, Ben could use the articles about segmentation, targeting, and positioning to test new ways for understanding his market and thus increase demand for his company’s fertilizers and seeds.


MARKET: What is my competition for this persona? How big is this persona segment within the market? How might this persona interact with my other persona?

Ben represents a fair size of the market for the AgTechXChange simply because he is part of an agriculture company operating in a Feed the Future country. We have plans to do a market survey of AgTechXChange members so at this time it is difficult to accurately know if he represents a large proportion of AgTechXChange members, though we do know that the majority of users are small companies and entrepreneurs in Feed the Future countries. I think he will interact with my other personas – NGOs that he may want to partner with and funders from whom he may have received investment.


PRICE: What is the price this persona can pay for my product? What price concessions should I make (if any) for this persona? What are the prices of similar products for this persona?

Not applicable in this case because the AgTechXChange is free! However, how much do I think he would pay for using the AgTechXChange? Since Ben’s income is a little below average for his area, he may only be interested in paying if there is a sliding scale for payment and strong, actionable content that he can immediately use to improve his company’s sales.


MARKET HOMOGENEITY: In what ways is this persona like other identified segments? In what ways is this persona different from other identified personas? Can this persona be easily grouped with another persona to allow broader appeal?

Ben is very different from the other personas. He is a businessman and not an international development practitioner or funder. He cannot be easily grouped with the two other personas but has some of the same goals: to reach smallholder farmers and to provide products and services that support smallholder farmers to have higher productivity and income.


PREFERENCES: Can my product align with this persona’s preferences or wants?

Yes, the AgTechXChange would align with Ben’s preferences to understand his smallholder market better because the content, articles, and team fill in his knowledge gaps in ways that can help him immediately.


The answers to each of these questions tells me that Ben may just be an ideal customer as long as the AgTechXChange provides relevant and timely articles about how to build demand. Ben, and other personas similar to him, will be a great customer group to target. By answering the above questions about the personas you create, you can learn what segments, or specific groups of customers across your market, will be more likely to benefit from, and thus more likely to purchase, your product or service.  What do you think? Let us know in the comments below and next week we will show how to position AgTechXChange content to Ben as an example of positioning.

Envision one of your main customers – someone with whom you regularly do business (a distributor, farmer, or store owner). What is their age? Are they a man or a woman? What is their main occupation? Do they own their land? What is their biggest concern about their farming business? What is their biggest everyday farming challenge? What are their business goals? What are their dreams?


These are the types of questions that help build your customer “persona”. Personas represent who your customers are to identify more effective marketing to their needs and wants. We gave an overview in this post about segmentation, targeting, and positioning and personas a part of segmentation. This week we are delving deeper into what a persona might look like for better segmenting a smallholder market. Please note that it is best to systematically collect information about your customers to build accurate personas. However, if you haven’t done so through a survey, it is still helpful to build out a handful of personas based on what you do know about your main customers - especially those with whom you regularly do business.

Let’s do an example of the latter - where results from a market survey are not available but it is important to think through main customer types. For example, the AgTechXChange has more than 1,500 users and yet we haven’t surveyed any of you (shame on us). However, as the community manager I try to monitor what posts are getting the most views, what types of content users tend to comment on the most, and how often users are checking out the Learn! blogs (last week, 150 of you viewed the previous Learn! post about market surveys for building personas!).

Based on my observations, below are three personas for who I think a typical AgTechXChange user/customer is. Notice that I have written them as stories so I can really imagine each AgTechXChange customer. Each persona is an example of who I think I work with at least a few times a week.

Hi, my name is Kwesi. I am a 40 year old man living in Ghana. I work for an international NGO to improve the lives of cocoa farmers. To do this I work with big chocolate companies in Europe and together we implement public private partnerships that support improved planting materials. My biggest challenge is finding more funding to deliver high quality programs to cocoa growing communities. My other challenge is balancing the needs of the private sector with my NGO’s sustainability goals. For my area, my income is average.

Hi, my name is Ben. I am a 35 year old man living in Tanzania. I have a small business selling improved seeds. We recently expanded our product line to include complementary fertilizers that can be used with our seed or other seeds. My biggest challenge is increasing demand for our products among smallholder farmers. We have strong agro dealer networks. For my area my income is a little below average. My biggest concern is that farmers get improved seeds so my country can be food secure.

Hi, my name is Barbara. I’m a 62 year old woman living in the United States. I work at a private company that implements contracts on behalf of the United States Agency for International Development. I work with companies (food companies, agro dealers, exporters, small- and medium-sized innovators), NGOs, government officials, and other USAID contractors on a daily basis. I work specifically to help bring technologies to smallholder markets so that farmers can be more productive and get out of poverty. For my area, my income is average. My biggest challenge is connecting companies to investors.

After I wrote these I looked at them pretty closely and noticed a few things right away:

  1. Each persona is very different – the first is a program implementer sitting in an office in a major capital city in Ghanaand it is unclear where they are based - perhaps they even travel between cities and rural areas around the world to market their product? The second is a staff member within a company that is trying to increase sales; and the third one is a program designer sitting in an office in a major capital city in the United States.
  2. The aspect each persona has in common is that they work in agriculture and agriculture development – the first one implements projects in cocoa communities, the second works at an agribusiness that sells products that support agriculture productivity, and the third one funds projects in rural agriculture
  3. They are all working in very different places that have dispersed operations. Therefore, their access to the AgTechXChange may be limited at certain times due to bandwidth issues while traveling.


What can I learn from this? It is actually helpful to me because I see how different each persona’s content needs are. For example, Barbara may need more information about how public private partnerships are developed while Ben may need more information about how to build farmer demand for fertilizer.

What are your thoughts? Tell me in the comments below and I’ll come back in the middle of the week with updates on my next steps. I hope in the meantime you see the purpose of personas, and are getting a taste of how they can help you envision and understand your customers in more details. It also helps you see what you don’t know, or what your assumption may be, so that you can improve your advertising or marketing.

In the last Learn! post, we discussed the marketing concept of Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning, or “STP”. Segmentation clusters a company's customer base in ways that allow for more precise marketing. While large numbers of your customers may want similar product features, not all potential customers are motivated by the same desires for those features. They should therefore be grouped and targeted differently.


The first step in segmentation is to develop “personas” that represent your market. These personas define customers’ needs, desires, or goals. Even though it is helpful to create personas based on your current knowledge about your customers, ideally each persona is representative of customer types based on surveys.


Creating an appropriate survey for your target consumers requires some specialty knowledge and some work. However, because you will likely already have a sense of your overall audience, you will be able to survey potential target audiences about specific categories of questions. The goal is to dig deeper into what you may already know about your customer base to understand how your products or services might serve them better.


Each survey will need to be different because of factors like location, gender, buying power, and product type. The categories below can help you choose the types of questions you may want to ask your smallholder customer base to better understand them. Example questions can be found within each theme; however, you will undoubtedly want to include specific questions of your own.



  • How much (of your farm product) do you sell?
  • How much (of your farm product) do you hope to sell next year?
  • What are your biggest farming challenges?
  • What are your biggest non-farming challenges?
  • What do you do when faced with these challenges?



  • What is your typical day?
  • How do you know your farm is successful?
  • What skills do you need?
  • What tools do you use?
  • Who is the primary manager of the farm?
  • Who works on the farm each day?



  • Where do you shop for farming supplies?
  • How often do you shop for farming supplies?
  • Does anyone help you make shopping decisions? If so, who?



  • What makes a good farm product or service that you would want to use?
  • Is it better for a pesticide to be eco-friendly and sometimes work, or not be eco-friendly and always work?
  • Do you enjoy being a farmer?
  • Do you want your children to grow up to be farmers (if not, why not).


Want help to learn how to segment your smallholder market? Check out the online STP tool or contact a member of the AgTechTeam!


Last Mile Marketing

Posted by community.manager Jan 30, 2017

Joe, the founder of RealBig Seeds in Mozambique, is among a growing group of small business leaders who are helping to revolutionize agriculture in emerging markets. Joe knows that better seed genetics will dramatically change smallholder farmers’ lives, if only he can develop a message that appeals to a broad population of small farmers and then position his product to stand out from the competition. These marketing tasks need to be done taking into consideration, as most startups must, Joe’s limited staff, budget, and time. Selling into rural last mile markets is fraught with risk and generally provides low rates of return that can be expected in the early phases of market development. This risk makes it even more important to have strong marketing using segmentation, targeting and positioning concepts.

Such sophisticated marketing is data driven, requiring better, and more in-depth, knowledge of customers and their preferences. Companies, especially in early market entry, spend on average 20 to 30% of their budget on sales and marketing, including learning about customer attributes, assessing market size, and positioning and advertising their product to targeted group of consumers. For Joe, 20 to 30% of RealBigSeeds budget is a lot. He must ask: Does it make sense to spending on marketing in among customers that are poorly served by any product offerings, such as those we find in many emerging smallholder markets? And if so, how does a company find data on consumers who are widely disbursed, difficult to reach, and unlikely to provide much in terms of preferences and buying power?

The Basics of Segmenting, Targeting, and Positioning

Let’s take a look at some of the basics for product marketing. Segmenting, targeting and positioning (STP) is a common application used in product marketing. Segmentation of your customer base recognizes that, while large numbers of your customers may look for similar product attributes, not all are motivated by the same attributes and therefore should be grouped and targeted differently. Targeting requires looking at groups with similar segmentation attributes—income, age, education, profession, lifestyle, behavior, benefits sought, for example—and determining which group(s) are the largest, most accessible and/or most lucrative to pursue. Positioning uses segmentation and targeting information, as well as an analysis of the competitive landscape, in order to develop a marketing message that will be most appealing and persuasive to your target market.

The Data Companies Can Start Using Now for Segmenting, Targeting, and Positioning

A challenge with developing any product marketing campaign is to find, collect and analyze customer information. Large companies spend millions of dollars on collecting and analyzing customer information as they develop their marketing strategies in data-rich environments. What can companies in emerging markets do when customer information either doesn’t exist or may be unreliable? The fact is that customer information does exist and may be right under your nose.

For example, using existing sales information, businesses can determine where their products are in demand and where they are not selling. Asking your retail network to collect information on gender and mobile phone information can provide further data points and an opportunity to collect customer survey information. In many countries, in-depth household poverty surveys conducted by development organizations also provide a wealth of information about segments, including incomes levels as well as periods of the year (such as harvests) when farmers have more disposable income. What other sources of data can you think of?

Tell us below in the comments or visit the Ask the AgTech Team page to contact us with your questions about segmentation, targeting, and positioning OR read the next articles in this series:

Segmenting Your Last Mile Market

Last Mile Marketing: Developing Personas

Last Mile Marketing: Targeting customer segments through personas

Last Mile Marketing: Positioning your products

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