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33 Posts authored by: community.manager

One thing any agricultural technology entrepreneur needs to be able to do is identify policies, regulations, and other enabling environment factors that can impede the business. In July, Agrilinks.org has been hosting discussions about how when enabling factors are in place - or not- it can affect the delivery of products and services that are needed to promote agriculture markets. The below article is re-posted from Agrilinks  - it is an example from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation's portfolio.

As you read, consider: What similar circumstances have you experienced? Is there a policy or regulation that threatened your business, and thus your ability to serve agriculture markets, especially smallholder farmer customers? What did you do? What do you wish you would have done differently?

Import Policies that Cripple Progress Out of Poverty

Surehatch, a South African company, is improving the productivity of the sub-Saharan poultry sector by selling small-scale egg incubators that provide ideal conditions for an egg to develop and hatch. Using these incubators, poultry farmers can increase chick production by up to 10 times compared to traditional production. Surehatch also provides customers with training in proper use of the incubators.

Owing to its success in the South African market and expressed interest from other countries, the company began exploring sales opportunities in Kenya. In 2014, after two years of market research, Surehatch modified its incubator design and sold 20 units within two months of its introduction into the Kenyan market. Also seeing the potential benefits to smallholders, USAID’s Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation program committed support to accelerate market entry through 2015. This included expanding the stock of incubators to include sizes that were more affordable to smallholder farmers.

By early 2015, Surehatch had steadily increased sales. Customers using even the smallest incubator increased their monthly income by more than 50 percent, and business growth seemed on track. However, in mid-2015, customs agents stopped a container shipment of incubators from the South African production facility.

Expanding Sales Crippled by Import Policies
Surehatch was expecting 100 units manufactured in Cape Town to arrive in Mombasa using the same shipping process it had used since 2014. Unbeknown to Surehatch, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) had changed its customs policies to require both an inspection and a certificate of conformity for all products entering Kenya. Though the company had a certificate of conformity for the shipment, its container was detained and, ultimately, the entire shipment was lost.

For nearly six months, Surehatch tried to work with KEBS to provide further documentation to release its shipment, as well as clarify the requirements for any future shipments. Eventually, KEBS finalized its import procedures and selected an internationally recognized company to conduct pre-inspections.

At the end of 2016, Surehatch began working with the inspector in South Africa to obtain certification for the shipment prior to export. The business hired a third-party customs clearance agent to facilitate import into Kenya. The sudden change in import policies temporarily shut down its operations in Kenya, slowed down market penetration (and with it, the ability of smallholder farmers to access a technology that improves their progress out of poverty), and increased costs.

In 2017, Surehatch began to adjust its business model to account for the higher costs, including securing a partner that could provide financing to Surehatch customers. Surehatch also partnered with other companies to bundle the incubators with other agriculture products. 

Incentives Help Lower the High Costs of Market Entry

For companies like Surehatch to risk selling products and services to smallholder farmers which in this case required product re-development to meet a lower price point the transaction costs for trans-border commerce shouldn’t drive up the cost of introducing new agriculture technology. Programs like Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation can help offset costs as companies get up and running, and complementary policy support is integral to this process. Surehatch lost months of sales due to unforeseen changes in customs rules. In many cases this can be enough to prevent market entry or expansion, which is unfortunately an all too common story in Africa and other emerging economies. For example, partners in Zambia, Malawi and Guatemala entering into inputs markets have experienced long customs delays, particularly for equipment imports. Such delays stunt smallholder farmer access to the products they need to build their farming enterprises into successful commercial operations and thus hinder our overall progress toward food security and improved livelihoods.

One important lesson in serving smallholder farmer customers is that products that are offered with some form of financing can make or break sales numbers. Why? Commercial financial products are generally not accessible by smallholder farmers. Though some banks are making inroads into better understanding smallholder farmer customers and designing financial products to meet their needs, such solutions are few and far between.

As entrepreneurs, it is important to continually think outside the box for serving base-of-the-pyramid markets and using nontraditional financing within a business model is one example. Other small changes that can be made to products, including for traditional financial products, range from changing labeling practices to integrating "reminder" features into services.

A recent report from Innovations in Poverty Action outlines the above examples and many more, all based on the organization's extension research around the world. Take a look, and see if the information can help with your product design. Remember - think outside the box!

March is the month of celebrating women and last week on the AgTechXChange we featured facts, information, and resources about the challenges facing women entrepreneurs. However, you don’t need to be a CEO at a startup or one of the first employees at a quickly growing business to apply the thinking, strategy, and creativity of an entrepreneur. The hallmarks of an entrepreneur - business acumen, strong leadership skills, an ability to innovate and engineer new ideas – are also gender neutral.

So, how can you apply entrepreneurial thinking to your job regardless of title, rank, gender, or the size of your organization? Here are some tips from the AgTechXChange team:

  • Know your customer: Your customer is a critical driver of your business’ success. After all, they decide whether or not to purchase the products and services you are selling. You might think you know them – but do you really? Take some time to read about your customers, to understand any data and information that has been collected about them, and to visit the places where they shop.


  • Ask for input: You know that phrase “two heads are better than one”? Entrepreneurs understand that they don’t know or see everything, so they ask for other perspectives, engage their colleagues, staff, friends, and family about their ideas, and integrate inputs that make them even stronger.  So, follow suit: know what you don’t know, and crowdsource the information from trusted colleagues, friends, and experts (especially if they think differently than you!).


  • Focus and prioritize: We’ve seen dynamic entrepreneurs and CEOs get distracted by developing new product lines before existing ones take off. Spreading yourself too thin over too many big projects can get in the way of doing a few of them really well. As an employee, make sure your projects fit within the needs of the company by talking to your supervisor/boss and asking for input from her/him, and other colleagues, along the way.


  • Manage your time wisely: Often, longer term projects with higher overall value to your organization’s bottom line can be sidetracked by urgent, one-off tasks. While you can’t stop doing those tasks, you can prioritize giving dedicated time to the most important ones.


  • Get inspired: New ideas spring forth from even the most unrelated of activities – from picnicking in a park to visiting a museum. So don’t forget to nurture your hobbies: you never know how they will inspire a new or better idea! Read articles from outside your sector and make an effort to make friends with people who are different than you!


Let us know how it goes! Do you need inspiration? Check out these tools for getting to know your customer and improving your communications, time management, and more!

Did you know that women lead approximately one-third of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets? Despite this, they remain disproportionately underserved and often face less favorable terms for financing, inhibiting their ability to grow. In fact, more than 40 percent of women-owned SMEs cite lack of access to finance as a major barrier to growth.[1] 

In the agriculture sector, which investors consider particularly risky, women-owned SMEs earn 25 percent less in sales and own 35 percent fewer assets, including financial assets, than men-owned SMEs.[2] Women often have less access to collateral and training, preventing them from obtaining the financial and technical support required to expand their businesses. All of these facts create unfavorable terms for women entrepreneurs, despite their significant potential contribution to economic development. Leveling the playing field for women in agriculture will improve job creation, economic growth, and gender equality.[3]

What is your organization or company doing to promote the role of women-owned businesses? What additional steps might you take? We can think about this every day, not just on March 8, International Women’s Day. In this spirit, below is a round-up of resources to educate, empower, and inspire about the role of women entrepreneurs and how we can support inclusive systems that benefit everyone:

Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, which powers the AgTechXChange, is contributing to resources that support women entrepreneurs. The program recently released a competitive request for applications (RFA) from women-owned or -operated agribusinesses in sub-Saharan African countries where USAID operates (see country list here).  Check out the eligibility criteria and start filling out your application if you meet them! 


[1] Strengthening Access to Finance for Women-Owned SMEs in Developing Countries. International Finance Corporation, 2011. https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/a4774a004a3f66539f0f9f8969adcc27/G20_Women_Report.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

[2] Women-Owned SMEs: A Business Opportunity for Financial Institutions - A Market and Credit Gap Assessment and IFC's Portfolio Gender Baseline. International Finance Corporation, 2014 www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/b229bb004322efde9814fc384c61d9f7/WomenOwnedSMes Report-Final.pdf?MOD=AJPERE

[3] Ibid.

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!

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