Improving smallholder supplier resilience through peer-to-peer knowledge sharing

Submitted by Julia Barrott | published 5th May 2016 | last updated 13th May 2019
Uganda coffee farmer

Introduction

Smallholder farmers produce 70% of world’s food and for many other staples like coffee and cocoa the percentage is even higher. 80% of the world’s coffee is grown by small-scale farmers; and smallholder farmers are responsible for producing a whopping 90% of the entire world’s supply of cocoa!

Climate change is already beginning to seriously impact crops like these around the world. Extreme weather, unpredictable rain patterns, and other phenomenon like soil erosion mean that farmers are having to learn new skills and techniques in order to secure a good harvest and protect their livelihoods.

The onset of climate change also spells trouble for the businesses who source these crops. The future of entire industries are at risk if no action is taken. Food and drink businesses must start improving supplier resilience in order to fight climate change, secure supply, and protect smallholders’ livelihoods.

Improving supplier resilience is not only important for businesses, but it is also important for global food security. With the global population set to increase to 9 billion by 2050, global food production needs to increase by an estimated 70%. If small-scale farmers can enhance their resilience against extreme weather, they are also likely to increase crop yield. If there is more food grown by smallholders there is a bigger chance that few people will go hungry.

Obstacles to improving supplier resilience

Improving supplier resilience presents many challenges. At the level of farmers the main obstacle has to do with communication of information - particularly with regards to how to increase yields and how best to respond to emerging issues, for instance increased soil erosion due to stronger winds as a result of seasonal changes in climate.

One of the most effective ways to improve supplier resilience is through delivering tailored information to farmers. By empowering farmers with adequate relevant information they can implement relatively small changes on their farms that greatly increase their resilience to climate change. Simple, low-cost things like diversifying, intercropping, or agroforestry can make a big impact quickly. On top of this, if farmers know in advance about changes in climate they can adapt their planting patterns accordingly.

But how do you get information to people who live in remote locations, with no internet access? The majority of the world’s small-scale farmers live in remote areas of the world and are extremely isolated. Running training days and workshops can help farmers learn new farming techniques, organic methods, and pest control, but these can take months to organise and are a costly way of delivering information to farmers. (There is also the challenge of encouraging farmers to attend these training days.)

The isolated nature of farmers and the challenge of communication with them is one of the main obstacles to improving supplier resilience.

Crowdsourcing information for resilience building

Mobile technology provides an opportunity to overcome this challenge. Through peer-to-peer networks, such as that developed by WeFarm, farmers can exchange vital information on agriculture via SMS immediately, and they can start to make changes on their farm that will help them to tackle climate change.

WeFarm is a free peer-to-peer service that enables farmers to ask questions on farming via SMS, without the internet and without having to leave their farm, and receive crowd-sourced answers from other farmers around the world in minutes.

Improving supplier resilience with grassroots information

It is clear that farmers are facing new challenges every day as a result of climate change. However, smallholder farmers are also coming up with new innovative solutions to their problems every day. Farmers around the world have invented many low-cost solutions to the myriad of problems they face that are easy to implement.

Did you know that farmers in Kenya create beehives out of old barrells? Their hives attract bees that help pollinate their coffee. The innovations of small-scale farmers doesn’t stop there… Many farmers in Peru have found a cheap way to tackle soil erosion by creating terraces on sloped land; while farmers in Uganda grow trees around their farm to increase soil fertility.

Instead of delivering top-down information to farmers, improving supplier resilience can be achieved through unlocking the information and knowledge already out there, by harnessing the power of grassroots information from farmers. By giving farmers a platform, such as WeFarm, to share their innovations with other farmers around the world, businesses can empower farmers to enhance their resilience to climate change themselves

Enhancing resilience to climate change

There are 52,000 farmers registered to WeFarm, and we already have some great success stories of farmers who have enhanced their resilience to climate change. Daniel learned how to feed crops with calcium during heavy rains in order to protect the roots from rotting. Another farmer called Isaac discovered a good way to store napier grass during rainy seasons which ensured that his cattle were well fed throughout the year.

Through this peer-to-peer knowledge sharing network farmers have enhanced their resilience to climate change by: preventing soil erosion; diversifying into new crops; dealing with extreme climate; and preventing new pests from damaging their crops. In turn, businesses improve the security of their supply, improve sustainability, and enhance the quality of produce.

Improving supplier resilience to climate change with grassroots information delivered by SMS is simple, quick and impactful. Climate change is a complex problem but WeFarm demonstrates a simple solution – connecting farmers to their peers.