Wefarm Transforms Agricultural Output in Kenya

Kenny Ewan, Wefarm CEO.

The Agtech platform provides a way through which farmers can share relevant information with their fellow farmers

Wefarm is a global agtech (Agriculture technology) business that utilises the latest machine learning technology to enable small-scale farmers to connect with one another to trade advice and information. The platform utilizes the latest machine learning technology and is able to work both online and over SMS.

Wefarm’s goal is to empower farming communities improve their production and livelihoods through producing higher quality product, increasing their yields and diversifying their agricultural interests.

Launched in 2015, Wefarm has won an array of awards, globally recognized as one of Africa’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company, Google’s Impact Challenge Award, TechCrunch’s Europas Tech for Good Award, and European Union Commission’s Ideas from Europe award among others.

We are backed by international companies – True Ventures, Local Globe and Accelerated Digital Ventures, and the Norrsken Foundation -to a tune of over $5.6million in seed funding.

The company is headquartered in London with offices in Nairobi and Kampala. Our network is at present operational in Kenya and Uganda. We plan to expand into the rest of Africa in 2019, beginning with Tanzania.

The idea about Wefarm

The idea was born in 2010 by the current CEO Kenny Ewan and Claire Rhodes, General Manager of the Cafédirect Producers Foundation (CPF) as a project for CPF, a UK-registered charity that works with 280,000 smallholder tea, coffee and cocoa farmers on innovative, community driven projects.

They developed Wefarm as a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform that gives small-scale farmers a way to access information from other farmers around the world through basic mobile phones and SMS. Approximately 90% of smallholder farmers are reported to only have access to basic mobile feature phones.

In 2015, Wefarm won the Google Impact Challenge and spun off to become an independent for-profit company. Wefarm then launched Kenyan operations in February 2015 and Ugandan operations in October 2016.

One year after launch, the network had over 22,000 monthly active users with over 50,000 questions asked and answered on the platform. By October 2018, Wefarm had reached over 1.1 million users across Kenya and Uganda, with plans to expand into the rest of Africa in 2019, beginning with Tanzania.

“Farmers are often the best, most relevant source of information and experience for their fellow farmers. However, information sharing between them is often much localized. In most cases, what you find is that a farmer will have a solution for the types of seed to use during the rainy season that they will share with their neighbors. However, farmers living a kilometer away facing a similar problem will not have access to that very solution. We are trying to change this reality by allowing farmers to share their advice and solutions, no matter where they live,” said Kenny.

How it works

As a farmer-to-farmer digital network, the network enables farmers to share information via SMS, without the need for internet access and without having to leave their farms. Farmers are able to ask questions on farming and receive crowd-sourced answers from other farmers.

For instance, Andrew’s tomatoes are being attacked by blight, a fungi disease that affects almost all parts of the tomato plants including the leaves, stems, and fruits. He sends a simple, free SMS to the local Wefarm number 22301 for Kenya and 6333 in Uganda asking how to control it.

His question is instantly posted online and sent to selected members of the Wefarm community via SMS. Wefarm’s machine learning algorithms then match the question to the best suited farmer to respond to the question. Andrew receives useful, relevant knowledge under six minutes without leaving his farm or having any access to internet.

Recently, Wefarm reached over one million users and sent more than one million questions and answers. This is a major milestone for the company and a clear sign that we are addressing a specific need in the market that had previously been overlooked.

Key achievements

Providing a useful and trustworthy service to our farmers is our single biggest achievement. Along the way, there have been other proud moments, for instance, since we started in 2015, Wefarm has been named one of Africa’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company and has won Google’s Impact Challenge Award, TechCrunch’s Europas Tech for Good Award, and the European Union Commission’s Ideas From Europe prize, among others. We’ve grown our staff to over 30 people across 3 countries. And we’ve been able to attract investment from the world’s leading venture capitalists, angel investors and foundations including True Ventures in Silicon Valley, LocalGlobe, Accelerated Digital Ventures and the Norrsken Foundation.

Agritech space

Right now, the sector is still innovating from the top-down. If you take a walk around any agritech conference in Nairobi or Kampala or even London there are no shortage of apps claiming to help farmers. But, many of these products and services are designed without the farmers’ input or true needs in mind. As the agritech sector, we must all ask ourselves, first, are we truly useful for the farmer? And, if not, we must strive to become so immediately. We believe we have built trust and value in our network base and we’re here for the long-term. Our goal is to connect every farmer and to continue to be useful in their everyday lives.

Road ahead

Our vision is to create a new commercial ecosystem for small-scale farmers – where their needs are put first. Wefarm is actively testing various ways in which the network can become more economically beneficial to both farmers and their trusted brands. Right now, more than 4% of content on Wefarm relates to the purchase of farm inputs. We have noticed that farmers themselves have expressed a need to transact via our network and we are currently developing the mechanisms to ensure this is possible for them.

Moreover, the data generated by Wefarm – whether it be drought and crop yield trends or information on pest outbreaks or aggregated data on top tactics or interventions – is becoming increasingly useful as a market intelligence for local, national and international businesses who want to enhance their supply chains and access isolated farming markets. We are currently working on developing our data practice to reach the next level of providing real-time business intelligence.