Transforming farming communities in Colombia through mobile technology

More than 50 percent of farms in Colombia are small and family-owned. mSourcing helps connect farmers to larger, more profitable buyers.

August 29, 2016 by Jessica Murcia, Regional Officer, Latin America

When Grameen Foundation began working in Colombia in 2011, the country was still recovering from decades of internal armed conflict and drug violence. Farmers were starting to return to their abandoned homes, and agriculture emerged as a potential driver of change. Much of our work to help transform and develop rural communities has been in areas such as Antioquia, which were hard hit by the conflict. 

The Colombian government identified the Antioquia region as a high-potential area because it has large areas of cultivable land. However, that transformation has been a slow process. Antoquia’s capital city, Medellín, imports 71 percent of the food consumed by its residents, and malnutrition is prevalent in young children. Equally important, almost three-quarters of the smallholder farmers work in isolation. Without membership in a farmers’ association, they can rarely access the training, information and resources they need to meet quality requirements and legally register as suppliers for high-paying markets. This opens the door for “middle men”—individual traders who already have the required certification—to buy farmers’ goods at exceptionally low prices and sell them at higher prices to consumers.

Grameen Foundation is working with Fundación Salva Terra, a nonprofit that promotes organic farming in vulnerable communities, and Orgaenik Foundation, a nonprofit that trains farmers and gives them access to inputs and markets, to put farmers on a more secure footing. Field agents equipped with mobile technology will collect and disseminate information that will help farmers improve the quality of their produce and increase their output, and then connect them to large-scale buyers.

First piloted in 2013, the mSourcing solution is built on Salesforce App Cloud and uses TaroWorks™, a mobile-based management and data collection software, to process orders and transactions between buyers (typically restaurants, supermarkets and families) and farmers working in individual and community backyard gardens. We are now developing additional features for the mSourcing solution with funding from the Salesforce Foundation. These include a more robust system for allocating and delivering orders; a forecasting system that will calculate estimated harvest dates and quantities and match that information against famers’ deliveries inventory to identify compliance and technical flaws; and a portal for buyers to place orders in the mSourcing system. The orders are received by Salva Terra and Orgaenik, who work with multiple farmers to fulfill buyers’ requests. 

These interlocking services will enable nearly 500 smallholder farmers working with both organizations to improve their food security, have access to fair prices from formal markets and receive targeted technical assistance based on the transactions they conducted via the mSourcing system.  

Over the course of the project, we will track changes in farming production, nutrition and socio economic conditions for the farm families in the project. This data will enable us to measure how these new techniques and processes are improving the lives of farming families.

Throughout the project, we will share periodic highlights of our work with farmers and buyers in Antioquia.