Agrishare is an exciting app-based platform that connects people in agriculture with owners of assets such as tractors and trucks. It is exciting because it brings opportunities for access to equipment and machinery for small scale farmers as well as those starting out. While there are natural bottlenecks to farming such as the recent low rainfall there are also challenges in finance and access to machinery to improve production. Agrishare as a solution offers a partial solution to both of those problems. We managed to get in touch with Franziska Kerting to understand Agrishare and get a peek into where they are going.
- When did you start Agrishare?
The idea for AgriShare was developed by Welthungerhilfe Global in their Innovation Camp that was conducted in July 2017 in New Delhi. In the Camp AgriShare won the second price in the Innovation Award. In November, the AgriShare Team Tawanda Hove from Zimbabwe and Franziska Kerting from Germany came together at the WFP Innovation Accelerator Boot Camp in Munich, Germany and developed the idea for AgriShare further. At the Pitch Night of the same Boot Camp, AgriShare won the Jury Choice Award.
In February 2018 field activity started which we call rapid learning – where we went through Zimbabwe for several months and discussed with different farmer groups and stakeholders, how currently equipment is rented in Zimbabwe. Then we developed a first prototype that was informed by the information we had collected in the field from the farmers. It was just a simple clickable dummy. With that, we went back to the farmers and allowed them to interact with our prototype to get more feedback. In August, we then received funding from the WFP Accelerator to take our idea further. We contracted C2 Media from Zimbabwe to develop the first online prototype in October and then went back and forth with this new prototype to get more feedback and have been improving it further until March 2019 – when we felt that the product was mature enough to start transactions on it. So AgriShare has been around a while, but the product is on the market only since March 2019.
- How big is Agrishare?
Currently being in the Start-up phase and being implemented by Welthungerhilfe, AgriShare has no own employees yet. It is part of a larger BMZ (Federal Ministry for Development Cooperation of Germany) project that we implement globally as Welthungerhilfe, in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda and India. In Zimbabwe we are implementing with our Implementing Partner CTDO. AgriShare is promoted together with our other digital innovation Kurima Mari App in Zimbabwe. We are aiming to further improve AgriShare during the project duration until October 2020 and hope to have generated sufficient users and features for the App that it will be able to run itself afterwards.
So currently, there are around 7-10 people working part-time on the App, in various functions. The software development has been outsourced and is done by C2 Media in Zimbabwe.
Since March we have generated 1720 users and 133 equipment listings on the App in the categories lorries, tractors and processing equipment. We are however in the process of conducting public launches and more aggressive marketing during the rest of the year, so we hope to widely expand this. We are also planning to include more different kinds of equipment onto the App so that we can serve wider customer needs and are looking into cooperating with other institutions.
We had been a bit challenged by the economic developments in Zimbabwe in terms of the currency changes and also the availability of fuel, so we are a bit behind our targets, but we hope to catch up during the remaining time of the year.
- Tell us about your business works.
The business is working like most sharing economies worldwide. An equipment owner who is not utilizing its equipment fully during the season, can upload the equipment on AgriShare and make it available to other AgriShare users at a charge. AgriShare is charging a small commission on the transaction to be able to run and maintain its services.
- Why did you start this business?
As Welthungerhilfe we have been exploring in the past years on new ventures to support the farmers we are working with, what we call social businesses. Those social businesses shall address the needs of farmers in a more sustainable way because they are able to generate income and then support the farmers in the long run even after the project ends.
In addition, with the digitization globally, there are opening new opportunities in agriculture, that we strongly believe should also be beneficial to our target group as Welthungerhilfe. Our target group is often forgotten by the developers that are mainly based in capital cities, so as NGO we try to make digitalization more inclusive and try to develop those products for those customers that no one else really thinks of as a potential customer. With that, we hope to change something in the thinking of those developers in the long run and empower our target group.
AgriShare is bringing those two thoughts together and was developed with the farmers on the ground. Therefore, we hope it will be a success.
- Your service is app-based but access to the internet is not open as we would like, do you have other methods of connecting people?
The entire user journey of AgriShare is accompanied by SMS service. This means every time an equipment owner receives a request on the platform, he or she will also get a text message making him aware of it. So he or she just has to go online once there is any activity on their account.
In general, it is difficult to provide such a service like AgriShare without internet, as a platform, it is dependent to be updated and one of the main urges of customers is to see the equipment that they are hiring, so going for a USSD or SMS based service seemed not an option at first. However, the current challenges we face especially in rural areas due to power cuts that also affect the connectivity, we are exploring USSD as a potential option, but there are no concrete plans for this yet.
In Welthungerhilfe intervention areas we currently have a smartphone penetration of 20% and we have built in the option for hiring for a friend or for a group that is supposed to address the smartphone gab and shall allow others to function as agents for AgriShare. Furthermore, our partner CTDO has already been finding some ways of connecting farmers to the service by registering them on the platform via call and we will try to explore these customer service option further as we go.
- Challenges you’ve faced and face in running and growing AgriShare thus far?
The recent economic developments in Zimbabwe have been the main challenges. Next to the fact that user education had to be adjusted every time issues related to the currency have changed, also the hike in data prices and fuel costs are affecting the adoption of the service. Lately, electricity and related connectivity problems have been the biggest challenge.
Despite the economic challenges that probably every business in Zimbabwe faces, our main challenge is to generate trust in our service. While Zimbabweans have been used to do mobile money transactions for a few years already, most of those mobile money transactions are still connected to face-to-face interactions or interactions with people who know each other. AgriShare is taking this to a new level. You do not actually know the person that you are paying for a service and the whole transaction is completely handled online. We built in a lot of safeguards into the platform, e.g. even though the customer pays at booking time, the money is held by AgriShare until the customer confirms that he or she received the service from the service provider. We have to invest a bit more time and energy in educating farmers on that, as they are often scared to book and then not receiving the service. Once we have solved that, I think other companies who come after us can build on us, it has simply not yet been done for our target group.
- Any words you would like me to add for others who aspire to be like you.
The most important thing when you want to develop an application like AgriShare is to shelf all your own ideas and allow yourself to be completely guided by what the user wants, only then you can be successful. This requires a lot of time and empathy, but it is very rewarding at the same time because after all, you know exactly why you are doing what you are doing.