When we last spoke with the London, England-based ag-tech firm WeFarm in May, the number of coffee farmers subscribing to the organization’s core peer-to-peer information-sharing service had just surpassed 50,000.
Now the company has announced that it has received a £1.3 million (GBP) seed investment from the London firm Local Globe, and the number of users has risen to more than 100,000 in the countries in which WeFarm’s service is currently available (Kenya, Uganda and Peru).
In short, WeFarm’s core product, called Connect, is a free service for farmers who have cell phones but lack access to the internet. Farmers can text any imaginable question related to the agricultural management of their coffee farms into the system through their phones; WeFarm’s own ever-evolving algorithms then translate and deliver the question to other subscribers, potentially including those located nearby, regionally or across continents. Recipients of the inquiries can then text a reply back through the same system.
WeFarm’s revenue-generating services, called Insights and Reach, are of a different nature, connecting farmers and the data culled from their questions to actors on the other end of the supply chain. Insights organizes and delivers data to businesses seeking to keep track of issues and trends within their own supply chains. Reach, meanwhile, allows businesses to contact farmers directly via SMS to, in WeFarm’s words:
- Address the issues identified in the monthly reports
- Share tips and best practices from successful farmers
- Support training programs
- Raise awareness of key issues
WeFarm Reach, in particular, would seem to open up some potential for the manipulation of farmers by offering products or services that may not necessarily be in their best interests, although a WeFarm representative insisted in our discussion earlier this year that the company — which launched initially as a nonprofit — is devoted to the wellbeing of farmers who would otherwise be lacking access to information due to being offline, and that it aims to work only with responsible companies within the coffee sector that are genuinely seeking to improve productivity and livelihood among partners in their supply chains.
“Connecting farmers to relevant advice from other farmers is a completely new approach,” WeFarm Founder and CEO Kenny Ewan said in an announcement of the £1.3 million Local Globe investment. “The majority of information delivered to people living in poverty is top-down, whereas we are using a crowdsourcing model to unlock generations worth of grassroots knowledge, ideas, and experience among farmers. This is why WeFarm has already secured more than 100,000 registered members in an industry where less than 0.1 percent of mobile apps ever reach even half that number.”
Founded by former Index Ventures partners Robin and Saul Klein, Local Globe focuses on seed and impact investments, with previous investments in Citymapper, Lovefilm, Moo, TweetDeck, TransferWise and Zoopla.
Of WeFarm, Robin Klein said, “We believe that this network, whether delivered on feature or smart phones, will, over time, become an important channel for farmers into the wider food supply chain. We are thrilled that WeFarm has reached over 100,000 users and look forward to working with Kenny and his team.”