In the wake of the recent Paris Agreement and the call for developed nations to provide $100 billion annually to developed countries to combat climate change and foster greener economies, agriculture – the source of 33 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions – must be a focus. More specifically, women, who make up 43 percent of farmers in developing countries, must be a focus.
Women have disproportionately less access to productive resources and opportunities, reducing their yields by 20-30 percent. For agriculture to develop, women must be able to access information, training and tools, including business expertise to facilitate the sustainable and successful growth of their businesses. SheFarms, recognizing the negative impact of this gendered gap, is developing a one-stop-shop application for women farmers across the developing world, providing information and resources in collaboration with local nonprofits.
SheFarms is an agri-tech startup that aims to combat climate change, food scarcity and gender inequality by empowering and investing in women farmers. Communities will be able to access all this information through the SheFarms app, while on-the-ground partnerships will facilitate the provision of farming tools and fertilizers. Currently, a team of five is behind the business, reaching from the Netherlands – with founder Tiambi Simms and co-founder Margot Barreveld, in charge of overall strategy, business direction, funding and operations – to Botswana and Zimbabwe with Moesi Modikwa, Kudzai Bushu and Kwasi Darkwa, for their back-end and business development.
Three core functionalities guide SheFarms: social, environmental and economic. Socially, the app provides an interface for creating and connecting communities across the developing world. Individuals can build profiles, ask each other questions and share best-practices, and nonprofits can see feedback and compare the experiences of different women, allowing them to measure their impact and identify specific challenges the women face. As the customer base grows, the information will become more collaborative, with the opportunity to rank the effectiveness of information.
Environmentally, the app will provide information on sustainable farming practices, including soil management, mitigation and biodiversity, all of which will also help increase crop yields. Climate forecasting information will help farmers be better prepared for the rainy and dry seasons.
As 60 percent of African farmers trade few or no products, economic information is an important element.  Speaking with the women, SheFarms heard that “Yes, we’re small holder-farmers, but we want to be able to expand,” says Simms. “SheFarms gives women in these rural communities, these marginalized communities, a voice.” By providing up-to-date market prices, they’re able to be more entrepreneurial. “They have more negotiating power, more buying power. And that’s increasing the economy, increasing their confidence in who they are as women.”
SheFarms recognizes that their information must be communicated in a culturally-sensitive and accessible format, with respect for traditional farming practices, albeit an extremely difficult balance to achieve. A couple other organizations are providing similar information, but not all-inclusively and often with the use of text messages, which are inaccessible to illiterate individuals, the majority of whom are women. Much of their information will be communicated with the assistance of pictograms and videos, to help minimize misinterpretation.
The success of their business is also dependent upon trusting relationships with women farmers. At this stage, and for the next 5-10 years, they remain largely dependent on nonprofits, who have already developed a level of legitimacy and representation within the communities. Nonprofits will be able to purchase a license for the SheFarms app, while the women farmers will pay a small fee every four months or so (the cost has not yet been released).
They are currently in negotiations with their first partner, who will be able to test and provide feedback on the first working prototype. One challenge will be negotiating the limited separation between SheFarms and the non-profits, as well as securing funding in a notoriously unstable sector.
The business had the opportunity to develop through business competitions, namely the ClimateLaunchpad and the AMPION Venture Bus (more information here). Both of these avenues provided opportunities for SheFarms build their core team, gain exposure and develop their business model – with mentorship from serial entrepreneurs and investors.
While the team’s current focus is on incrementally introducing their business, their aims are long-term and expansive, with the knowledge that changing behaviours will take time. Says Simms, “SheFarms is going to have a very big impact. And it’s not going to be immediate, but it is going to happen.” The app – they have a working demo at the moment – will be piloted in English-speaking African countries at the start of 2016, with the aim of expanding across at least three continents, with multiple languages, in the next three years.
To learn more about SheFarms, or to help build and grow with the business, visit the SheFarms Facebook page.