Wefarm was developed over a decade ago as a project by the Cafédirect Producers Foundation (CPF), a British charity working to support smallholder coffee, tea and cocoa farmers. Today it is the world’s largest communication platform for small-scale farmers providing over 2.5 million farmers with a peer-to-peer network. Following an $11 million Series A-Plus round, Wefarm is expanding its SMS based service into an online platform.
Why Wefarm started out as an SMS-only platform
Internet access is not a given in many parts of Africa, Asia and South America. For many rural farmers, accessing digital information online from their small holdings is still impossible. This leaves such farmers isolated and secluded without the access they need to seek help and ideas that might improve their ability to grow crops and deal with obstacles. However, even simple mobile phones have a high prevalence in such regions, with basic SMS capabilities.
Since 2015 Wefarm has piggy-backed on that SMS technology, enabling a farmer to send an SMS query to a network, where it is analysed and forwarded on to other relevant farmers for further discussion. Wefarm’s natural language processing (NLP) libraries can identify three regional African languages – Kiswahili, Luganda, and Runyankore – in addition to English. This means, unlike with other agtech networks, Wefarm users don’t need proficiency in English. In this way 15,000 questions and answers pass through the Wefarm network per day as the community of small farmers supports itself.
With Wefarm millions of farmers can combine their knowledge and buying power as they tackle global challenges that are impacting their yields such as climate change, limited soil fertility and growing demands for food worldwide.
Wefarm-certified retailers can also join the Wefarm marketplace and be put in touch with local farmers in their area. Through the marketplace, farmers gain access to trustworthy products and better prices. Retailers, in turn, gain access to a huge community of customers.
Online expansion / the Wefarm app
To date over 37 million knowledge-sharing conversations have taken place on the Wefarm service, while the marketplace has generated $29,000,000 in sales. The online expansion of the SMS service will feature a forum-based platform. A mobile app is already available on invitation from the community. This will enable farmers to continue to work together via the web to solve problems, support each other, and aggregate their buying and selling power to change the global supply chain in much the same way as the SMS network.
The $11 million Series A-Plus round powering this change was led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from new and existing investors, including True Ventures, Rabo Frontier Ventures, LocalGlobe, June Fund and AgFunder. This round of investment brings Wefarm’s total funding to $32 million.
“Wefarm is building the definitive platform and network for the world’s biggest vertical,” said Wefarm Founder and CEO, Kenny Ewan. “This is perhaps the largest community on Earth and yet it’s been vastly underserved by tech. Today, the community is ready to expand into an online space with us. We have years of learnings and millions of data points to strengthen our first-mover advantage as we build the online expansion of Wefarm for hundreds of millions of farmers”.
“By building a highly engaged community of millions of small-holder farmers, Wefarm has created a powerful platform providing greater access to vital knowledge and information, which allows farmers to unlock greater economic potential from their land,” said Kamran Adle, early stage investor at Octopus Ventures. “In practice that might mean understanding which fertilisers work best, what the market price is for certain goods, or new farming techniques that result in better yields, all of which can make a significant difference to livelihoods. It’s also an enormous market with more than 400 million small-holder farmers globally who collectively spend around $400 billion on farming inputs. There is a huge opportunity for Kenny and the team at Wefarm to achieve incredible scale and we’re excited for the launch of its digital platform which will further accelerate growth.”