Agromovil: Our Story
I’ve been going to Africa and Latin America and other parts of the Global South for decades. All over these regions. In the big cities to be sure, but also through the countryside. Large and small, nearly every country has one thing in common: a focus on Agriculture. It's not surprising. Estimates are that some 40% of all the earth’s land is dedicated to agricultural use. And though the crops and conditions may vary, I’d nearly always see the same scene by the side of the road… small farmers sitting with bags of produce, waiting to get picked up. Their livelihood, their labor, their security, waiting in a bag – going bad before their eyes as they waited for transport that might or might not come.
In early 2016, after 3 years of intensive travel across dozens of markets,
I took a few minutes to pause and think about this question. Certainly there was a better solution – one that would capture this wasted value, putting more money in the hands of farmers and more food on the tables of hungry people in fast-growing developing markets. There was a tech aspect to be sure, and a human one – and there were certainly many, many people interested in a solution.
I looked at this through a development lens, thinking about the number of USAID, World Bank or even Department of Defense programs in areas connected to this problem – programs with titles like “rural economic development” or “urban nutrition” – as well as initiatives programs focused on stemming the tide of internal migration from the countryside to cities, or addressing the need to combat extremism and separatism in countries from Nigeria to Colombia and beyond.
I also looked at the issue from a start-up perspective. Was there an app or big data approach that could solve the problem? Was there a creative tech fix coming out of Kenya’s iHub or the cauldron of creativity that is modern Medellin? Could a new technology solve this problem?
Answer was no. Nobody had cracked the code. Many groups were making progress on aspects of the problem, but nobody had an app or approach that could neatly solve the logistics, transport and payments problems on a meaningful scale.
I looked at the issue from different angles and came to three conclusions:
1. That there was no one solution, but that a basket of relatively new but proven technologies – cellphone banking, microinsurance and ride-sharing services (like Uber pool) – needed to be brought together
2. That trust – partnership – needed to be at the core of our approach, to build a solution that could bring together many partners, including cellphone companies and banks, to create a kind of ecosystem that could be franchised
3. That the program which we called Agromovil (movil meaning “mobile” in Spanish) could provide real value – and significant income – for nearly everyone in the supply chain, while solving a major world problem
With time the idea grew and developed. Friends at the IFC and World Bank made introductions and offered support. In April 2016 I spoke at the IFC-sponsored 2016 Dublin Finance Forum where I presented Agromovil for the first time and met Dante Disparte, an innovative insurance and risk management leader who “got it” immediately. He and his firm Risk Collaborative have helped us win commitments from none other than Lloyds of London on microinsurance.
Since that time we have garnered support from Ashoka, Grameen, emerging markets start-up experts like Wayne Lifschitz, ag gurus like Steve Grudda and Matt McLean of Endsight Consulting, and interest from Gates, Monsanto, as well as many others. The list of potential partners continues to grow. With the help of AMGlobal team, we have built strong revenue models and have determined where and how we’d like to pilot the approach.
Later this month our first basic site (www.agromovil.co) will go live, and I will present Agromovil on the 29th as a speaker at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Global Food Security Symposium 2017. We have a long way to go and Agromovil is still just getting planted. But the harvest could be outstanding.
Today’s global population of 7+ billion faces food security concerns, and tomorrow’s 9 billion people will need much more to eat. Improving yields, the primary focus of many ag aid programs today, will help – but food security AND farm livelihoods depend on improving the global farm-to-market ecosystem.
Today over $150b is lost currently lost every year to the small farmer sector across the global south. Tomorrow we can unlock that value, with Agromovil.