Virtual Farmers Market (VFM) is an app-based information platform where farmers’ surplus and buyers’ demand for crops are advertised and traded. Relying on the same “three-way handshake” principle used by Airbnb and Uber, VFM provides a transparent, open and trustworthy space for smallholder farmers and buyers to negotiate fair prices and deals.

A Mobile Boom

Lower smartphone prices are driving a digital revolution in Africa, allowing phone users to access the internet at unprecedented levels. Operators and developers are also leveraging the power of mobile networks to transform services in health, agriculture, education, energy and water management. According to GSMA, the body which represents mobile operators globally, the number of smartphone connections across the continent almost doubled over the last two years. More than half a billion people across Africa now subscribe to mobile services, with the number expected to grow to 725 million by 2020. 

At the same time, millions of rural smallholder farmers struggle for access to local and national markets that could lift them out of hunger and poverty. VFM is a bold new WFP innovation project that leverages the digital communications boom to improve market access and improve livelihoods for smallholder farmers for good.

Evin Joyce, VFM co-founder, guides farmers through the platform
App based solution

VFM builds on Purchase for Progress (P4P), WFP’s flagship programme connecting smallholder farmers to markets. Using our reputation as a reliable buyer of quality crops, VFM creates a virtual, app based network that allows farmers to interact with traders, retailers’ consumers and each other. The app supports the emergence of a sustainable and fair marketplace, increased productivity through more widely available farming information and increased profitability by reducing information asymmetry (e.g. in price and demand).  It also enables cooperation and knowledge sharing, expands the local market size and potentially boosts bargaining the power of smallholders farmers by allowing them to influence the price of their goods.

Together, this creates a virtual marketplace where the purchase and sale of produce is initiated and closed virtually after due diligence or face-to-face meeting. As well as giving farmers a broader market to sell their produce, the platform allows farmers to connect with a broad community of peers and agriculture experts.

To achieve sustainability, VFM aims to levy a nominal transaction fee on the buyer for each purchase, and at the same time, ensure free access for smallholder farmers. 

A Unique 'Three-Way Handshake'

Tech disruption has touched nearly every corner of the global economy; and for smallholder farmers offers radical opportunities to grow their agricultural output, gain access to new markets and improve profit margins. VFM closely follows the same 'three-way handshake' modalities used by successful online businesses like Airbnb, Uber and Alibaba. The model promotes flexibility and empowers farmers, traders and grass roots entrepreneurs in ways that could lift vulnerable communities out of hunger and poverty - for good.

In July 2016, the WFP Innovation Accelerator provided US$100,000 seed funding to quickly pilot and test the VFM platform with three rural communities in Zambia.  

VFM conducted lean prototyping with self-selecting smallholder farmers, or so called 'VFM ambassadors', to help refine the proof of concept in late 2016. Integrating user feedback with ongoing app development, VFM plans to test and implement a second pilot during Zambia’s agricultural season in Spring 2017. To support future development and scale, VFM seeks additional public or private funding, technical assistance and access to surrounding markets and countries.