Project overview

Virtual Farmers’ Market (VFM) is an app-based e-commerce platform where farmers’ surplus and buyers’ demand for crops are advertised and traded. VFM provides a transparent, open and trustworthy space for smallholder farmers and buyers to negotiate fair prices and deals.

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 increase 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 and other buyers.

The app supports the emergence of a sustainable and fair marketplace, thereby increasing smallholder farmers’ bargaining power and potential profits by providing them with real-time information about what their crops are worth on different markets. It also enables cooperation and knowledge sharing, and boosts farmers’ productivity by ensuring their market access.

Together, this creates a virtual marketplace where the purchase and sale of produce is initiated and closed electronically 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.

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. 

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' (escrow payment) 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.

Zambia Pilot

In July 2016, the WFP Innovation Accelerator provided seed funding to prototype and pilot the VFM platform with farmers from rural areas in three districts in Zambia. The Maano - Virtual Farmers Market app was launched in May 2017. The Maano app, launched in May, is targeting 2,500 Zambian farmers during the 2017 season. They will be engaged in the pilot through 50 ‘Maano ambassadors’ aggregating on behalf of their communities. Some 70 national and international buyers expressed interest in purchasing crops through Maano. The first transaction of 40 bags (2mt) of cowpeas was made through the Maano app in the first week of June.

WFP will test and implement the Maano app during the 2017 market season, May—October. Once the first phase of the VFM pilot has been completed, WFP will continue to refine and scale up this promising innovation within Zambia and other countries. The VFM business model is designed to become sustainable once it reaches the break-even point after three to five years. Until then, new partnerships and additional investments will contribute to the expansion within Zambia, further testing in new countries, effective knowledge management, continued app development and maintenance of the platform.

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Last updated: 21/04/2020