Aussie start-up goes global with blockchain tech for world’s poorest farmers

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly email newsletter to receive more stories like this. AgUnity co-founder and CEO David Davies accepting the cheque that accompanied AgUnity's win in the national leg of the 2017 Australian Future Agro Challenge will pitch at the World AgriTech Innovation Showcase: Early Stage Technology Innovators Pitch.

Australian ag-tech start-up AgUnity is taking on the world stage, with a string of national and international wins for its big idea to help small-scale subsistence farmers in developing nations collaborate simply for collective gain using blockchain-backed connected tech.

In July 2017, AgUnity co-founder David Davies pitched the idea at a ‘shark-tank’ start-up event hosted by ag-tech incubator and accelerator SproutX in Melbourne, and was one of 11 start-ups from a pool of 100 to be accepted into SproutX’s accelerator program.

In September, AgUnity won the Australian leg of the Future Agro Challenge in Queensland, qualifying the nascent company a spot in the global Future Agro Challenge in Turkey later in 2018.

The same month, in Bangkok, it was rated number one in of a field of 20 international start-ups at the Tech4Farmers Asia Challenge 2.0, the goal of which is to promote ag-tech innovation in the region that helps achieve a food-secure future.

The Tech4Farmers Asia Challenge looks for novel solutions with the potential to transform farmers’ lives, and AgUnity certainly fits the bill. The vision pitched by CEO and co-founder David Davies was that of small-scale farmers joining forces to create efficient, cost-effective, secure co-ops using its user-friendly mobile app AgriLedger.

The start-up is one of just four chosen to participate in the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit Pitch Day, in San Francisco in March 2018.

What can AgriLedger do?

The AgriLedger app is designed to improve farmer communication, information-sharing, collective bargaining and individual profits by enabling poor farmers to work smarter, not harder, by working together in co-operatives

The blockchain-based smartphone app lets farmers schedule various farming activities; coordinate farming equipment-sharing, buying and selling; manage their incomes in the in-built digital wallet; and record transactions securely. Working collectively, farmers can boost their independent buying, selling power and incomes by around a third, Davies claims.

“The fact that we can offer a blockchain-based ledger system to small-scale farmers in developing countries, and triple their income from one season to the next, can be hard to imagine,” Davies said.

“However, that’s exactly what AgUnity has achieved and continues to achieve in pilot projects in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and Kenya.

“It’s enabling farmers around the world to lift themselves out of poverty.”

How did the idea come about?

Aussies David Davies and John Freeman co-founded AgUnity in 2016 after realising that many of the most pressing problems for small-scale farmers in developing nations could be resolved with relative ease if these farmers could be provided with low-cost smartphones loaded with the company’s AgriLedger app.

More than a billion small-scale farmers across the world earn an income from agriculture, yet up to 50 percent of the value of a typical small farmer’s crop ‘vanishes’ between harvest and sale, say the co-founders on the AgUnity website.

“Huge inefficiencies in planning, a lack of empowerment and a lack of access to proper farming resources result in poor harvests, spoilage of crops and poor prices at point of sale.

Farming cooperatives are seen the most effective and equitable way to increase farmer’s incomes by overcoming these inefficiencies; however, poor record-keeping and a lack of transparency often results in farmers being taken advantage of through corruption and graft.

“Our solution is to enable trust between farmers and cooperatives by providing a smartphone and our blockchain app, AgriLedger, to farmers in the developing world, all for free.

“This app enables farmers to easily record all transactions in an immutable ledger between each other and their farming cooperatives, and to plan better, buy and sell together and cooperate to share resources.”

The start-up now has two entities:

  • AgUnity, its commercial arm, which develops and builds the technology and conducts pilot projects to prove its impact; and
  • AgriLedger, a charitable trust that allows AgUnity to partner with and get funding from non-government organisations (NGOs) in order to roll out and run its pilot programs.

AgLedger pilot projects around the world

The pilot projects are used to generate case studies that Davies and Freeman use to support further grant applications.

One such application was made to the AusAid incentive fund; the resulting grant enabled the start-up to establish farmer co-ops and provide free phones loaded with the AgriLedger app to around 1,000 farms in the Bougainville area of Papua New Guinea.

Meanwhile, they’ve partnered with IFC to run an AgriLedger pilot program in Myanmar; and with the African Development Bank to roll out similar programs in Kenya – and later, funds permitting, in Ghana and Ethiopia.

“Farmers receive everything including the phones for free, and in a relatively short time (e.g. one growing season) see a substantial increase in their disposable incomes”, state the co-founders on the AgUnity website.

AgriLedger also acts a secure ‘digital wallet’ and an online store for items including solar lights, farm equipment and micro-loan services.

“Via the app, we encourage farmers to use their newfound additional income in positive ways,” the co-founders state. “We allow companies to provide ethical products and services into a new, completely untapped market. Companies providing these services pay us royalties [of] around 10 percent; however, we ensure the farmer is always getting better value than they otherwise would have.”

In turn, these royalties go towards funding more product R&D and more pilot projects and grant applications.

“In our pilot projects in Kenya and Bougainville, farmer incomes increased by 3x on average from a single season to the next, all through sharing resources and buying/selling together,” state the co-founders.

“Farmers can understand with confidence, even if they cannot read or write, that if they hand over their crops to a cooperative, they will receive payment for these crops for exact amount they provided, and trust the AgriLedger app.”

The company is in the process of raising a further $500,000 in seed funding to expand its existing pilot projects using AgriLedger, and to roll out more projects in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Cambodia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Brazil.

More information

For further information and/or to follow the progress of the start-up, visit the official AgUnity website

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