EcoHub was sponsored by the Unilever Foundry to develop a platform for connecting smallholder farmers to buyers, along with empowering them to become more sustainable in their practices. Facebook agreed to partner with EcoHub to connect new subscribers to Facebook's Free Basics in rural areas on the Indosat Ooredoo network as part of the mFarmer initiative.
Smallholder farmers in Indonesia have five key challenges relating to productivity, profitability and sustainability. Those challenges are land tenure, challenges related to the dominant business model (high transaction cost, low returns), low productivity, access to finance for replanting and certification, and access to sustainable markets.
There are currently several initiatives to support independent smallholder farmers led by private sectors in collaboration with NGOs. These initiatives are run independently and deliver minimal net positive environmental impacts, less than clear improvements in smallholder farmers’ livelihoods, and costly implementation and questionable successes. There is a clear need to look for a different approach to deliver sustainability goals and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
We're helping to provide smallholders with tools and content to improve their livelihoods
Unilever partnered with EcoHub to develop and deploy a mobile service using the same principles as mFish, but targeting independent smallholder palm-oil farmers that are within Unilever’s supply chain. The result was the mFarmer platform. Like mFish, the desire was to limit economic barriers to accessing helpful content and tools so EcoHub built mFarmer to be deployed on Facebook's Free Basics platform on the Indosat/Ooredoo mobile network in Indonesia. mFarmer includes a multi-language learning management system (LMS) based on the same technology that is used by top universities around the globe, but stripped down to allow for maximum usability for farmers with limited digital literacy. EcoHub developed this platform to be accessible on almost any device with an internet browser including feature phones, and in limited 2G environments.
As part of the pilot, EcoHub led project communications with a variety of Unilever partners and stakeholders including the Indonesian Ministry of Rural Development, local NGOs with on the ground relationships and expertise, Facebook and the Internet.org team, and RSPO who provided the training content to help farmers become certified within the framework of their sustainability standards. Using these partners and resources, EcoHub coordinated trainings at Unilever pilot sites in Indonesia in order to help farmers better understand mFarmer as well as Free Basics, and to gain valuable feedback informing further refinements of the service.
Launched in January of 2017, the initial pilot provided smallholder palm oil and coconut sugar farmers with the ability to access educational content to support sustainable farming practices, the ability to log their yield and request pickup from buyers using the specific information needed by buyers in their supply chain, social networking and messaging (via existing Free Basics services), weather reports, and the ability to download full apps outside the Free Basics environment. Perhaps more importantly it provided Unilever the ability to connect directly with the farmers in their supply chain in order to provide resources so they could improve their standards of sustainability. For this Unilever chose to provide training materials for becoming certified to RSPO standards.
The video below, produced by Unilever for their presentation at the 2017 World Economic Forum, shows EcoHub personnel facilitating training sessions with the farmers in order to onboard them to the platform, and better understand any points of friction in terms of accessibility and usability. Within the first 60 days more than 10,000 monthly active users began accessing mFarmer. For those on the Indosat Ooredoo network, a partner in the Internet.org initiative, all of their data costs for accessing the platform were free of charge thus all but eliminating economic barriers to access.
$0 Cost of Data
For Users on Free Basics
Monthly Active Users
Feature Phone Compatible
Accessible on Existing Devices
Available on 2G
In Low-coverage Rural Areas