The entrance of 2 Innovative Agri-Mobile Apps in Myanmar

Agriculture is the largest sector of Myanmar’s economy – a 2015 survey by the Department of Labour found that it is the main job of more than 54% of the working population.

Given that mobile phone penetration in Myanmar’s market is so high, it is now possible to transmit useful information to remote farmers. Input from farmers can generate valuable data that could help transform the sector.

The innovators

Two exciting agri-app startups in 2016 are capitalising on these opportunities. A key component of both is providing useful news and advice to farmers, including directions to improve agricultural processes.

They each act as a central information hub. They provide localised information about weather conditions and the market prices and trends of crops, helping farmers make informed decisions about the right time, place and price for selling. Both hope, ultimately, to improve the outputs and incomes of rural farmers.

Beyond this, the platforms have different goals.

Green Way by Greenovator, is an interactive resource to efficiently crowdsource farming solutions from a network of industry professionals.

Golden Paddy by Impact Terra, offers a platform for connecting farmers with a variety of services while collecting valuable data.

Green Way

Greenovator Co-Founders Yin Yin Phyu and Thien Soe (pictured left) with Dr.Ye Tint Htun, Director General of the Department of Agriculture

Greenovator was formed in May of 2011 by Thein Soe Min and Yin Yin Phyu, two alumni of Yezin Agriculture University. It took five years to develop their Green Way platform. Over this lengthy development-cycle, the needs, behaviours and farming conditions of Myanmar’s farmers were studied in detail by the developers in a consultative process.

The app is designed to be useful not just for smallholder famers, but everyone working in the agricultural sector. It has been downloaded over 41,000 times, and is being used in 323 of Myanmar’s 330 townships.

It is using the reach of mobile phones to disseminate expert-advised agricultural solutions. To do this, Greenovator has enlisted more than 1200 volunteer technicians, including agronomists, economists and officials.

The technicians are also alumni of the Agriculture University drawn from various sources; some are from NGOs, the private sector or the government, others are freelancers or retired professionals.

Farmers can crowdsource questions to this professional network. So far, more than 960 questions have been asked. Answers can then be delivered to farmers quickly, and are publically available to app-users.

One black gram-growing user was happy to report his yields had improved from nothing to abundance on advice he had received through the platform.

An agreement recently signed with the Department of Agriculture (DoA) promises to broaden the scope of the platform. The DoA will now use Green Way as one of its major tools for sharing important content and information with farmers.

Golden Paddy

Golden Paddy consists of an app, website and dedicated Facebook page. Launching in December 2016, it is now grown to a community of 2 million organically – that is, without spending money on targeting new users. Its users span more 96% of all Townships and 1000-1500 new registered users are signing up each week.

Early reports from users suggest that advice about using smaller quantities of less-toxic pesticides have been well-heeded and that there has been an increase in farmers negotiating with brokers for fairer crop prices.

Impact Terra sees itself offering a digital platform that connects farmers with a range of partner services, strengthening all links of agricultural value-chains. “All services we provide should be done in cooperation with partners,” says Mr Sikma.

Their extensive range of partners includes NGOs, non-profits, knowledge institutes, satellite partners and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.

They currently have around 150 partner retailers, but Mr Sikma expects that number to grow to a couple of thousand quite quickly.

The platform also hopes to engage farmers’ households with basic education on things like water-use and sanitation.

As well as user input, useful data is also being captured by satellite, which can give an indication of crop growth and yields, as well as impending risks.

The focus on farming itself is about 80% of the service. Another important focus is on improving financing options. If collected data can help determine registered users’ individualised needs and circumstances, it should help formal lenders determine risk profiles and provide customised loans at scale. This would greatly increase access to financing.

Moreover, suitably-sized loans made under flexible conditions could prevent farmers being saddled with debts they are unable to service, as is often the case under the punishing terms set by informal lenders.

Mr Sikma envisions that loans could be distributed and repaid through mobile money services, which are currently growing in Myanmar.

Looking ahead

While both apps are only budding, they have shown impressive growth. Both platforms have the potential to bring rapid development to this crucial sector. The ongoing challenge for each will be making sure they steadily increase their user-base, while keeping current users actively engaged.

The seeds of change have been planted – let’s hope they bring impressive yields.

Author: Duncan Burry

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