An exciting new mobile app, called the Maano Virtual Farmers’ Market, is under trial in Zambia to enable rural smallholder farmers to connect with buyers.
Maano was developed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). According to a co-founder and WFP’s Maano manager, Evin Joyce, the app was developed after a lack of connection between smallholder farmers and markets in Zambia was identified.
“The app was designed to address the need for real-time market information about supply and demand between farmers and buyers.”
It provides a platform where farmers can offer their produce and buyers can bid for the most competitive price. It is based on a three-way handshake, escrow payment system, used in well-known network applications like Uber and Airbnb.
“The app works essentially like e-Bay where you can advertise whatever you want to sell, with a photograph,” Joyce explains.
“Then there is an auction or bidding system with all the listings on a dashboard on the app where the buyers can bid.
“Once the bid is accepted by the farmer, the buyer makes the payment, but the farmer doesn’t receive the payment until the goods are exchanged. In the meantime the money sits in the Maano account, controlled by the UN World Food Programme. We only wire the money to the farmer’s phone when the buyer makes the pick-up.”
Currently about 2 500 rural smallholder farmers in Zambia – in areas averaging 25 kilometres from tarmac – are part of a trial programme during the crop season (May to October) to test the viability of Maano with the possibility of extending it to the broader smallholder farming community.
According to Joyce the number of farmers is fixed for the trial, but they are still looking for interested buyers.
Crops available are soybean, common beans, ground nuts, sunflower, cowpeas, pigeon peas and bambara nuts.
Joyce said if the app is successful, it will eventually provide a platform to buy and sell any farming produce.
Future add-ons include a transport option and the provision of real-time transaction linked market prices.
Ensuring quality and quantity
The process will be mediated by extension officers in the different districts, as well as WFP officers to ensure farmers deliver the promised quality and quantity.
As part of the trial phase, 51 ambassador farmers received training and a smart phone, provided by the WFP, for two weeks to enable them to use the app. They will each act as agents for about 50 farmers in their community.
The Maano app is funded by Germany through the WFP innovation unit, and was co-founded by Jayadeep Akkireddy from India, Ahnna Gudmunds from Sweden and Baboucarr Foon from Gambia.