More than half of the world’s poorest people live on small farms in rural areas of developing countries, accounting for over 2 billion people living on around two dollars a day.
Many of the hardships of smallholder farmers are the result of a long list of systemic issues spanning the agricultural supply chain. First, farmers cannot secure loans from the bank, forcing them to rely on loan sharks with high lending prices. Once they’ve received the necessary capital, farmers lack information on things like weather forecasts, pest attacks, optimal nutrient application, and current market prices. Finally, during the small window of time they have to sell crops before spoilage, farmers often lack direct access to buyers, forcing them to go through the same exploitive intermediaries who gave them the loan to begin with.
For the last two years, the social enterprise Ricult has been empowering these farmers with an accessible platform that gives them the tools and insights they need to improve their lives.
Farmers can use Ricult’s platform to secure credit, attain inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, monitor weather forecasts, and connect directly with buyers to sell their crops. Further, the platform helps farmers maximize their yields by providing personalized advice for growing crops based on soil tests.
“Farmers are at the bottom of the pyramid in developing countries, so if you want to drive these countries forward and reduce inequality, you have to transform the agricultural sector,” says Ricult co-founder Aukrit Unahalekhaka SM ’16. “There’s so much innovation and tech disrupting the U.S. agricultural industry, so we thought, ‘Why isn’t the same thing happening for people at the bottom of the pyramid in developing countries?’”
The company was founded when Unahalekhaka, who’s from Thailand, and Usman Javaid MBA ’15, who’s from Pakistan, separately pitched the idea of using mobile technology to help smallholder farmers in their home countries as part of a social enterprise class in the Media Lab. The similarities of their pitches made them realize the plight of smallholder farmers was a global phenomenon, so they teamed up to tackle it. As they explored the problem further at MIT, they partnered with co-founder Jonathan Stoller ’16 SM ’16, who now serves as Ricult’s chief technical officer, and co-founder Gabriel Torres ’08, who serves as chief strategy officer.
Read more at MIT News