Zambia plays a huge role in Africa’s future food production, with over 1.6 million smallholder farmers active in agriculture with abundant land and resources. However, failure to access information and the market has been one of the major challenges that most Zambian small-scale farmers have been facing. This prohibits them from actualising profit from their produce.
But the story has begun to change with the coming of a different organisation which is bridging the information gap through ICT (Information Communication and Technology). Over time, there have been many systems with the recent one being the award-winning Lima Links, a platform built to bring live markets to the smallholder farmers on their farms, accessible on any basic phone.
Most rural farmers do not have Android smartphones and are geographically dispersed over wide areas with poor physical infrastructure, limiting their ability to gain access to market information. This makes it difficult for them to access market and agricultural information as many of the agriculture technology services built in Zambia are Android applications. The Android application, which targets higher level role players in the value chain, such as lead farmers or cooperative leaders, disadvantages the rural, financially constrained farmers, hence the launch of Lima Links.
Lima Links was launched in April 2017, differentiating itself by creating a free service built for the individual farmer on a rural farm. This free Farmer Platform is accessible on any type of phone in Zambia. By dialling and sending a short code, *789#, farmers are connected to view live market prices for common field crops and vegetables such as tomatoes, rape, impwa, onion, okra, and many more. They can also view and access fairly-priced agricultural inputs, such as seeds, fertilisers, chemicals, equipment, and connect directly with input suppliers. Through this Farmer Platform, Lima Links connects farmers directly to the market and helps companies to reach rural farmers who otherwise would have been out of reach.
Lima Links connects rural farmers to trustworthy market agents who help them sell their produce for higher prices. Photo: Lima Links Limited.
Lima Links is currently extending its services to over 80 000 farmers, with a projected target of 200 000 registered users by the end of 2019. Currently, the platform is only accessible on the Airtel network.
Mr Kelvin Wright of Klein Karoo Seed Marketing, one of Lima Links’ corporate clients, feels it is the best solution to address the needs of both farmers and agricultural companies. “I have tried various apps, and this is the best. It enables suppliers to reach the actual farmers we are selling our products to,” he says.
Lima Links Chief Executive Officer, Melanie Wilkinson, said their aim is to provide smallholder farmers with exact agriculture information to sell their farm produce at a favourable price. “We want to provide smallholder farmers with accurate market information to enable them to get the best prices for their products.”
In November 2018, Lima Links was selected as winner in the Best Regional Foodtech/Agritech Start-up category at the Southern Africa Start-up Awards 2018. Ms Wilkinson said that the company had been given the validation that they were on the right track and could truly impact on the lives of African farmers. The awards saw over 3 000 applications from start-ups across the region and Lima Links was competing against finalists from 14 countries to earn the regional award. With this achievement, Lima Links staff are confident that, although the organisation has been in existence only for a few years, they already provide a valuable service to improve the lives of smallholder farmers, agriculture and food production. Yet, they consider themselves as just getting started and having a long way to go.
Lima Links aims to reach 1 million African farmers by 2022.