In comparison to the rest of the world, American farmers have it made when it comes to access to ag-technology. And in light of the global food security crisis, that’s a problem that affects everyone.
aWhere is a company trying to fix part of the disparity. Providing farmers with weather, climate, agronomic recommendations, pest alerts, and more, aWhere is a flexible platform as a service (PaaS) that works with organizations around the world to provide rural farmers better information. Processing data from NASA, NOAA, and constituent groups such as Colorado State University’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) and others, aWhere has the information and network for farmers outside of the US to make better-informed data-driven decisions based, regardless of literacy, language, location or other social and/or economic factors.
“There are about 580 million farmers in the world, but 500 million of those farmers have little to no access to technology,” said COO Dave Lundberg, a software strategy, operations, and product management expert. “They still have to feed two-thirds of the population. It’s a global problem…. There’s an information gap, and that’s where we come in.”
Unlike many of the other PaaS and SaaS ag-data companies cropping up in recent years, aWhere isn’t just another new startup on the software-analytics block. aWhere was co-founded in 1999 by CEO Dr. John Corbett, a geo-spatial tools expert and the former Head of Global GIS at Syngenta, and CTO Stewart Collis, an expert software developer and engineer specializing in GIS and Remote Systems. Initially focused on addressing the lack of available technology available in developing countries, the company began writing and implementing software for location intelligence and in 2007, aWhere was established exclusively as a software company. Since 2012, the company has devoted its work to bringing the software to farmers in developing countries.
“We’re Climate Corp. for the other 500 million farmers,” Lundberg said. Acknowledging the market impact of Climate Corp, Lundberg said aWhere’s mission runs parallel with the mega-company’s efforts, not against. “The reality is there’s no one company that could build a mobile app—or even a series—that serves all these types of farmers,” he said. “They’ve built the apps and applications specific to the farmers in the US, and we come at it from a global basis.”
It’s reaching those other 500 million farmers is the hard part. But, it’s also where aWhere’s competitive advantage lies. Using satellite and remote sensing information along with extensive data processing, aWhere is able to provide any farmer around the world with accurate information down to a 9-kilometer by 9-kilometer plot. In order to get this information to the average rural farmer, aWhere isn’t reinventing the network-wheel. Rather, they are working with both governmental and private intermediaries and extension services, such as Esoko, to tap into already existing networks that farmers trust.
“Most farmers have cellular access, but in some cases they’re illiterate. That would never work–it would never scale,” Lundberg said. “Our business model is in producing the smart data to provide to these farmers. We’ve found a way to reach these hundreds of millions of farmers around the globe without having to a create direct line.”
The implementation magic lies in the intermediaries, who connect aWhere’s data to the farmer who needs it. Provided with access to aWhere’s data platform, or in some cases, simply given access to download and use aWhere’s data, intermediaries are the best suited to directly communicate with farmers.
As an example, Lundberg explained that Esoko, a Ghana-based communications platform, has developed about 20 symbols, each representing a specific meaning or suggested farming action. After Esoko receives the farm-specific data from aWhere, they send the symbols to subscribed farmers’ feature phones using SMS text messaging.
aWhere’s service has led to farmers doubling, or even tripling productivity, according to Lundberg, paying for itself for many users. The pricing for the full-platform access ranges anywhere from 25 to 75 dollars per end user, depending on the number of farmers and the size of farms. High-income commercial farm prices are higher, marked at $350 per month. Pricing for the farm-specific, ‘smart content’ ranges from a few cents to a few dollars per field.
Currently with about 3,000 end-users, and an estimated 5,000 by the end of the year, aWhere is now looking to scale-up operations. Lundberg said they plan to use already existing relationships with organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NGOs such as Abt Associates and FHI360, and others to strengthen their outreach.
“We have made significant sales and marketing efforts,” said Lundberg. “And now, intermediaries are starting to come to us.”
If Climate Corp’s track record is at all representative, imagine what a company like aWhere might do. Looking to provide to a vast majority of farmers–not just the top 15 percent of farmers currently served–it might be that companies like aWhere are those that will feed the world.
FEATURED PHOTO: Remus Shepherd/Flickr