Data for good: How improved access to supply chain data could revolutionise African agriculture

By Noel Peatfield on April 27, 2018

Over the coming weeks, our new guest blog series will take a closer look at how data and artificial intelligence can be used for good, exploring the ways it can have positive impact on the lives of many.

In this opening post, tech expert and writer Noel Peatfield explains the important role supply chain data is playing in the Zambian farming industry…

As a supermarket customer chooses their grocery items, for them to know that the options available are authentic and sustainable is becoming easier with ‘100% traceable’ labels starting to appear more frequently on food packaging.

Some food brands, such as John West, have started to provide a traceable product service, where the barcode from an item can be entered by a customer into a website which will provide details on the product’s origin.

This growing demand is an opportunity for companies to maximise under-utilised data points in the supply chain, which can positively impact profit and loss, sustainability and customer satisfaction.

Technological advances such as blockchain have been successfully piloted in making supply chains more transparent, but the technology to collect and share data isn’t always available in farms that are sometimes thousands of miles away.

Photo courtesy of Evin Joyce

This picture was taken in a Zambian village, about 20km off tarmac roads and about 200km from the main markets in the capital city of Lusaka.

During the time the picture was taken, a trader bought their maize at 40 percent of its market value in Lusaka. The farmers cannot make informed decisions about who they should sell their crops to because of the lack of information available, and they are almost invisible to traders.

There are around 500,000 smallholder farms in Zambia who lack reliable, real-time market data and connectivity with other market players.

A solution to this problem could contribute to enabling hundreds of millions of people worldwide to break out of poverty and build better lives.

Evin Joyce has developed a non-profit mobile app, where smallholder farmers, who have previously had no access to smartphones or internet connectivity, can now receive market data and share their product data with a wider market.

So far, 1196 Zambian smallholder farmers can now use the ‘Maano’ app to register and sell their crops. During the 2017 pilot, 154 metric tons were traded on Maano, on which real time product data was collected at its origination.

The initial challenge of connecting smallholder farms further along the supply chain to get a better price for their crops can also add value to their product, by providing data on the provenance of their goods and a logistical advantage to the supply chain as a whole.


A detailed understanding of micro to international supply chains, and the price points within these supply chains at different scales of trade for each of the crops traded through Maano, would be needed to scale up to export markets.

Sharing accurate market data with all supply chain players, Maano makes food systems more sustainable by connecting smallholders to larger, more stable and equitable markets.

Could this be a blueprint for the 500 million smallholder farms worldwide? Potentially, yes. There are benefits to the whole supply chain for farmers to share product data long before it would normally become visible to the market.

This model can contribute to satisfying the demand of customers who want to know that a farmer has been given a fair price, and also create logistical efficiency and new market opportunities throughout the entire supply chain.

With product data coming directly from the source of food production, larger trade centres can forecast future availability to a higher degree of accuracy than the data received at a later stage in the supply chain, such as Lusaka, would allow.

Sustainability is built in to the Maano business model, which acts as a great example of how increased supply chain transparency can make commercial sense, from field to fork.

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