AMMAN, Jordan, Dec. 21 (IPS) – Anas Shaikh is a Pakistani farmer whose mission is to provide solutions to the many challenges that small and medium-sized farmers face in making a sustainable living.
One of the main challenges he observed was the difficulties for farmers to sell their produce at the right time to avoid post-harvest waste and at prices that were not exploitable due to the large number of middlemen. and businesses that are now involved in the agricultural sector. Supply Chain.
“All over the world, but especially in developing countries, the farming community is burdened with so many challenges, despite the crucial role farmers play in the economy and food security of their countries,” says George Stacey, analyst working with Norvergence, an environmental NGO.
“There are a lot of issues that contribute to this, but one of the biggest is that farmers are being exploited and not getting paid what they deserve for their produce.” Just across the border in India, tens of thousands of farmers are currently protesting against three new farm laws that aim to deregulate Indian agriculture.
Even though the laws say farmers will always have price guarantees, the language is vague and farmers fear losing government support and having to sell directly to big business. Farmers are particularly concerned that they will not be able to sell their products and get into debt.
Already in the region the growing number of intermediaries, such as wholesalers and processors – as supply chains become more monopsonous and monopolistic due to the increasing influence and presence of large global companies on markets – continue to reduce yields for small farmers. .
In addition, the lack of road and rail connectivity and limited accessible storage or warehouse infrastructure in Pakistan and India also increase the need to rely on intermediaries.
“Lower yields continue to exploit farmers and push much further into poverty,” says Stacey. “It also has an impact on the quality of the products grown, as farmers are no longer able to access many resources such as good quality pesticides.”
Shaikh is now on a mission to use technology to find solutions to the biggest challenges facing small local farmers.
He recently founded Peepu, an easy-to-use mobile app that cuts down on the many middlemen and the time it takes to sell agricultural products by facilitating direct transactions between farmers and traders.
Shaikh points out that the app’s simplistic interface has been designed to ensure accessibility, keeping in mind that not all target users are tech savvy.
“I worked in the field as a small farmer and I know farmers. This is why the app has been deliberately designed in such a way that farmers find it easy to use, ”explains Shaikh.
Peepu was launched earlier this year on Google Play in March and is used by more than 700 Pakistani farmers and aims to grow further in the coming months.
“Farmers are able to sell their produce as early as possible and at a competitive price,” Shaikh says.
“What we’re trying to do is use technology to transfer the power of negotiations to small farmers and also give them the ability to do business with anyone, independently, without the limitations imposed by proximity. geographical.”
Agriculture is currently one of the largest employers in South Asia. Almost 70 percent of the region’s population is employed in agriculture and the majority of the region’s inhabitants live in rural communities.
And technology, such as Peepu, can significantly help address many of the challenges farmers face, which also have long-term social and economic impacts.
For example, a shorter chain of intermediaries can also potentially reduce post-harvest losses generated by degradation of the quality and quantity of crop products through the stages of the supply chain, from harvest to harvest. consumer use.
“Farmers who sell directly to traders in a non-farmer way and without the many middlemen involved, also provide a pragmatic solution to the use of the inevitable post-harvest food waste, which is not only beneficial for farmers, but also important to reduce food waste and, therefore, improve food security, ”Shaikh says.
Several reports, such as by the World Bank, warns that ensuring food security in South Asia, as its population continues to grow exponentially, will be one of the main challenges the region will face in the years to come.
The region is currently home to more than 1.8 billion people – the majority of whom live in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – and has been the fastest growing region in half a decade. The region’s population is expected to grow another 40% by 2050, according to the UN.
And many experts agree that tackling food insecurity will be a political priority to ensure stability in the world’s most populous and poorest regions.
“The availability and accessibility of food can be increased by increasing production, improving distribution and reducing losses. And reducing post-harvest food losses is a critical part of ensuring future global food security, ”says Hina Kamal, PhD researcher in the Future Food Beacon Program at the University of Nottingham.
Kamal works with sustainable food companies to research approaches to recycling and re-using food waste into functional products.
“Reducing and recycling food waste is the only holistic approach possible to achieve the sustainability of future foods”
Studies have also established the importance of policies to ensure food availability taking into account the context and impacts of climate change on agriculture.
A report from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, states that while climate change and rising temperatures will affect food production in Asia differently, the most food-insecure populations are likely to be in South Asia.
Kamal points out that the urgency to tackle food insecurity issues may lead governments in developing countries to launch short-term and fast-track initiatives, without proper coordination, resulting in slower progress and economic inefficiencies.
“This can be reversed if there is better activation of opportunities and better coordination between research institutes, research and development centers, universities and private and public companies and ministries,” she adds. “It’s innovation that, after all. increases the scope and number of emerging technology processes, logistics, marketing and operating costs. “
Peepu is currently involved in the National Incubation Center (NIC) in Karachi, the economic center of Pakistan, and is seeking funding from external investors.
“While technology can be an exploitative force, it also offers smallholder farmers the opportunity to reclaim some of their power and have more control over how and to whom they sell their crops,” Stacey says.
“It doesn’t solve the many problems faced by smallholder farmers, but it can be a tool to navigate the challenges until better policies are put in place to protect them.”
© Inter Press Service (2020) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service