Improving the school feeding supply chain via ICT platform
A challenge of linking smallholder farmers to school feeding markets identified by the Procurement Governance for Home Grown School Feeding (PG-HGSF) project in Ghana is a lack of information exchange among actors along the school feeding supply chain. This especially applies to important issues such as demand and supply, bids and offers, food quality, and the traceability of products.
In response, the Ghana team is piloting a customisable ICT platform, using mFarms, that will help capture school feeding data and link actors along the supply chain by making it easier and more efficient for them to communicate and share information.
mFarms is developed by ImageAd, a local ICT company, that connects agricultural supply chain actors in six African countries. The platform facilitates direct two-way communication between these actors through SMS or a mobile app. In Ghana, PG-HGSF is using mFarms to manage linkages among farmers, farmer organisations, school feeding caterers and their associations, the National Food Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO - Ghana’s strategic grain reserve), licensed buying companies, district authorities, traders and grain banks.
The bids and offers feature of mFarms is a good example of how it can link smallholder farmers to other actors along the school feeding supply chain. If a maize farmer has stock that she would like to sell, she can send an SMS that says, “mf BUY ” to a short, designated number. Then, she receives a list of potential buyers with their details whom she can contact to negotiate a contract. Similarly, interested buyers can send a short code that says, “mf SELL” to a different number and they will receive a list of potential sellers - typically smallholder farmers.
To date, the PG-HGSF team has worked with mFarms to adapt it to school feeding particularities. Now, the team is busy working with local partners and district officials to finalise profiles of all school feeding actors, which they do via the mFarms mobile app on a smartphone or through an internet app. Building robust profiles will ensure that, for example, the most current and accurate information about buyers is sent out to the farmer who wants to sell her produce. Moreover, building strong profiles is important as it will capture data on where supplies originate, quantities of products supplied, which farmers or producer organisations caterers or other buyers are purchasing supplies from and what schools caterers or buyers work with.
It is expected that in the long run, district authorities, with the support of the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP), will manage the system and continue collecting profiles of interested participants. SNV has already started to train district authorities and the GSFP on how to properly utilise mFarms.
Sylvester Ekpe, PG-HGSF Ghana’s Business Development Advisor is excited about this intervention, which is expected to be operating fully by the end of the year. According to Mr. Ekpe, “Farmers and caterers are excited about this opportunity that will definitely enhance the sharing of information and business relations. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture works with selected farmers on an ICT platform that helps farmers learn good agricultural practices and that shares information on the weather for proper farm activity planning. SNV’s intervention is taking farmers one step further by helping them sell their products to an assured and guaranteed market.”