Smallholdr app enables pioneering combination of health and agri services in rural Zambia

Karen Smith avatar


Multi-skilled agents in Zambia, digitised by Smallholdr, deliver health and nutrition products, collect socio-economic data and provide a market for beans to ‘last-mile’ communities.

A partnership between a beans processing company, Mushili, and a social enterprise, Live Well, has led to an innovative deployment of Smallholdr to efficiently deliver business and social information. The link between Mushili and Live Well is Kapumpe-Valentine Musakanya who is COO of Mushili and on the board of Live Well. In his current role as interim CEO of Live Well, I spoke to him to get the full background on this fascinating project which demonstrates how Smallholdr can be used not only for managing agricultural supply chains, but also for managing sales networks.

Kapumpe has long wanted to gain greater visibility of the Mushili bean supply chain. The company had been reliant on intermediary traders and the quality of the beans they supplied was variable. Kapumpe wanted to have his own agents connecting with farmers, supporting them with the right seeds and advice and being able to buy back better beans.

At the same time, Live Well were struggling to capture the monitoring and evaluation data they needed to understand and enhance the impact of their product sales on ‘last mile’ communities. Live Well, which was seed funded by GSK and Barclays UK and is part of CARE International network, has developed 2,000 Community Health Entrepreneurs (CHEs) operating in three provinces. The CHEs sell a range of goods from medicines and solar products to nutritious food and pregnancy tests.

One thing that CHEs identified during the pandemic was that farmers were asking if they could provide them with bean seed. Beans are the second most popular food in Zambia after maize porridge, and highly nutritious, so providing seeds would be an excellent way of strengthening community nutrition. Live Well saw an opportunity to buy bean seed in bulk and break it down into small packets suitable for these farmers – and also offer them the chance to sell some of their beans back to Mushili. The CHEs were already educated in health and nutrition product sales, and Mushili provided them with additional training to enable them to be seed distributors and first line agronomy advisers. This additional element of the CHE’s offering enable them to remain relevant to their customers in planting and harvest season.

After researching technology options, Kapumpe and his team felt that Smallholdr offered the best option for a digitised data management system for the CHEs. They found that Smallholdr’s software provided the essential flexibility required to collect different data for different purposes, and could see that the Smallholdr team are familiar with operating in a rural Zambian context – i.e. understanding the farming cycles, providing systems that work when there is not always mobile data and being able to translate the app into local languages. Live Well also found Smallholdr’s solution was significantly more cost effective than other options on the market.

The key benefits of the Smallholdr system for Live Well to date have been:

  • Building up a rich picture of exactly who their ‘end user’ customers are; with every last mile purchase they are getting more and more demographic information on beneficiaries
  • Better visibility of agent activities
  • Reduce cost of monitoring and evaluation
  • The ability to carry out large scale metrics/social impact surveys at any time
  • Data ownership

For Mushili, the benefits have been:

  • Leveraging a ready-made network of agents to distribute seed and to make purchases of beans – all this made easy as the agents are using Smallholdr
  • Knowing the provenance of the beans purchased
  • Reducing losses from poor quality beans – the wasteage rate has already been improved from 30% to 8%.

Both organisations are saving costs by using one team of agents and from the real-time feedback – data from the field is instantaneously available on the Smallholdr dashboards once agents sync their devices.

The process of deploying Smalholdr to the CHEs has led to some insights and opportunities being identified by the Live Well and Mushili teams:

  • Firstly, using a feature phone with the Smallholdr app is a task best suited to young CHEs who are more familiar with mobile technology. This insight will help Live Well recruit teams with the right skills in future. Kapumpe sees this as a positive opportunity for offering entrepreneurial youth employment which is likely to be more appealing than farming to young Zambians.
  • Secondly, Live Well have seen the power of data collection by the CHEs and are thinking of being able to sell a survey service to other institutions and projects. New surveys can easily be added to the app and the CHEs trained to collect new data.
  • Now that Live Well have rich data on their customers from the Smallholdr database, they are thinking about introducing a reward system based on customer sales – which can also be managed using the Smallholdr app.

The combined health and agribusiness model using Smallholdr is a fantastic innovation that maximises the utility of an agent network. It creates vital rural jobs and skills for the next generation and has real potential to be scaled and replicated – we are excited by Live Well’s ambition to scale to 6,000 CHEs by 2024 and will continue to support them, along with Mushili, on their journey.

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If you would like more information on how Smallholdr can help you manage your field team and empower them to work with local communities more effectively, please get in touch!

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