Colombia’s farming is dominated by smallholders working plots five hectares in size or less, who are often disconnected from markets by poor transportation and communications. Middlemen create costs and delays for both farmers and consumers, but a group of entrepreneurs from Bogata have some ideas on how to make the system better.
Cultivating the future
Rural life in Colombia may still be dominated by simple smallholder farms, but the nation’s urban centers are increasingly sophisticated. Bogota’s burgeoning tech center has led to the creation of Cultivando Futuro, a for-profit enterprise billing itself as a “big data” start-up firm. The web service and application this company launched in 2017 is designed primarily to get around Colombian agriculture’s middleman problem by connecting farmers to purchasers directly. Because there are so many individual farmers and separate purchasers, Cultivando Futuro aims to bring them all together in a sort of online marketplace where they can easily find each other instantaneously.
“It aims to increase agricultural productivity, generate additional incomes for smallholder farmers, and improve the quality of publically available information on fresh produce.”
Via Cultivando Futuro, farmers register their production information, including their location and the types of crops they grow, and report periodically what produce they have that’s ripe and ready for shipping to markets or restaurants. Buyers can drill down into this massive database through a map-based interface, allowing them to see what’s available for purchase in their immediate vicinity. Cultivando Futuro’s founders say they are mission-oriented; through this big data web interface “we consolidate the information of each community and deliver visual representations that allow us to plan together how to transform rural communities through agriculture,” as they explained on their website (https://www.cultivandofuturo.com/#/en).
Researchers at Tufts University in the United States closely scrutinize Cultivando Futuro and its business model in a March 2022 report (https://sites.tufts.edu/digitalplanet/files/2022/03/Inclusive-Innovation-in-Smallholder-Farming.pdf). Though the technology involves storing and disseminating huge volumes of ever-changing data points, the basic idea behind Cultivando Futuro is fairly simple—delivering information about supply directly to demand in real time. But this simplicity masks a powerful force for change, as the Tufts assessment shows. “Essentially, it connects smallholder farmers in rural Colombia with wholesale and retail markets without additional charges from middlemen,” the authors point out. “By doing so, it aims to increase agricultural productivity, generate additional incomes for smallholder farmers, and improve the quality of publicly available information on fresh produce and other agriculture products.”
Cultivando Futuro’s technology isn’t only for sharing information on the location and availability of certain food goods. When farmers register on the system, they’re also invited to disclose information on the general conditions at their farms and locales, as well as share details about their families, what type of machines or transportation they use (if any), how they use smartphones, and whether they’re currently utilizing any financial services that may be available.
These data could inspire other would-be innovators to explore other ways of helping Colombia’s smallholders grow more food or earn more money. Cultivando Futuro’s data, available continuously on a cloud system, creates maps that give momentary snapshots of Colombian agriculture, showing who is growing what, where, when, and how, while simultaneously mapping regional and national food demand. Farmers can even access technical assistance and other services through Cultivando Futuro’s network.
Big data meets a big smallholder farm economy in rural Colombia—and it seems to be working rather nicely. Grow Further is watching the development of platforms like Cultivando Futuro with an eye to how we might replicate, improve, or build upon them for a food-secure future.
— Grow Further
Photo credit: A coffee farmer checks his crops in Nariño Department, Colombia. Neil Palmer, CIAT.