5 Social Startups Helping Farmers in Asia

Flickr/CC/Zoe Shuttleworth

By Beatrice Loh


Agriculture is a major part of many Asian economies. It is estimated that 35 to 40 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Myanmar comes from its agriculture sector. Many other Southeast Asian nations reported similar figures in 2013, with 33.52 percent of Cambodia’s GDP, 26.51 percent of Laos’ GDP and 18.38 percent of Vietnam’s GDP coming from agriculture. More than 2.2 billion people in Asia rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. The demand for food and feed crop will nearly double in the coming 50 years. With increasing demand due to rising population amongst other factors, farmers in Asia need to consolidate their resources and improve productivity of their land.

It’s a good thing social startups are stepping in to help. Here is a list of 5 companies that are helping farmers in Asia:

  1. 8villages

Singapore-based startup 8villages began operations in Indonesia by creating a mobile social network for smallhold farmers. The platform started as a new way for farmers to buy and sell using a mobile device but has since pivoted and grown into an information and experience-sharing platform for these farmers. 8villages allows a more transparent flow of information within the agriculture value chain. The hope is that farmers can earn more money if they are armed with more information such as changes in food prices, weather forecast and crop demands.

8villages’ latest partnership with local telco XL Axiata and Gajah Mada University’s (UGM) faculty of agriculture will offer Indonesian farmers free access to agriculture-related information via SMS. Once subscribed to Rumah Petani Pintar (meaning “House of Smart Farmers”), farmers will receive daily tips and tricks to enable them to make the most out of their land and achieve higher yields for free.

“The information comes straight from UGM and is curated by 8villages,” said Sann Gaddafi, 8villages co-founder, in an interview with TechInAsia. “As a farmer, you also have an opportunity to ask questions in real-time [to instructors] which can help you fight pests, especially in uncertain and new climate conditions.”

  1. Fargreen

Based in Vietnam, Fargreen is a social enterprise working with the purpose of building prosperous and sustainable farming communities in rural Vietnam. The company has an interesting business – they train farmers to cultivate gourmet mushrooms using rice straw, typically deemed agricultural waste and burned.

Fargreen teaches farmers how to use rice straw to cultivate mushrooms. While mushroom cultivation does not require much, it is important for the rice straw to be treated properly to become the perfect incubator for mushrooms. The mushrooms are then sold back to Fargreen. The company packages and prepares them for export.

Fargreen helps both farmers and the environment. The rice straw is normally burnt, causing widespread air pollution. Across the country, up to 50 million tons of rice straw is burnt every year, leading to health problems and traffic accidents. By diverting some of the waste for mushroom farming, Fargreen hopes to reduce the smog. The company also takes the post-mushroom waste and recycles it as bio-fertilizer.

  1. Project Alba (Cambodia)

Started in Cambodia, Project Alba is a social startup with a vision of improving production of all small-scale farmers in developing countries by 2030. It works to use technology to connect farmers with international markets. To help increase farmers’ income, Project Alba works to lower the risk for farmers to start a second cropping. Most Cambodian farmers farm only rice and harvest it once a year.

Project Alba creates partnerships with farmers, providing them with seeds, fertilizers and pesticides for free. Tools are also lent to them for free. The company commits to purchasing the farmers’ entire harvest and the farmers commit to selling all of it to Project Alba. The produce is then resold to wholesalers in regional markets. Project Alba’s market intelligence team conducts weekly surveys of prices in several local markets. They then use this data to select which crops the farmers should grow and set the price beforehand with farmers. By adapting farmers’ production to markets, the profit margins of such partnerships enable farmers to double their income.

Two-way sharing is also encouraged – methods are constantly improved based on feedback from local farmers. This leads to the adaptation of internationally recognised systems to local environments, resulting in better productivity and higher yields.

  1. FarmsNFarmers.org

Aiming to provide end-to-end solutions for farmers, FarmsNFarmers.org (FnF) works with small and marginal farmers for their empowerment and improvement of their current socio-economic condition through innovative ways of farming. FnF targets to improve land profitability and hence increase revenue generation for landowners, farmers and farm labourers. It helps farmers through every stage, from production to sale of produce.

FnF also bears the costs of inputs and innovations they suggest, like soil testing. Once the innovations yield profits, they share in the gains. This has helped them build trust and lay foundation for more reforms and improvements.

“Indian farmers are often very stubborn and unwilling to try things out. In our model, we ensure that if farmers are not earning then we also do not earn,” said Shashank Kumar, co-founder of FnF, when interviewed by Forbes.

Since starting up, FnF has grown to cater to 5,000 farmers in Bihar, India.

  1. Bahay Kubo Organics (Philippines)

Philippines-based startup Bahay Kubo Organics (BKOrganics) is different from the others on the list – the company does not help farmers, it helps non-farmers become farmers. BKOrganics is bringing farming to urban cityscapes through aquaponics.

Aquaponics is a system of organic and cost-effective urban farming that involves the cultivation of fish and plants, where one produces nutrients to nourish and sustain the other. In addition to farming organic produce, BKOrganics offers paid workshops and trainings about do-it-yourself (DIY) urban farming techniques and aquaponics in order to encourage small and micro urban farms.

Food security and lack of livelihoods are two problems plaguing Manila. Aquaponics is BKOrganics’ solution to the city’s abundance of hungry people and lack of arable green space.