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Eva-Maria Dimitriadis of C5 Accelerate says online platforms are helping African smallholder farmers get a fairer deal for their produce by keeping them free of the taint of corruption
Sustainability is top of the agenda for many consumers. In some cases, the price of a product can even be considered less important than the reassurance that the ethics of the brand match that of the consumer. In fact, there has been research showing that 72% of UK consumers choose sustainability over price when selecting a brand. Companies that don’t embrace sustainability and ethical production are not only failing to fulfil their duties as corporate citizens, but may also see their revenues hit as consumers choose brands they believe in.
In today’s world, many of those businesses have extremely complex, global supply chains. If any links in the chain are found to be unethical, the entire product is tainted, meaning that consumers will turn away. A major issue within many supply chains is that of corruption, whether it be poor payment of producers, or bribes to make deals go more smoothly. However, there are a number of companies, both large and small, that are looking to answer the key question of how we can reduce corruption and ensure that the products we buy are ethically produced, all the way from creation to consumption.
With few resources to check current market prices, these farmers have little bargaining power
Africa makes a good case study for how technology is being employed to combat corruption in supply chains. Around 70% of the world’s food comes from smallhold farms, many of which are in developing nations, or less wealthy parts of the world. In Africa 70% of the population is employed in the business of agriculture. Often lacking in education, and with few resources to check current market prices, these farmers have little bargaining power and can find themselves handing over produce and being at the mercy of the prices offered, rather than formally contracted amounts that fairly reflect market prices. Any company that’s benefitting from these transactions is operating through a tainted supply chain and has exchanged ethics for profits.
The question is simple. How can we both support and empower these, often female, farmers and ensure that they have access to technology that can remove the barriers to a fair deal and create more transparency in the supply chain? The answer may lay in some very simple technology, backed by some very sophisticated solutions. Companies such as Annona use blockchain to connect farmers to exporters and importers to provide full transparency on pricing and profit-and-loss reporting via SMS. Annona can provide payment functions to ensure that payments are made on time. It can also be operated offline, meaning that even farmers without a reliable internet connection are able to input data and take advantage of the technology.
Likewise, Jetstream Africa is working to simplify the food supply chain. Its app seeks to reduce food waste, increase supply and bring more economic power to smallholder producers. On another continent, Agromovil is improving last-mile logistics in Latin America. Despite disparate geographies, these companies have something in common. They all work on mobile platforms and are largely online applications.
The adoption of mobile is a huge step for African farmers. Prior to the advent of the internet, most research, communications and datalogging in developed nations would take place on paper and ledgers, and those needing further information could go to libraries or government offices, but even this infrastructure has not always been readily available in some African nations. The arrival of companies such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and their efforts to drive reliable internet and cloud adoption globally means that countries that may not have a traditional infrastructure are now able to access the information and resources they need online. African mobile penetration is expected to reach around half a billion users by 2020, with 44% penetration in 2017, according to GSMA’s latest mobile economy report. As of 31 December 2017, 35% of the African population also has internet access, a number that continues to grow. This growth is providing a ready-made infrastructure for mobile apps and cloud platforms that can improve transparency and fight corruption.
Mark Labs is using machine-learning platforms to track donations from bucket to recipient
And corruption in supply chains can take many other forms. One of these is charitable donations that reach the wrong hands – inadvertently hurting, rather than helping, the communities they’re aimed at. An oft-cited example of this is the original Live Aid concert in 1985. Live Aid was criticised in many quarters for providing then Ethiopian dictator Mengistu with money to buy arms to break the deadlock of the civil war raging at the time.
While the urge to give is laudable, if not carefully managed, the poor farmer looking for aid in developing and creating their farm may end up with nothing. Again, technology can make these issues a thing of the past. Mark Labs is an example of a company that’s using machine-learning platforms to track donations from bucket to recipient and analyse and optimise the impact of donations and even sustainable investments.
Again, the logging and analysis of data can be done in real time and analysed quickly to provide quantifiable metrics around the impact and success of donations. By carefully monitoring the data, charities and other organisations can ensure that the right people are receiving the aid, and that any money lost to corruption can be easily identified and tracked down.
Corruption is a global industry, estimated at around $2 trillion. It’s not going away any time soon. However, growing consumer awareness around the ethics of business, particularly in our food, means that companies are having to react faster than ever to meet their responsibilities as corporate citizens. Being able to provide sophisticated solutions through simple hardware can mean that it is possible for companies to fight corruption through enforcing ethical business practices internally. And those at risk of being the victims of corruption can get the tools to ensure they get the fair deals to which they are entitled.
Eva-Maria Dimitriadis is Chief Operating Officer of C5 Accelerate, whose Shield in the Cloud competition is held annually to find companies that are providing accessible technology to fight corruption, globally.