Meet Seedlink; one of 20 companies to have joined the Future 20 – our national incubator programme for the most innovative social and tech for good start-ups. Seedlink are an Agri-tech* company helping small-scale farmers in Malawi to access markets to increase profitability and reduce food waste.
The current climate of the agriculture business in Malawi means that urban buyers are not connected to rural farmers, so traders act as middle-men between them, which means farmers are not aware of market demand. This results in food wastage and undercut prices for farmers who often have an abundance of crops which are not in demand. Seedlink helps solve this problem by giving farmers access to markets and financing, helping farmers to deliver to buyers at competitive market prices and ensuring quality and consistency.
We spoke to Seedlink’s Founder, Muhammad Altalib, to find out more.
What does Seedlink do?
Seedlink provides market access and financing to small-scale farmers in rural Malawi. We use a network of agents and a mobile application to reach even the most remote farmers and provide them with fair and transparent prices for their produce.
Why have you chosen Malawi as the place to focus your work?
I grew up in Malawi with both my parents working for NGOs, which is why I decided to start Seedlink there. Malawi is a small country, is densely populated and easy to get around; this makes it the perfect test bed for Seedlink to start before we expand to other surrounding countries which face similar agricultural challenges.
What impact are you making on people’s lives?
The agricultural supply chain in Malawi is very informal. Farmers lack access to finance and there is an information gap between supply and demand, so farmers do not know what they should be growing. With Seedlink, farmers can build a transaction history of their sales, giving them access to the formal economy for the first time and allowing them to borrow. We also provide information to farmers on what they should be planting based on our forecasted demand, which means they can plant the most profitable crops.
What was the inspiration behind Seedlink?
It was when I was doing data research on agricultural flows from Africa that I saw Africa’s potential to feed the world. That, combined with growing up in Malawi and knowing the dire situation faced by farmers, led me to see a mismatch I couldn’t understand. It was then that I decided to return back to Malawi and start Seedlink.
What are the benefits for farmers to be signed up to Seedlink?
- Market Access: through Seedlink, farmers are given an assured market for their produce.
- Financing: By working with Seedlink and building up their transaction history, farmers can access input loans through one of our financial partners.
- Farmer training: Farmers get sent tailored SMSs on weather and growing information and access to an agronomist on call 7 days a week.
Seedlink uses a mobile app – how does this work in less developed countries where not everyone has access to smart phones?
Mobile use is growing rapidly in Africa and it won’t be long before having a smartphone will become the norm. That being said, currently most farmers do not have smartphones, so we need to a way to bridge the tech and non-tech gap. Our mobile application is used by our agents who have smartphones and internally for logistics, whereas the farmers interact with Seedlink via SMS and through our agents.
How do you ensure that farmers are paid more?
On average our prices have been 10% – 30% higher than the rural market price. Because we work directly with the final consumers of the produce we are always able to pass down the best prices. But it’s not always about farmers being paid higher prices. Farmers are able to plan better and grow more produce with Seedlink acting as an assured market, meaning that even with the same price level they will still have a higher income.
Do you have any shocking statistics you’d like to share?
- We need to increase global food production by 70% by 2050 to cater for an increasing population -this is a colossal task that should not be taken lightly.
- Africa is a burgeoning business opportunity. Africa’s food market is set to reach $1 Trillion by 2030. Consumer spending is rapidly increasing, and African countries have some of the fastest growing GDPs in the world. Demand for food is not slowing down anytime soon and we can’t keep up with demand.
How do you hope the Future 20 programme will help Seedlink to grow?
I’m really looking forward to the community and network around me. Building a business can take a toll on your social life and mental health. Being surrounded by 19 other ventures and an amazing support network of mentors will allow Seedlink to continue pushing forward.
Find out more about Seedlink, by visiting: seedlinkafrica.com
*Agritech is the use of technology in agriculture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency, and profitability.
The Future 20 programme is a bespoke incubator programme run by Allia Future Business Centre comprised of 20 of the very best UK tech for good and social ventures that are addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.