Highly valuable farming advice at a fraction of the standard rates. This is what YeboFarmer, a new agri-tech start-up, aims to give the small-scale farmers of Mzansi.
Its founder, Dr Luke Metelerkamp, is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Rhodes University in Makhanda.
Through many years of research, he has a rare understanding of the specialised advisory services that new and small-scale farmers need, let alone the finances to pay high consultancy fees.
Metelerkamp, who also lectures at Stellenbosch University, tells Food For Mzansi that he developed YeboFarmer because of his own farming difficulties.
“It was my own experiences as a new farmer starting out, and all the questions and challenges that I’ve come across and continue to come across over the last three years, [that] gave birth to the idea of YeboFarmer.”
Despite his academic qualifications, personal research and quite extensive networks in the agricultural sector, he was struggling to find basic answers. “I didn’t know who to reach out to and spent a lot of time and energy trying to find the right people and the right answers to the questions I was facing as a farmer starting out.”
Every great business starts with a great problem
YeboFarmer will now set out to solve these problems once faced by Metelerkamp. He describes it as a website, designed like an application, which gives new and small-scale farmers access to highly valuable advice at a fraction of the standard cost.
He also hopes to fill some of the many educational gaps that, he believes, still exist in the agricultural sector today.
“The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development says that it wants to enrol an additional 10 000 extension workers in order to bring the extension worker-to-farmer ratio in South Africa up to a workable level. The question of where we find another 10 000 extension workers is a really big question, not to mention [the question of] how we build that capacity and how we finance an additional 10 000 extension workers across the country.”
The shortage of extension workers requires a creative solution, Metelerkamp says, and he wants YeboFarmer to become part of that answer.
“This idea of being connected to the land, the idea of feeding people, and the idea of running one’s own business and working outdoors, is just incredibly exciting and inspiring to me.
“Farmers – those who are smaller or just starting out and who do not have long family histories behind them in agriculture – we need to think about how we [could] support them better and how we [could] bring all the knowledge and expertise we can and put it at their disposal to make a real success.”
Putting power where it belongs
For Metelerkamp, bringing together different parties who would otherwise not connect is the key to the YeboFarmer business model.
“It’s a way of putting real power in the hands of farmers when it comes to selecting and evaluating the extension workers and agricultural trainers who support them. It’s about bringing in people who might not otherwise be able to connect to small farmers; people who might have retired. There’s a huge pool of skills and knowledge that is sitting there, [often] beyond our fingertips.”
With YeboFarmer, small farmers can use one platform to find the help they need easily, without having to wait too long for assistance.
Metelerkamp says the service was created to be highly responsive, since many agricultural issues are a matter of urgency.
“The target that we set for ourselves when we started out was to develop a system that really delivered high-quality support to farmers in a way that was on-demand and timeous.
“It is no good sitting with a pest outbreak or a disease problem on your farm and needing to wait weeks before you get someone out who can help you identify it, develop a plan and address it. You need an answer there and then. We’re really trying to develop something that is responsive to the urgency that so often occurs within agriculture.”
Wide range of support available
As a farmer himself, Metelerkamp is fully aware of the broad variety of skills a farmer needs to have in order to be successful. He finds that society in general underestimates how much farmers have to do and have to know, especially smaller farmers.
“It requires deep technical knowledge of the crop or livestock you’re producing. You really need to have an understanding of the kind of complex soil ecosystems underpinning … that. You need to have an ability to plan and manage long-term risk in the face of quite radical climate uncertainty, and think about financial decisions in that context,” he says.
“You also need to be a good marketer, you need to be a hustler, you need to be a salesman. You’re very often also managing staff and having to keep people motivated. You’re having to work as an HR manager and then, beyond all of this, there’s the kind of grit and vasbyt that it requires to start a small business in South Africa.”
Metelerkamp says that this is the reason why YeboFarmer was designed as a network with consultants who have deep technical expertise on things like crops and crop production, and identifying different pests and diseases, among other things. Other consultants can act as life coaches and there are even consultants who help farmers create marketing strategies.
It’s a menu of options available to the farmer – as and when they need it. It’s also a single place that will meet all of their needs, rather than different relations and service providers that need to be located and managed. “It’s really about learning through problem solving, with a one-on-one extension service and a social network.”
Win R5 000 credit with YeboFarmer!
As part of their launch celebrations, YeboFarmer is offering five farmers from across Mzansi the chance to win R5 000 in credit to spend as they wish on the YeboFarmer platform.
To enter, simply go to www.yebofarmer.app and create a profile. Once your profile is created, email firstname.lastname@example.org and explain what type of knowledge or advisory service you need, and how you will use the YeboFarmer platform to help your business flourish.
Entries close on Wednesday, 20 October 2021. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, 27 October 2021.
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