Colombia’s 52-year armed conflict with the guerilla group FARC has left deep and lasting effects on smallholder farmers, many of whom were displaced or forced to grow illicit crops. Now, these farmers require support in transitioning to grow legal crops that are also nutritious and sustainable. They need real-time data and agronomic advice as well as transparent and traceable supply chains so that they can be profitable. What if simple technologies could catapult poor smallholders and make Colombia a global breadbasket?
Meet CurubaTech, our TFF Finalist Team who are focused on bridging the knowledge and accessibility gap for poor farmers through connected and data-driven farming. The Colombian startup connects farmers with independent agronomists and experts via simple and accessible platforms like WhatsApp and SMS. They also enable food transparency and supply chain traceability through the placement of QR codes on these farmers’ products that are sold to consumers. They are an important piece of the puzzle in facilitating the transition away from illegal to legal crops in rural Colombia.
The Situation Facing Colombia’s Farmers👨🌾
The Colombian peace agreement that was signed in 2016 put a definitive end to the armed conflict between the Colombian state and the hemisphere’s oldest and largest guerilla group, FARC. This agreement also brought forward agricultural reforms consisting of returning land to farmers who were displaced by the conflict, and established crop substitution programs to eradicate the production of illegal crops. These crops, like coca and marijuana, had been cultivated by farmers because they could get a better price for them, and sometimes they were even forced to grow them.
Because illicit crops were so profitable in the market, farmers were supported by FARC to grow them with cutting-edge technologies and agronomic support. Now, in order to break the cycle of illicit crop production and provide improved livelihoods to smallholders, affordable and accessible technologies, technical assistance, and knowledge on how to grow legal crops is required. Doing this when just 10% of the rural population of Colombia have access to stable, reliable internet, is a challenge, but CurubaTech is determined to solve it!
Simple and affordable technical assistance💡
CurubaTech has built a right-sized solution for the obstacles that these farmers face. They work directly with farmers and connect them to independent agronomists via a simple platform.
Farmers in remote areas can leverage simple technologies that they already have access to and use on a daily basis – such as photos, texts, and voice messages on WhatsApp – to send information on their farming practices to the CurubaTech platform.
While farmers give general locations, the CurubaTech platform also hands experts data regarding temperature, altitude & precipitation to allow them to make informed decisions. The startup also collects wherever possible additional data on the farm including type of ownership of the land, slope, soil type, and water sources impacting the land, creating packages of data that up till now haven’t been collected for agricultural purposes in the country. It integrates crop data regarding the type, cycle length, area, seeding method, seeding quantity/ha, total seeding quantity, reason for seeding method, production goal and start and end date. This allows farmers to properly track their progress and goals, while experts understand the needs and methods used by that specific farmer.
Finally, the database has included land planning factors such as reforestation zone, restrictions or recommendations of public entities, and legal type of use of the land, promoting sustainability and eco friendly practices – all at a click of a button.
“Distance & lack of infrastructure has made technical assistance expensive in Latin America, meaning that farmers must use old fashioned techniques with low productivity & high losses. We created a simple technological solution that connects farmers with experts, enabling remote technical assistance that makes a sustainable, inclusive & environmentally friendly agriculture possible”. Says Paula, CEO of CurubaTech
Next, the farmers get connected to agronomists. Thanks to the available data, the agro-experts need to visit the fields only once a month and are able to reduce operational costs from travel by up to 80%. Agro-experts provide their services on an ongoing basis, helping the farmers increase their profitability and improving their abilities to make better decisions in areas like pest management, use of inputs, managing water stress and more. Through CurubaTech the agro-experts work independently and can therefore give unbiased advice, which allows them to recommend more sustainable, biological inputs instead of being bound by one company.
Telling the Stories of Farmers🗣️
Yes, data is the new gold! Capturing all this information certainly helps the farmers – but CurubaTech wants to go further. They are building a capability to make fully-traceable foods that will earn back the trust of consumers.
Food traceability efforts are gaining momentum. Today’s consumers are not only interested in the origin of their food but also in the way it was produced. Thanks to CurubaTech’s platform, retailers will be able to use storytelling to communicate the social-added value of farmers’ products with consumers. The Colombian startup envisions a QR code attached to their certified products to set food transparency and encourage consumers to pay premiums for their food while establishing an emotional connection with food growers.
“Today’s consumers want more details about what they are about to eat. That is why CurubaTech uses the data collected during crop lifecycles for technical assistance purposes, turning it into information that farmers can use for certification processes & a story behind the product & the farmer. QR codes allow us to share these stories with consumers, giving them food traceability & creating emotional connections, ultimately generating products that can have a higher value that goes directly to farmers, allowing them to earn a decent living wage for the amazing job they do.” Says Paula, CEO of CurubaTech
The architects of a new food system🌱
Paula and Cesar launched CurubaTech as a result of the lack of an organization enabling food transparency and traceability in Colombia. The father-daughter duo are both architects and have lived in Australia while itching to go back to Colombia to establish their entrepreneurial journey there. Conventionally, architects are the technical specialists of a range of physical structures – skilled in problem solving. Instead, Paula and Cesar have decided to be the architects of a new food system that facilitates the transition of illegality in rural Colombia while setting the foundation of a win-win scenario for farmers and agronomists. CurubaTech is on the way to becoming an affordable platform for farmers and agro-experts transforming the agro-space in Colombia. Collaboration is also key to their success and so their network reaches far beyond CurubaTech. They are part of the ecosystem that includes productive (AMACA) and infrastructure components that have been recognised by the government as strategic projects of national interest. Through these partners, the entire value chain is covered and wide-spread impact can be unlocked.
The team has great ambitions and expect to integrate large retailers to their platform. They dream big and expect to see the supermarket aisles with food fully traceable in Colombia and beyond. They have partnered with one of the most well-established universities in Latin America, Los Andes University, and have a partnership with the Colombia National Police Anti-Narcotic Department.
CurubaTech is about to embark on a pilot with 40 producers and 2 agro experts in which they will create a baseline with the information they have identified as essential from farmers, their lands and their crops. The information will then be shared with agro-experts to issue a diagnosis and send out recommendations. Follow-ups on recommendations, and reminders will also be part of the solution. All communication will be done using already-used tools such as voice notes and WhatsApp text messages.
TFF is working with CurubaTech to help them with their business model, set new and more advanced pilots and continue growing their impact, and their view for the future of this industry.
If you want to find out more about CurubaTech, partner with them, or meet the team, please reach out to email@example.com.
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