Digital tech empowers Ghanaian cashew farmers

The Olam Direct purchasing app not only helps farmers get higher prices for their produce but also benefits customers by providing greater traceability for their purchases. Olam Communications Manager Elizabeth Nnoko describes the benefits.

An increasing number of Ghanaian smallholder cashew farmers are getting better prices on their harvests, and reducing their operations expenses, thanks to the continued rollout of a smartphone app that gives them direct access to Olam Food Ingredients in Ghana.

The app empowers famers to get prices directly from the company rather than from traditional buying agents, which yields not only higher prices for their cashews but cost savings on their expenses, as Olam manages “last mile” collection. This can have significant positive impacts on farmers and their communities: if the average daily food budget for a typical household of five is 14-15 Ghanaian cedis ($2.40-$2.58), farmers using the app can receive funds worth another month of food.

“We are very happy to experience Olam Direct this year. Through this we get access to direct finance and real prices for our cashew nuts. We do not have to sell to middlemen who will pay less of the buying price. I realised 150-200 Ghanaian cedis ($26-$34) per tonne, which is a better price for the cashew produced on my farm. I am also very happy to see Olam staff working with us even in off season guiding us to improve our farming practices. It really seems like working as a family. God bless Olam for the good work.”

– Prince Andrew Boampong, Micro collector – Asuano Wenchi Farmer Group

It’s one part of a robust, proprietary solution called Olam Direct, which was developed in-house to provide a variety of apps and tools to not only provide greater transparency on pricing, but access to agricultural inputs like better fertiliser use and farming advice such as insights on efficient land use to fight climate change.

The purchasing app was first piloted in 2018 and involved approximately 1,000 farmers and 125 tonnes of cashews. This year, over 5,400 farmers are participating and selling 3,100 tonnes, and Olam sees the number increasing to 8,000 tonnes in 2021.

“When we empower famers to do better for themselves, whether through business operations or supporting their communities and environments, we all win,” says Yussif Amankwa, Cashew Branch Manager, Olam Ghana. “Olam Direct is a textbook example of using technology to disintermediate and transform a supply chain so that it works more efficiently and fairly.”

“We have the benefit of selling to our micro collector who is also part of our farmer group, so we are not cheated in the prices. We all know the price the company is buying our cashew nuts.”

– Anna Fosuaa, Farmer – AsuanoWenchi Farmer Group

In addition, farmer participation in Olam Direct also provides the company’s customers with traceable and reliable visibility into their purchases (all transactions are geo-tagged and time-stamped, with farmers’ consent) and delivered via its AtSource platform.

It is a core technology pillar for delivering Olam’s long-term vision to reimagine agribusiness and food supply by focusing on empowering farmers and customers.

Benefits to entire communities

Established in 1994, Olam Food Ingredients’ global cashew business has grown in Ghana through strong, year-round farmer relationships that extend beyond the harvest season; its training programmes in good agricultural practice encourage sustainability, and over 30 programmes on 12 different relevant topics were delivered in 2019. A programme to train 400 female farmers as beekeepers in the off-season has already produced anecdotal increases in income of 15%.

“Olam has provided us a community buying centre where farmers can bring their cashew to sell directly to the micro collector and payment is made. We aggregate cashew nuts at the buying centre before the Olam truck comes to evacuate to the main Olam warehouse.”

– Opoku Moses, Micro collector – Asueyi Techiman North Farmer Group

Intriguingly, the programme’s success evidences a broader transformation of the sector: Almost half of the farmers benefiting from the Olam Direct programme are women and, as numerous studies find that they are responsible both for farm productivity and family health and well-being, it delivers direct and indirect benefits to entire communities.

Additionally, many of the buying agents have transitioned to become micro collectors for its digital transactions, thereby creating new job opportunities, and Olam is pioneering organising individual farmers to form groups so they can have greater voices in the selling process, as well as receive equal treatment.

“Olam Direct has given me a lot of experience in working together as a farmer group. I am deputed to deal on behalf of my farmer group and I can deal with Olam directly through my mobile. I do not have to worry if the agent is giving me the right price for cashew or not. I also do not worry about payment delays from agents since Olam pays immediately upon delivery. I wish Olam all success on behalf of all farmers in our group and hope that the company will continue to support us in future.”

Sarfo Noah, Micro collector – Donkronkwanta Nkoranza South Farmer Group

Olam Direct also empowers farmers to receive market information and alerts from Olam, ask questions directly via the app, and provide feedback or report issues to the company.

“Sustainability depends on the health and success of farmers on whom our customers depend,” says Mr Amankwa. “Working together, we can meet the increasing demands of consumers for food products that are not only natural but right for both planet and producer.”