Agritech startup Lersha has partnered with the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Institute (ATI) to expand its comprehensive digital solutions for smallholder farmers, with the goal of reaching one million farmers.
The partnership, which also aims to create digital profiles for these one million farmers, seeks to establish a framework that will pave the way for the efficient and seamless development and distribution of various digital agricultural services that target smallholder farmers across diverse value chains and commodities.
The two entities formalized their collaboration yesterday August 28, 2023, by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The partnership will span a three-year period until 2026, encompassing six regions, Amhara, Oromia, Somalia, Tigray, SNNPR, and Sidama.
This geographic scope includes the potential incorporation of 150 Farmer Production Clusters woredas into the program. These Farmer Production Clusters involve groups of 30 to 200 farmers pooling their efforts on adjacent land for collective cultivation.
“Data about smallholder farmers in Ethiopia is dispersed among various public and developmental organizations. Sometimes some of these data even leads to discrepancies,” said Abrhame Endrias, Founder and Managing Director of Lersha.
As part of this initiative, farmers’ demographic information, farm size and location, education level, soil type, and other relevant data will be gathered. The collected data will also be accessible to interested third parties.
Furthermore, the collaboration aims to provide Lersha’s primary offerings such as farm input supply, agro-climate advisories and fertilizer recommendations—to the registered 1,050,000 smallholders. The vision also encompasses plans to onboard 55,000 trained young trainees onto the digital platform as agents.
“Lersha has a strong track record of innovation as a private sector, and we believe that together we can make a significant impact on the lives of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. This also signifies the ATI commitment to working with the private sector with the aim of improving the service delivery and promoting pluralistic extension,” said Mandefro Nigussie, CEO of ATI.
Owned by Green Agro Solution, the Lersha platform was launched in 2018 and combines a mobile application, a call center, and agents. Lersha’s digital platform aims to address challenges faced by smallholder farmers by integrating data and services (such as farm input supply, mechanization service hiring, aggregation, and information for financial institutions) into a unified platform, offering a comprehensive one-stop extension and advisory service.
Lersha has trained digitally enabled youth referred to as “Lersha Agents,” responsible for tasks such as creating digital profiles, managing orders from registered farmers, offering agro-climate advisories and fertilizer recommendations, facilitating aggregation, and granting access to finance through Lersha’s platform, currently available in multiple languages (Amharic, Afan Oromoo, Somali, and Sidama).
Operating in six regional states across Ethiopia, Lersha has expressed intentions to expand its services to other African nations and has established an office in Kenya. As of August 2023, Lersha has trained and engaged 1,007 Lersha Agents, extending services to over 104,100 smallholder farmers.
By the close of 2022, Lersha was selected as one of the 11 startups under the GSMA Innovation Fund for Climate Resilience and Adaptation, receiving an equity-free grant over £100,000 to expand its innovation. Utilizing these funds, the one-stop digital platform is advancing the development of new agri-credit and insure-tech products for farmers.
“We are enthusiastic about our partnership with ATI, which lays the foundation for similar collaborations between public and private sectors, aimed at enhancing productivity and income for smallholder farmers in highland and lowland areas,” noted Abrhame.
The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Institute (ATI) is a federal agency dedicated to transforming Ethiopian agriculture and the lives of smallholder farmers by boosting production and productivity. ATI has also developed tech-enabled platforms like the National Market Information Service (NMIS), and the 8028 Farmer’s Hotline, a system that receive millions of calls from farmers every year.
The 8028 toll-free number offers information on a wide range of agricultural activities involving major cereal, pulses, and high-value crops.
Abraham highlighted that the partnership will also seek to leverage ATI’s products and systems to maximize their impact and resource-sharing.