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Agriculture for Entrepreneurs

Transforming small farms into small businesses


Big businesses think that small farmers aren’t worth investing in because they’re too poor and hard to reach. But we’re proving that theory wrong. For decades, iDE has shown that any farm—no matter how small—can move from subsistence farming to commercial farming, if it has the right support. And because women and other marginalized groups make up a majority of the world’s small farmers, providing that support has become a matter of justice and equality.

On average, the farmers we work with see an annual income gain of 30-50%. To our donors, we promise a minimum cost-effectiveness ratio of 10:1. That means that every dollar invested in iDE results in at least an additional $10 of annual income for a farmer. We are able to do this through innovative programs that create cadres of microentrepreneurs, support small businesses, and build resilient markets that support their sales sustainably, helping to prevent farmers from sliding back into extreme poverty.

It’s not just about dropping off a water pump or an irrigation system. Technology won’t work in a vacuum. Farmers need a combination of technology with the services that complement it: knowledge, credit, inputs, and markets where they can find steady paying customers.

We strive for a continuous positive feedback loop by combining user insights, product innovation, and business model design all in one intervention model that’s not supported separately, but all at once. This gives us the ability to spot business opportunities at different layers of the value chain. It takes this kind of holistic approach, and a business mindset, to establish a self-sustaining market for poor farmers.

BUILDING BUSINESSES

An entrepreneur at heart, Oli Ullah started his first business in the form of a welding shop in 1992 with just 4,000 BDT (≈ 50 USD). When his business started in the Chuadanga district of Bangladesh, agricultural mechanization was a rarity, but Oli was fascinated with machinery and spent time repairing them and learning how they work. iDE provided design support for Oli's own machinery manufacturing, helping him connect to farmers and other stakeholders. Since then, his business has grown exponentially, including hiring additional staff to focus on business development, marketing, and after-sales services. Janata Industries is now a household name in agricultural circles in Bangladesh.

iDE PC BAN Oli Ullah Callout 3X2

Oli Ullah, Bangladesh

We work closely with local entrepreneurs, or help locals establish new businesses if there are none present, to manufacture, supply, and service the equipment farmers need. Big businesses don’t want to sell door-to-door or collect smallholder harvests, but we can. Through collection centers and our last mile Farm Business Advisor networks, we create the aggregation necessary for these rural farmers to be a feasible and attractive market.  

Our Farm Business Advisors can reach remote farmers and provide them access to the things they want: better seeds, effective pest control, fertilizers, improved soil, and labor- and money-saving technologies such as solar pumps and micro-irrigation. They also learn about efficient agricultural practices as well as business skills such as crop diversity, planting tactics, water storage, post-harvest storage, and market strategies. We teach farmers to form collectives that increase their purchasing power and attract buyers in order to obtain economies of scale (e.g., for things like transport). The collectives coordinate who is producing what commodity, so that everyone doesn’t produce the same thing at the same time, driving down prices.

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Agriculture Publications

Check out these publications from our work in Agriculture.

Drip+ Alliance

iDE is forming the Drip+ Alliance to encourage new thinking and collaboration on ways to break through the critical bottlenecks that have prevented drip technology from achieving its potential for small-scale farmers.

Affordable drip irrigation plus a comprehensive set of tools.

iDE PC Drip Plus 3x2

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Trade Fairs for Farmers

One-stop shopping restores livelihoods, especially after disasters

Input Trade and Technology Fairs support smallholder farmers with access to private suppliers of certified agricultural products.


Read more: Input Trade and Technology Fairs build local market systems after shocks

Climate-Smart Products

Technology that boosts profits and is good for the environment

As the climate changes, these resource-smart technologies have become increasingly important.


Read more: How the right technology can enhance resilience

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Buyer-Centered Market Linkages

When demand leads supply, small businesses increase profits

iDE helps producers understand and react to the needs of buyers, creating business plans that help suppliers meet demand and increase incomes for everyone.


Read more: Read more about how we build links between buyers and suppliers