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Farm Business Advisors

The cost-efficient, sustainable way to market to farmers in remote locations.


Farm Business Advisors (FBAs) are entrepreneurs who go door-to-door and field-to-field, supporting small-scale farmers to grow crops that can be sold for attractive returns. FBAs provide an essential last-mile market link for farmers located in remote areas far away from commercial centers. By traveling to the farmer’s field, they learn directly what challenges the farmer faces—problems like water control, poor soils, damaging pests, or difficulty getting crops to buyers. 

Together, the FBA and the farmer work out a strategy, which might include investing in new equipment like drip irrigation or introducing higher-value crops into their annual agricultural cycle. They sell farmers inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers, drip irrigation kits, and other agricultural tools, earning a commission on each sale. FBAs keep in regular contact with their farmer clients to answer questions, solve problems, and ensure that investments are yielding the expected results.

A flexible way to respond to different environments

iDE developed the Farm Business Advisor strategy in Cambodia and Nepal in the mid-2000s. It has been expanding ever since. Today there are more than 1,500 active FBAs serving clients across nine countries. While the market-based principles are consistent across all countries, the programs are tailored to the unique context of each environment. 

A few examples illustrate the diversity and flexibility of the FBA approach.

Fighting a plant pest in Nepal

Rupa Thapa is an FBA who received special training on the Tuta pest by the IPM Innovation Lab. Many of her farmer clients lost about half of their production last year due to damage from the Tuta. She markets safe integrated pest management technologies and receives a commission from agro suppliers. Here, she is standing in a demonstration field (owned by her customer, Sanu Rana) that is undamaged by the Tuta pest.

I De Pc Nepal 3X2
Going digital in Mozambique

Data collection is an important part of an FBA’s job because it helps iDE make smarter decisions. By analyzing data, a team leader can gain insights such as which FBAs need additional training, or which products and services are in demand. In Mozambique, the FBAs receiving tablet training in this photo may be rewarded with extra business opportunities such as loans and new business linkages.

I De Pc Moz 3X2
Transport solutions in Zambia

In Zambia, large markets require farmers to deliver their produce in boxes built to specific standards. FBAs build these tomato boxes and rent them to their farmer-clients for a profit. By adopting the standardized boxes, farmers gain access to multiple markets that were once out of reach. This helps farmers be more flexible—to sell on different days and at different locations—and enables them to receive the top value for their produce. 

I De Pc Tom Box 3X2

Two Distinct Management Models

Before launching a new Farm Business Advisor program, iDE conducts a business opportunity assessment to understand the environment and market challenges. This assessment includes interviews with farmers, retailers, customers, and other market actors. The team researches existing supply chains and farmers’ access to these markets. 

Social Enterprise Model

If it’s determined that the market either doesn’t exist or is too broken to work within, the team may decide to start a social enterprise: a for-profit company that takes an active role in the value chain. 

Social Enterprise Model in Cambodia

In Cambodia, iDE has established a social enterprise named Lors Thmey. The social enterprise recruits, trains, and provides a range of services to FBAs including bulk purchasing of products and expert agronomy support. Lors Thmey is buying produce from farmers to sell in bulk to big buyers—guaranteeing farmers a profit on their produce and a means to sustainability for Lors Thmey.

I De Pc Lors Thmey 3X2

Market Model

The dispersed market model may be used where agricultural markets are relatively well-developed and individual firms have the size and capacity to support and make effective use of FBAs. In this model, iDE works with existing market actors that may be found at any point in the value chain. 

Market Model in Bangladesh

Pictured here, a Bangladeshi farmer uses a reaper rented from an FBA. In a dispersed market model, FBAs may be exclusive or may act as free agents. iDE supports them by creating partnerships with private companies, financial institutions, local dealers, and other market players to support the development of a market for the products and services FBAs provide. 

I De Pc Reaper 3X2

Over time, the FBA approach requires fewer resources to reach more farmers. When strong linkages have been established, trained FBAs continue to grow their businesses, disseminating knowledge and services to farmers well after the iDE program is complete.

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Bridging the design gap between the developed and developing worlds

Understanding that small-scale farming families have severe resource limitations, iDE works to help minimize the pressure on labor, income, water, and energy by identifying and re-designing technologies existing at the intersection of these four resources, which can have a life-changing impact on struggling farmers.


Read more: Technology that uses resources wisely, but isn't cost-prohibitive to poor farmers, is smart