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Boston Consulting Group’s sustainable agriculture startups bring profits to small farmers worldwide

Published on February 2, 2023

What’s your guess as to the total number of small farmers in the world? While it is difficult to arrive at a specific number, there are currently about 450 to 500 million smallholder farmers, many of whom are locked into perpetual poverty.

Most smallholder farmers live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where they make up about 90% of all farmers and produce 80% of the food on their respective continents. 

Socially responsible multinationals are now working to change these conditions by investing in sustainable farming ventures, with positive societal impact already starting to show.

In a recent podcast, Lauren Blasco, Head of ESG at AC Ventures, sat down with Neels Steyn of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) about some of BCG’s investments in sustainable farming startups, including Singapore-based Jiva and a joint venture in Africa involving the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Nespresso coffee company.

As Venture Architect Director at BCG Digital Ventures, Neels aims to help the world’s largest and most influential corporations invent, launch, and scale innovative new businesses, products, and platforms with ESG and impact as a top priority.

BCG Digital Ventures helps Jiva expand in Asia

Jiva launched in Singapore in 2020 with a mission of empowering small farmers throughout the world. The startup assists farmers across various aspects of agribusiness, ranging from financing and farming supplies to sales and payments. Operations have already expanded from Singapore to India and many islands in Indonesia.

“Initially, we provide farmers with highly personalized and contextualized advice. We also give them access to input farming tools, delivering the tools directly to the farm gate. Farmers access and implement them when needed and then pay for them on a typical buy-now-pay-later model. They pay when they have the income or at the end of the harvest,” explained Neels.

From there, Jiva then helps farmers sell their crops and get fair and transparent prices, based on criteria like the total weight of the harvest and its quality.

Neels added, “Jiva now holds a 20% market share in the key areas where it operates. Farmers have increased their revenues by 40%. They’ve also increased their incomes by up to 50%, based not only on their higher yields but also on their savings on input implements. The impact of this venture is phenomenal.”

Building an open supply chain venture with WWF and Nespresso

BCG Digital Ventures has teamed with the WWF to build a platform called OpenSC, aimed at verifying claims about sustainable and ethical production by tracing food all the way through the supply chain – from end consumer to original producer.

“OpenSC also verifies that fishing only happens where it’s sustainable to do so,” added Neels. The platform is enabled by RFID and blockchain tech.

In its initial deployment, OpenSC was used in the fishing industry. Already, it is verifying the sustainable fishing locations of more than 15% of the global annual catch of Chilean sea bass.

BCG next partnered with Nespresso, starting out by using OpenSC to trace every bag of coffee from more than 1,100 smallholder farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the best parts for farmers? The platform also verifies that each farmer receives the correct Nespresso premium or standard payment. The program is now being scaled to other sourcing regions for Nespresso around the world. 

OpenSC is also penetrating other agriculture communities, with new product developments underway for staple food commodities such as palm oil and rice.

Get the full episode for free on Spotify, Apple, and Google

See also: AC Ventures and Boston Consulting Group run webinar series ahead of fintech report
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