Innovating to Overcome Supply Chain Setbacks
May 19, 2020
Innovation in agriculture comes in many forms. Be it plant biotechnology, drones, or crop protection, farmers and those who are a part of global food security have embraced innovation through history to overcome challenges and feed one another.
Read on below to learn about two individuals in two very different parts of the world using internet-based innovation to overcome supply chain setbacks and find new ways of helping to feed people through a global pandemic:
Farmer – Umut Aybert Akbay: Izmir, Turkey
As in much of the world, serious measures have been taken by my government to prevent Covid-19 pandemic outbreaks. In Turkey, all public areas are closed but employees in critical sectors can run their jobs. For farmers like me, we can continue production: We’re allowed to work because everybody needs to eat.
Yet producing food and selling it are two different things. It is possible to have one but not the other. Because of coronavirus, the state has closed areas where people gather, including fruit and vegetable stands as well as livestock trading markets where many people go to buy their food. Although stores where food and basic needs remain open, lots of farmers have suffered because they have lost their connections to customers.
This challenge also has created surprising opportunities. I am happy to share with you the story of Uncle Hasan. In Turkey, we confer the honorific title “uncle” upon beloved senior citizens. He’s a small-time farmer who nearly went out of business because of coronavirus.
Then the internet came to the rescue.
I came to know Uncle Hasan, whose full name is Hasan Ali Agus, through the business of agriculture. My farm is in a village near Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, sometimes known to Westerners by its Greek name, “Smyrna.” I have a breeder heifer farm and grow corn, barley, wheat, clover, and cuticle to feed my animals. I also produce potatoes and olives for people.
A friend told me about Uncle Hasan. He was in financial trouble and wanted to sell a couple of heifers. So I met him. He told me that Covid-19 had devasted his business. He could not receive payments from his dairy customers. He could not even get hay to feed his cows. He had fallen into debt.
I learned that Uncle Hasan had another business. He cultivated seedlings and sold them to farmers who raised fruits and vegetables. He could not sell these, either, on account of the market closures.
This was a big problem for Uncle Hasan, but it gave me an idea. The markets might be closed, but the internet is open and cargo companies still make shipments. I reached out to an old friend from my university days. He’s a software engineer now. I asked him: Can we start a website that would allow Uncle Hasan to sell his seedlings to people he’s never met?
I’d never sold anything on a website, but I knew that many of our fellow citizens grow fruit and vegetables on their balconies and in their gardens—and that they’re thinking more about the importance of this during the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted supply chains and led to food shortages.
So we set up a virtual shop for Uncle Hasan, putting 19 different products up for sale. I promoted it on Instagram. All of a sudden, the orders poured in. Many customers wanted the seedlings so that they could grow their own food at home. Others were motivated by a sense of charity: They just wanted to help a farmer in need.
In three days, Uncle Hasan earned as much money as he used to make in two years. Demand was so strong that the website collapsed. We got it working again and kept on selling. On the fifth day, we had to stop accepting purchases because we had run out of supplies. Now we’re back in business again.
The success of this enterprise gives me hope because for many years I worried that my fellow Turks did not give enough value to agriculture. People who live in cities often fail to understand the difficulties we face as we try to grow food. Moreover, many farmers suffered from agricultural imports.
If I could wish away the existence of Covid-19, I would do it without thinking twice. Turkey is a top-10 country for its number of confirmed cases: more than 100,000. We’ve also counted more than 2,600 deaths due to the disease. These horrible numbers rise every day.
Amid this tragedy, we must look for the good. I’m seeing something positive in the way people are adopting a new attitude toward farmers. They have gained an appreciation for the importance of local farmers and what we do.
For farms this epidemic can be a revolution. I am hopeful that farming will be viewed as a prestigious profession.
Tiny seeds can grow into big trees—and the seedlings sold on Uncle Hasan’s virtual shop may help improve the status of farmers everywhere.
Umut Akbay grows corn, potatoes, olives, clover, wheat, barley, watermelon and breeder helfers near Izmir, Turkey. Using digital technology information to boost yields, Umut works with other farmers in Turkey to increase their corn production and he volunteers as a member of the Global Farmer Network. www.globalfarmernetwork.org
Writer and agricultural advocate – Rick McNary
The Explosive Growth of the “Shop Kansas Farms” Facebook Group
Why would 121,000 people join a simple Facebook group in a matter of 3 weeks?
One evening as my wife and I were watching a Hallmark movie, she told me that the meat counters were empty when she went shopping that day. However, we had just enjoyed savory beef which I had purchased from a young Kansas ranch couple. As I scrolled through Facebook on my laptop, I wondered how I could let my friends know about other farm and ranch families in Kansas that grow fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and other food for human consumption and sell directly to consumers. Thus began Shop Kansas Farms.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned in the last two weeks:
- An on-line, agricultural community is being built. In my 20+ years in the hunger space, it is my opinion that any solution to hunger has to be done in the context of community and that community has to be based on need, not on convenience. In fact, a phrase I learned in the Dedaab Refugee Camp captures that: today it’s me; tomorrow it’s you – they share in order to survive. Most of our community concepts in America have been focused on convenience; Shop Kanas Farms is based on need, yet out of that there are relationships being developed as people truly get to know their food and their farmer.
- Education is happening. One of the site’s administrators, Meagan Cramer, is a long-time friend who is the VP of Communications for Kansas Farm Bureau. In 11 years in her role, she has never seen such tremendous learning as consumers ask questions and immediately a farmer or rancher replies. Consumers are learning real-time about how agriculture works and people in agriculture are learning real-time to speak a language the consumer understands.
- Rural revitalization is taking place. I live in rural Kansas and have slowly watched the death of small towns and family farms. This new form of commerce is providing economic opportunities for both large, and small, scale family farms that are being tapped into like never before. As one farmer wrote me in a sidebar, “I had no idea I would actually make any money this month, yet this has been the most profitable month I’ve ever had in farming.”
- It’s had to stay focused on the purpose. When I began the group, the single purpose was to connect people looking for food to the wonderful farm and ranch families of Kansas who grow meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit so they could purchase directly from them. As people have joined, many have tried to make it about politics, criticism of the government, criticism of the certain ways people raise livestock and veggies, posting surveys for their own use and a variety of things that take us away from our purpose.
- People want to buy local. The disruption of our food chain has intensified the desire for people to buy local.
I’m asked if there is a company or organization backing me and I respond in the wise words of Dr. June Henton, founder of Universities Fighting World Hunger: “I’m far more interested in starting a movement than I am in writing by-laws for an organization.”
CropLife International members are using new digital tools and other innovations to help farmers continue to grow and practice physical distancing – click here to learn more.