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Smallholder Alliance for Sorghum in Haiti (SMASH)

Spurring economic growth by linking farmers to buyers through mobile technology

Amid the struggles of Haiti’s economy, pockets of opportunity exist that, if used effectively, could improve the standard of living for thousands of people. Agribusiness is one sector that offers high potential for development. In recent years, RTI has been working with local partners to strengthen the market for several of Haiti’s main crops, while expanding earning potential and job opportunities in agriculture.

One of these promising opportunities came to Haiti in 2011, when Heineken International arrived on the scene by buying the national brewery, which has been in existence since the 1970s. The Dutch beer producer pledged to buy 60 percent of its ingredients locally, creating an outstanding prospect for Haitian sorghum farmers. But because sorghum is typically grown on tiny plots, meeting Heineken’s quota would mean solving the logistical hindrance of dealing with thousands of individual farmers. Outdated, paper- and cash-based methods made the purchasing process even more inefficient.

Since 2013, RTI has implemented the Haiti Local Enterprise and Value Chain Enhancement (LEVE) project , a USAID-funded effort to stimulate job creation in the agribusiness, construction, and apparel and textiles sectors. Through LEVE, RTI conducted a case study examining Haiti’s sorghum value chain and established a relationship with the Smallholder Alliance for Sorghum in Haiti (SMASH).

Creating a Modern Network of Sorghum Growers

SMASH is a public-private partnership between USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank, and Brasserie Nationale d’Haïti (BRANA S.A.), the Heineken-owned brewery. The effort is managed by Papyrus, a Haitian management firm. The goal of SMASH is to improve the livelihoods of Haitian subsistence farmers through a market-driven approach to increase yields of high-quality, locally grown sorghum in place of imported malted barley in the production of Malta H, a non-alcoholic nutritional beverage produced by BRANA-Heineken.

Following the initial case study, through which we assessed the sorghum market and the potential for both farmers and Heineken, Papyrus and RTI realized that mobile technology could help overcome the obstacles Heineken faced in working with smallholder farmers. To develop the application, we turned to Dimagi, a social enterprise and certified benefit corporation whose CommCare mobile data collection platform is designed to serve low-resource settings. Together, RTI, Papyrus, and Dimagi customized the CommCare platform for agricultural extension agents. The application helps SMASH agricultural extension agents stay in touch with farmers, monitor crop quality, and respond to typical challenges in agriculture such as pests, accidents, and destructive weather, while also tracking sorghum from the field to the grain storage center in Port-au-Prince.

With the application, SMASH extension agents can work more efficiently and quickly with farmers, helping them improve the quantity and quality of the sorghum they grow. Extension agents have seen a 90 percent decrease in the time they spend filling out data collection forms, freeing up time to spend more time consulting and advising farmers.

SMASH is building a sustainable arrangement in which farmers gain a steady customer, Heineken fulfills its local sourcing pledge, consumers enjoy a quality product, and all parties can operate more effectively. The application generates data that can inform daily, monthly, and annual decision-making. For example, SMASH’s extension agent manager can monitor the progress of extension agents’ work across active localities, while the SMASH buying manager can monitor projections of the end-of-season harvest to inform purchasing logistics planning.

The rollout of the mobile platform has faced some significant obstacles. For example, Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in the fall of 2016, in the middle of our pilot test. Many sorghum farmers lost their crops in the devastating storm, but we were able to regroup, and moved ahead with development in the 2017 growing season.

In supporting SMASH, we draw on our worldwide experience in agriculture and workforce development, our technological expertise, and our strong relationships with Papyrus and other partners in Haiti. We continue to build and launch new portions of the application, including an integration with data visualization software to enable easy, daily access to data tailored to stakeholder needs.

Expanding Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers

Our intervention has begun to have an impact upon sorghum farmers, who will soon enjoy the benefits of a paper-free purchasing process. The application itself has potential for other projects and customers, both in the commercial space and in our development work in agricultural markets worldwide. By introducing innovative ideas and practices, we are helping spark the modernization and expansion of Haiti’s economy. As a career field, agriculture can appear old-fashioned to Haiti’s youth, but it remains essential to food security and economic well-being. Integrating technology increases both the appeal and the chances for success in agricultural careers.

SMASH is a prime example of how innovative thinking and local know-how can help multinational companies have a positive effect on lower-income countries and their communities. The partnerships fostered by SMASH will help both small and large businesses expand, benefit the Haitian economy, and create a replicable process for other value chains that have the potential to improve the agricultural sector and society as a whole.