The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world's most pressing social and environmental challenges. Like all Autodesk employees, they believe design can change the world, but the Foundation goes the extra mile to champion organizations taking on humanity's biggest challenges. One such challenge is poverty.
Last week, the Autodesk Foundation hosted Anushka Ratnayake. I was fortunate enough to meet her. Here is her story.
Anushka began her career in international development at Kiva.org where she learned about the power of microfinance to impact poverty. In 2008, she joined One Acre Fund and moved to Kenya where her job was to develop a repayment process for smallholder farmers on their microloans. As part of her work, she saw that farmers needed a savings model instead of credit.
Seeds and fertilizer are two of the biggest costs in a smallholder farmer's life, but they are sold differently than any other product. Whereas a farmer can go to a local store and buy $1 of sugar or 50 cents of oil, seeds are only sold in bulk — $100. Anushka wanted to make buying seeds more like buying oil or sugar. She wanted to create a system that allows farmers to pay slowly, over time. She modeled her new system after the way people buy prepaid mobile phone plans so that farmers could save money in advance of purchasing.
"What if seeds were sold like phone time? Buy a card; pay for a bit of seeds."
Today, Anushka is myAgro Founder and CEO, leading a team of 300 with headquarters in Bamako, Mali and a second office in Thiès, Senegal. In just a short 5-year period, Anushka's unique idea to use mobile technology as a savings platform has evolved from a 240 farmer trial to a multi-country program that serves over 30,000 farmers, proving that farmers can and want to save. myAgro is on track toward its North Star of reaching 1 million smallholder farmers and doubling their income from $1.50 per day to $3.00 per day by 2025 to move them above the poverty line and into the middle class.
In addition to providing a platform to help farmers save, myAgro makes a precision planter that deposits seeds and applies a small amount of fertilizer in one pass.
The result of using the precision planter compared to planting by hand is a 4x productivity increase in the amount of land that can be planted in the same amount of time. Automatically adding fertilizer requires no extra effort but improves crop yields. Maximizing the amount that can be planted means that more seeds are in the ground in time to get the most out of the rainy season. Minimizing the amount of fertilizer applied reduces waste and cost for the farmer.
myAgro is working with Autodesk to redesign the plow to reduce its overall cost. myAgro received a Product Design & Manufacturing Collection software donation and training from Autodesk Partner, Excitech, to migrate their designs and are now using Autodesk Inventor to improve the design of their precision planter to decrease materials cost and conduct lifecycle modeling to reduce weight and materials. Even with the ingenuity and philanthropy applied to date, a plow costs $300, which is a substantial amount for a farmer to save up for. myAgro and Autodesk are redesigning the plow to use more off-the-shelf components in hopes of reducing the cost to around $200.
Thanks to the myAgro team for the information and images for this blog post that came from the myAgro website.
If you would like to help support getting small farmers out of poverty, check out the myAgro donation page.
Autodesk has always been an automation company, and today more than ever that means helping people make more things, better things, with less; more and better in terms of increasing efficiency, performance, quality, and innovation; less in terms of time, resources, and negative impacts (e.g., social, environmental). The Autodesk Foundation looks to help those who have no choice but to do more with less.
Planting is alive in the lab.