Guest post by Matthew Bailey, Community Relations Manager at Justice Hero

A staggering 78% of the world’s poorest people, almost 800 million individuals, live in rural areas and are predominantly engaged in farming. Smallholder farmers, in particular, face daunting challenges: limited access to affordable financial services, scarce knowledge of high-quality inputs, minimal use of technology, and weak market links. These issues hinder their productivity and impede their integration into the broader agricultural value chain.

Agricultural social enterprise represent a new business model with the purposeful focus of helping those in their sector. They operate with the dual objectives of pursuing commercial success and achieving a social mission primarily aimed at enhancing the well-being of smallholder farmers.

This step-by-step guide will help you in starting your own agricultural social enterprise. More than just creating a successful business, we know your goal to start this enterprise is to make a real difference. By helping small farmers, you’ll be contributing to a healthier, more efficient, and fairer world.

Understanding the Landscape

Before starting a new social enterprise focused on agriculture, you’ll need to understand the current problems that affect this sector.

In 2023, farmers are facing several problems that affect how much food we can grow and how it affects our planet. They’re dealing with the impacts of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and storms, which complicate planting and harvesting schedules and often lead to considerable losses in production. In places like Latin America, the El Niño weather pattern makes these problems even worse, as this natural phenomenon changes the usual times for growing crops.

Another significant challenge is the rising cost of agricultural inputs, made worse by geopolitical issues and inflation. This cost increase affects the entire supply chain, from growers to consumers, as it ultimately leads to higher prices for agricultural products. The labour market in agriculture is also facing difficulties, with a notable scarcity of qualified and affordable workers. This shortage directly impacts critical farming activities such as planting and harvesting, thereby affecting overall productivity and supply chain efficiency.

Price volatility in agricultural products is another concern, with prices fluctuating due to various factors, including supply and demand dynamics, weather conditions, and geopolitical events. This unpredictability makes it challenging for all actors in the supply chain to plan effectively and maintain stable business operations.

Legal developments revolving around the agricultural sector, such as the Monsanto RoundUp lawsuit, are also a challenge. These lawsuits have raised concerns over the safety and environmental impact of certain agrochemicals, further complicating the decision-making process for smallholder farmers and agricultural enterprises.

Additionally, access to capital remains a hurdle for many in the agricultural sector. The difficulty in obtaining financing due to strict requirements and high costs hinders these farmers from making their farms more efficient and sustainable.

Lastly, food waste is also a major issue, with a significant portion of produce going to waste due to inefficiencies in how it’s grown, moved around, and sold. This not only results in economic losses but also has negative environmental impacts.

Planning Your Agricultural Social Enterprise

Planning your agricultural social enterprise involves several key steps:

Identifying the Social Mission and Objectives

Your social enterprise should have a clear mission that addresses a specific need in the agricultural sector. For example, some social enterprises focus on making plants more resilient to climate stress using biotechnology, like Botanitec. Others, such as ProEarth Systems, work on reducing methane emissions from waste, linking household waste to community afforestation programs.

Assessing the Market and Understanding the Needs of Smallholder Farmers

Knowing the agricultural landscape, as mentioned above, will help you understand the market, including knowing your potential customers and the unique challenges they face. For instance, The Farmers Guide Uganda provides farmers with knowledge, skills, and technology to modernise their value chain with the hopes of addressing issues like low output and unsustainable farming practices.

Developing a Sustainable Business Model That Aligns with Social Goals

There are various business models you can emulate, but your business model should be sustainable, align with your social mission, and include efficient and cost-effective financial solutions.

A cooperative model, like the one used by the Payoga/Kapatagan MPC, is a possible business model you can base yours on. Payoga/Kapatagan helps farmers earn from selling fertiliser inputs to the cooperative, markets their products at fair prices, and ensures that the farmers are paid reasonably for their quality organic crops.

Key Components of a Successful Agricultural SE

SEs need various key components to be successful in achieving their goals. Here are some in particular for social enterprises focused on the agriculture sector:

  • Access finance. A fundamental challenge for agricultural social enterprises is securing adequate financing. Effective strategies include devising more efficient, cost-effective, and customised financial solutions that unlock credit and manage risk. 

This often involves exploring alternative finance providers and specialised financial intermediaries. Index-based agricultural microinsurance is another avenue that can be explored to mitigate financial risks in agriculture.

  • Improve productivity. Enhancing productivity often involves introducing user-friendly information and communications technology (ICT) applications and non-ICT extensions such as advisory and consulting services. Capacity-building services are also essential, which enable smallholder farmers to use yield-enhancing solutions more effectively.
  • Addressing ethical concerns. As you embark on establishing your agricultural social enterprise, it’s crucial to be mindful of potential challenges that might harm chickens, including young to mature ones. Ensuring ethical and sustainable practices in your venture is paramount, as it contributes to a healthier agricultural ecosystem and aligns with the overall goals of social enterprises. By addressing concerns related to animal welfare, you not only enhance the well-being of smallholder farmers but also promote a holistic and compassionate approach to farming. Integrating responsible practices into your agricultural social enterprise can produce positive impacts, fostering a more efficient, fair, and humane agricultural future.
  • Increase post-harvest value. Social enterprises can offer processing and packaging solutions to enhance the value of agricultural produce after harvest. These are designed to increase the shelf life of products and can be tailored to target different types of agricultural produce. General- or sector-specific storage solutions also play a vital role in this component.
  • Create value chain and market linkages. Efficient market linkages may involve removing intermediaries from the distribution chain and establishing platforms that facilitate direct business transactions and information flow between suppliers and buyers. This approach streamlines the value chain and ensures better prices for farmers.
  • Be transparent. Maintaining transparency in operations, sourcing, and pricing is critical in building trust among all stakeholders, including farmers, consumers, and investors. Transparent practices in business operations reinforce the credibility of the social enterprise and help build long-lasting relationships.

Building Partnerships and Networks

Partnerships with producers are vital for social enterprises as they provide a direct connection to the farmers and help understand their needs and challenges. The government agencies you collaborate with can help you in policy-making, funding, and access to larger networks.

Establishing relationships with local and international partners, including NGOs, private sector entities, and other social enterprises, can also provide a wealth of resources and expertise. These collaborations can lead to innovative solutions, shared knowledge, and increased funding opportunities. 

International partnerships, in particular, can bring in global best practices and new technologies that can be adapted to local farmers, which can help scale up operations, enhance agricultural practices, and achieve long-term sustainability and growth in the sector.

Your journey toward establishing an agricultural social enterprise is a commendable endeavour, and we’re glad to have provided you with a foundational guide. It’s a significant step toward a more sustainable and equitable agricultural future. As you move forward, remember the importance of thorough research into local regulations and agricultural needs—this will be key to the success and compliance of your SE.

Your dedication to improving the agricultural landscape and supporting local smallholder farmers means a huge stride toward a better world for communities and the environment. We wish you success in this noble venture, confident that your efforts will bring about meaningful change. Best of luck as you cultivate not just crops but a brighter future for all.

From Farm to Impact: Setting Up An Agricultural Social Enterprise