Dr. Monika Lessl

Social Innovation to Improve the Lives of Smallholder Farmers

A woman is holding a child in front of a group of people.

Bayer and myAgro, a start-up company, are working together to help African smallholder farmers and their families grow more food and improve their health – a good example of how innovations can also have a powerful social impact.

When I first heard of the idea that smallholder farmers in Africa can set aside savings using their mobile phones, I was fascinated. The thought that occurred to myAgro founder Anushka Ratnayake was as simple as it was ingenious. These farmers have no bank accounts, and most have no access to loans. As a result, after a harvest, for example, they have no way to set aside money to purchase fertilizer and new seed. However, nearly all of them own a mobile phone. Why not – and here is myAgro’s innovative idea – use the mobile phone and a prepaid card with a scratch-off code to build their savings one or two dollars at a time?

Smallholder farmers are indispensable for food production.
Monika Lessl
Head of Corporate Innovation and R&D at Bayer

Why is Bayer, as a company, working with this particular start-up? The agriculture of the future and the challenge of feeding the growing world population require a wide variety of responses. These include organic farming as well as conventional agriculture, which can produce food in large quantities. From a global perspective, however, smallholder farmers play a very important and often underestimated role. They produce 70 to 80 percent of the world’s food. And especially when it comes to feeding the population in Africa and Asia, their role is crucial. However, many of them live in poverty. The question, then, is this: how can we help smallholder farmers – and 70 percent of them are women, by the way – escape the cycle of poverty and become independent entrepreneurs? This will only be possible if the smallholder farmers are sustainably enabled to achieve higher-yielding crops over the long term. This is the motivation behind myAgro’s innovative and comprehensive concept, making it a great partner for us. In addition to the innovative digital platform that helps the farmers build their savings, myAgro also offers training sessions. These workshops address not only agricultural practices, but also health and nutrition, topics of great interest to many women.


Worm Infections as a Poverty Risk

Many families in West Africa are affected by epidemic-like worm infections. These are especially hard on children, hampering their development. However, the necessary medications are expensive and often unaffordable for farmers – an additional risk of poverty. Nutrition and health are central areas of focus for us at Bayer. Therefore, we formed a partnership with myAgro, developing and presenting training workshops focused on health and nutrition and supplying children with deworming medications. In Mali alone – currently a main focus of myAgro – a joint deworming initiative from May to the end of June treated a total of 31,000 children, while more than 16,000 women participated in training sessions.

A woman in a pink shirt stands in front of a glass door.
Monika Lessl
Head of Corporate Innovation and R&D at Bayer

Bayer Promotes Innovations

myAgro is a successful example of social innovation – entrepreneurship that achieves social progress through innovative ideas. Doing what myAgro has done, i.e. introducing an innovative business concept that enables people to help themselves, makes an important contribution to sustainable development. Start-ups like myAgro, through their specialized expertise in certain fields and their agility, can quickly advance innovations. We, at Bayer, can then open the door for innovations. We can make our expertise and resources available to implement and further develop ideas. We also view this as our responsibility as a research company. Therefore, our innovation strategy sets great store by close cooperation with external partners – such as universities, research institutions or indeed start-ups, as is the case here. We want to work together to achieve a goal that is important to us: finding solutions that help us address the problems of today’s world.

A young girl sits on the floor of a mud hut.
More information:
4 min read