7.7 Billion

Teen's app helps farmers sell their produce at fair prices

Ms Ginna Jimenez created Comproagro, an app that allows Colombian farmers to offer their produce directly to consumers.
Ms Ginna Jimenez created Comproagro, an app that allows Colombian farmers to offer their produce directly to consumers.PHOTO: EL TIEMPO

"Mr Oscar, good afternoon. We saw your products online and we are interested in buying some."

This was the first call received two years ago by Mr Oscar Garzon, a Colombian farmer, from a client who saw his products on an online platform called Comproagro.

"Since I started selling my lettuce online, I have received a lot of calls," says Mr Garzon, who grows vegetables and potatoes, and has doubled his profits by selling directly to consumers.

"I'm very happy because being able to negotiate directly with the client allows me to sell at a fair price."

Created by Ms Ginna Jimenez in 2015 when she was only 15 years old, Comproagro allows Colombian farmers to offer their produce directly to consumers, enabling them to negotiate not only the price but also the payment and delivery methods. Ms Jimenez comes from a family of farmers herself.

She was inspired when officials from the Colombian Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies visited her school and discussed supporting innovative business projects with digital tools.

Later that day, she returned to her farm in the municipality of Toca, in the Colombian department of Boyaca, and told her brother and mother about her idea.

"Let's develop an app in which all the peasants in the country can sell without intermediaries, and finally get fair pay for their efforts," she told them.

AVOIDS MIDDLEMEN

Farmers say that the problem with middlemen is that they buy products at a fraction of the market price.

"Intermediaries pay us 500 pesos (21 Singapore cents) for an avocado. Since we have no other option, we sell the product. Then they go and sell it for 2,000 pesos, which means that they make three times more than we do, when we are the ones who broke our backs growing that avocado," says blackberry producer Jhonatan Lozano,who lives in southern Colombia.

Mr Lozano also appreciates the app. He has received about 10 calls so far, and most times he has managed to sell all his products at once, and at nearly twice the price he generally receives.

The platform does not generate profits for its creator.

 

"Right from the start, the idea was to offer a free service," says Ms Jimenez. "It would be unfair for farmers to pay for it, when they already invest a lot to grow their crops."

In 2016, the Colombian Public Ministry (Fenalper, or Federacion Nacional de Personerias) recognised Comproagro as a social peace initiative, in the category of entrepreneurship and employment creation.

At the time, the platform had around 150 registered farmers. Now it has more than 26,000 users in 29 departments across the country.

"At first, we promoted the app by word of mouth. My mother, brother and I worked hard and managed to convince the media to talk about us, so more and more farmers started coming," says Ms Jimenez.

Some farmers, such as Mr Jose Martinez and Mr Carlos Munoz, believe that the Comproagro platform could be better adapted to their needs.

Both farmers have been contacted several times since putting their products on the platform, but neither has been able to sell because clients always call outside harvest time.

"I would like to be able to update the state of my crops in real-time so that consumers know when they are ready," says Mr Martinez.

Ms Jimenez is aware that Comproagro is not perfect.

"A software engineer joined the team to improve the platform, but we don't have many resources. The idea is to add a chat so that farmers can constantly update the state of the product," explains the young woman, who is now 20 years old.

Her dream is for the platform to become a sort of eBay for farmers, and to remain free of charge.

To make a living, she and her family also sell their crops through the app.

In addition to helping farmers, Comproagro has created more than 30 direct jobs, thanks to its distribution centre in Toca, where single mothers peel and clean the products.

Ms Jimenez is now majoring in international business administration at Boyaca University, while her brother Brayan, a civil engineering student, and her mother Rosalba, manage the business.

"I want the platform to cross borders, so our farmers can export their products, and farmers in other countries can use our app," she says.•

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 30, 2019, with the headline 'Teen's app helps farmers sell their produce at fair prices'. Print Edition | Subscribe