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New Mobile Tool Comes to the Rescue of Small Farmers Around the World

Venkat Maroju, SF ’07, believes that the only way to improve one part of an agricultural supply chain is to improve every part. With his radical mobile invention SourceTrace, he is proving out that theory. With software tools to help manage the growth and sale of crops as well as to purchase and track goods, SourceTrace has transformed agricultural supply chains across Africa and around the world.

Venkat Maroju, SF ’07

As a politician in Telangana, the region in southern India where he was raised, Maroju observed the hardships associated with small-plot farming, the source of income for most families in the region. He saw that abrupt changes in agricultural policy and predatory lending practices were so ruinous to small farmers that an alarming number of them were committing suicide.

As a student in the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in 2005, Maroju studied microfinance in India and wrote a thesis that looked at the impact of cell phone ownership on citizens of rural villages. SourceTrace was, at that time, a struggling tech company focused on mobile banking. With lessons learned from his years in rural India and his rigorously researched thesis, Maroju suggested the company pivot to agriculture. Company leaders thought the idea inspired and appointed Maroju CEO in 2013.

Unlocking improvements in the supply chain—end to end
In an interview with MIT News, Maroju notes that “in agriculture, you can’t do anything in isolation.” He says that the SourceTrace approach is to take into consideration the entire value chain—input suppliers, extension organizations, buyers, processors, truck drivers. They all play a crucial role. “To make an impact, you have to build end to end.”

SourceTrace software is making farming sustainable and supply chains efficient. At the same time, it is bringing transparency and traceability into the food marketplace in 28 countries—60 per cent of the company’s customers are in Africa. The SourceTrace platform has improved production processes for more than 300 different crops.

Maroju, a mentor at the MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, says he has always been dedicated to social issues, never forgetting his own childhood, which was marked by extreme poverty. SourceTrace has been a vehicle for righting some of those societal wrongs. “We’ve always focused on the farmers,” he says. “I’ve always been passionate about smallholder farmers, and we really want to give back.”

Watch how SourceTrace works for rural farmers around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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