Three Tips for Disrupting Agricultural Supply Chains
“Blame it on the supply chain,” has become somewhat of a mantra around the globe. Consumers are increasingly frustrated by grocery store shortages. Meanwhile, producers are struggling to get ahold of important inputs to keep their businesses afloat. For farmers and agro-dealers, the implications of shaky supply chains can have rippling repercussions for the food on our shelves. Supply chains in Rwanda are no exception: skyrocketing fuel prices, difficult roads, fragile inputs, inflation caused by the war in Ukraine, and the high cost of products like animal feed are all hurdles for reliable food production.
To tackle these challenges, the Feed the Future Orora Wihaze Activity is leveraging a cross-cutting market systems approach to support systemic change in Rwanda’s food markets. This is improving profits for small businesses and smallholder livestock producers, increasing opportunities for women, and laying the groundwork for reliable access to nutritious food. Based on the activity’s progress, here are three tips for strengthening agricultural supply chains.
Take the Risk: Innovate!
Taking risks can often feel like a leap of faith. But oftentimes, taking the risk is worth the payoff. Just ask Zipline – a California-based logistics company: Shami Benimana, Zipline Rwanda’s general manager, explained that the company’s first client was the Government of Rwanda: President Paul Kagame, decided to take a risk on the fledgling business in 2016 to supply life-saving blood to hospitals. Piloting this new technology was a natural fit: the country’s topography is incredibly hilly, fuel prices are high, and roads can sometimes be congested or blocked entirely from mudslides or when trucks break down on highways. Not long after, Orora Wihaze, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF), and the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) engaged Zipline to send drones with artificial insemination packages to pig farmers, who were struggling to access good quality breeding stock. Their pig breeds produced poor quality pork products and sows struggled to reproduce — typically only birthing four piglets per litter.
Whereas a normal trip from RAB’s pig breeding center in Muhanga to a smallholder pig farmer in Gakenke takes three and a half hours without traffic, this innovation has trimmed delivery times to an average of 20 minutes for the same delivery by drone, cutting cost savings nearly in half, and increasing breeding services. Beyond the partnership with Orora Wihaze, Zipline now delivers to over 400 facilities around Rwanda. Between the Muhanga and Kayonza distribution centers, Zipline typically sends out 400 drone deliveries per day, with an on-time delivery rate of approximately 99.4 percent.
Despite the initial risk of piloting a new technology for an extremely delicate and temperature-sensitive product, farmers, vets, and government stakeholders are already seeing the advantage. Cross-bred pigs are now producing an average of 12 piglets per litter, which has positive implications for farmers and consumers alike.
Prioritize the Environment
Eco-friendly supply chains aren’t just a nice idea: they are also a smart idea. Multi-national corporations are increasingly cutting ties with suppliers that don’t adhere to basic environmental standards, while fuel prices and last-mile challenges are rendering traditional forms of transportation unsustainable. The Zipline example is one way that Orora Wihaze is taking action: Zipline estimates that its drone delivery services can reduce emissions by approximately 97 percent.
Orora Wihaze also partnered with a logistics company, OX Delivers, to leverage their last-mile logistics expertise for transporting animal feed — aiming to scale up affordable, eco-friendly transportation. OX’s digital platform enables remote agro-dealers to place orders by text message, allowing more efficient aggregation of deliveries to traditionally underserved rural areas. Producers also benefit from backhaul deliveries of their products to urban markets at a lower price. OX currently has a fleet of 20 trucks, including two refrigerated trucks. It will introduce a fleet of eight electric trucks and install fast-charging stations in key districts by late 2023. Orora Wihaze will support a co-investment to lower OX’s investment risk for the new infrastructure.
Push for Gender Equity
Women have been historically excluded from the global supply chain sector. But, the business case for a more inclusive workforce is a powerful one: gender inclusion can lead to better retention, hard and soft skills, and balanced leadership. Orora Wihaze and its partners take gender equity seriously. One of the draws of working with OX, for instance, is that the company empowers women to take a more active role in the logistics sector. For instance, OX’s co-founder, Global Finance Director, the Rwanda-based Head of Talent, and Finance Manager are all women. Muhorakeye Leah, an OX Nyamasheke-based manager, whose team is made of 50 percent women, shares that OX offers better benefits and work-life balance than competing businesses, such as childcare facilities and flexible working hours. In a global society where women are often responsible for unpaid domestic labor and where the logistics supply chain sector is generally male dominated, these incentives challenge the norm and can lead to a more diverse workforce. On the whole, 40 percent of OX Rwanda’s drivers are women.
Francine Uwamahoro, OX Rwanda’s Managing Director, explains that beyond encouraging women to take on logistics roles, OX also leverages a “driver plus” model, encouraging employees to work outside their traditional scopes. Drivers are responsible for tasks ranging from marketing to managing orders, and deliveries to accounting. By expanding the traditional roles of logistics providers and encouraging women to step into these roles, OX promotes a sustainable cycle of economic growth and social impact by incentivizing a more diverse workforce to power agricultural transportation.
Going the Extra Mile for Stronger Supply Chains
These collaborative efforts are boosting access to feed, reducing potential for back-hauls, making transportation more efficient for smallholders, and improving productivity. Within these examples, we see how cross-cutting development solutions — like market systems analyses, social inclusion efforts, and environmental assessments — are worth going the extra mile.