Learn from Impact Founders: Farmer Charlie

This new series is a chance to reflect and highlight the forward-thinking businesses that have done well to respond to the risks in their sectors by creating sustainable impacts. Today we will be looking at Farmer Charlie, a forerunner in the Agritech sector.

Farmer Charlie implements the use of Agritech by bringing wifi internet to the field and weather sensors, and agribusiness information at a cost which is affordable for smallholder farmers. The use of Agritech is revolutionary as it both provides and is powered by renewable energy, more than market alternatives. 

Established in 2020, CEO & Founder Betty Bonnardel-Azzarelli was inspired by her 25+ years of space industry experience to create the space-based smart agritech company. 

Smallholder farmers lack vital information that can significantly increase their yield, manage their crops and access favourable markets.

 

Farmer Charlie brings this connectivity to those remote farmers around the world with the use of sensors in the field. These sensors help to monitor humidity and agricultural produce growth to accurately indicate the best harvest time. 

What does the Agriculture sector look like in 2021?


Agriculture contributes a significant share of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, with 17% directly through agricultural activities and an additional 7-14% through land use changes

The uncertain impact of climate change has an impact on the quantity of available space for efficiently growing products and will further increase the production risks faced by the agriculture sector. This emphasises the possibility of food scarcity by 2030.

This situation is intensified by the global population growth, which amounts to around 83 million annually. The UN Population Division report of 2019 projects the global population to reach 10.9 billion by 2100. This increase is expected to drive up the demand for food, while struggling to keep up with inefficient crop yields. 

The agriculture sector is part of the problem – and potentially an important part of the solution. 

Agritech is the use of technology to advance and improve the productivity and efficiency of agriculture. The industry witnessed a record amount of investment in agritech companies in 2020 of $22.3bn, demonstrating the demand for more climate crisis action within the industry and the financial gains from it.

Some of the advantages of agritech include the ability to produce higher-quality food at a cheaper cost for more sustainable production.

With the advancement of technology, farmers will be able to monitor their stock and address concerns before they escalate and cause greater problems on their farms. 


Agritech holds considerable potential to transform the agriculture production systems in the coming years. Figure 3.2 highlights the agriculture sector with the highest awareness of key net zero concepts compared to the other sectors, and the strides made by agritech provides the means to achieve net zero. 

Not only could it help address some of the more serious risks and challenges, but it has the potential to reshape the agriculture sector to improve the efficiency of food production and reduce emissions. 

What makes Farmer Charlie unique in their industry?

They strive to make a positive impact with all their pursuits by responding to and focusing on the UN SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and UN SDG 13 (climate action).

This is demonstrated throughout their impact business models and key sustainability pillars, which have scored well against the B Corp impact assessment. 

Farmer Charlie is uniquely positioned within the Agritech sector for their innovative manufacturing and wholesale process which is designed to significantly reduce environmental impact compared to typical practices for the industry. 

Their services preserve and restore the environment and resources by increased efficiency in the logistics chain, such as the efficient use of resources of water and pesticides for farmers. 

While their mission is to conserve and preserve the wellbeing of land and animals, Farmer Charlie goes a step further in their sustainability efforts to bring positive impacts across their business model.

Their commitment to the Community Pillar is praised for ensuring inclusivity within their business by setting specific, measurable diversity improvement goals. They conduct anonymous or ‘blind’ reviews of applications or resumes without attaching names or identifiable characteristics, and hold a micro-distribution model that provides economic opportunities to underserved groups.

Operating in Nigeria, there are many challenges in the effort towards agricultural adaptation to climate change for Farmer Charlie. Farmers have been slow in changing their harmful farming practices such as bush burning, deforestation, and rain-fed agriculture. 

Farmer Charlie aims to provide these digital solutions to these Nigerian farmers in 10km radius gateways, to reduce these climate injustices. They also provide local community investment programs and sponsorships, with written local hiring policies to strengthen their social sustainability goals.


What can the founder teach us?

Profit Impact had the valuable opportunity to interview Farmer Charlie’s CEO & Founder Betty Bonnardel-Azzarelli and hear how Farmer Charlie is placed within the sector, with some amazing insights to learn from. 

 

What are some of the sustainability challenges associated with your sector and how do you manage against them?

Farming can be a challenge, especially for smallholder farmers remotely located around the world. One of the main challenges faced by the 470m farms around the world, especially those 360m in emerging economies, is the lack of specific information.

This lack of information has an impact on the yield, on the food chain, and induces unnecessary waste. For instance, in cassava, academics typically report post-harvest losses between 50% and 87%. In addition, farming roots such as cassava generates peels, which could be used to feed chickens, creating a virtuous system of lower waste, and bringing additional value to farmers.

Also, the extensive use of fertilisers and pesticides has long term consequences for the ecosystem. Farmers should be informed of new farming methods which avoid the systematic use of pesticides and fertilisers.

Farmer Charlie brings information to the field, in a fashion affordable and tailored to farmers, through an internet connected hub, in the field and weather sensors provide local accurate information. This information allows for an efficient use of the resources (e.g. water, seeds, fertilisers), sharing of best practices, and a transparent farming process.

 

How are you measuring success?

 

Our aim is to bring growth to farmers, through a more efficient management of their farms rather than focusing only on increasing yield. Success is therefore measured in waste reduction, farmers revenue growth, long term use of resources (including soil), and farmers satisfaction.

 

Additionally, success is also measured in terms of uptake of the technology. Technology adoption is a critical element to ensuring farmers increase their revenues through sustainable means, preserving their environment.

It is a very difficult action, given the variety of profiles in farming in terms of age, gender, literacy in particular. For example, in rural areas in Africa, farmers are predominantly women. However their access to mobile phones may be subject to the authorisation and supervision of a man of their family. 

 

A lot of effort is being placed in Farmer Charlie’s user interface, and app functions to address technology adoption and promote it, through techniques such as peer-to-peer support for instance.

 

What is the role of agriculture in sustainability?

 

Agriculture is critical in sustainability. There is a generic global tendency towards urbanisation, depleting the countryside from valuable manpower. Urbanisation also leads to new consumption modes, which require new products, new processes and new packaging.

 

In addition, good farming practices can actually bring value towards the sustainable management of land. By collecting soil data, Farmer Charlie contributes to the monitoring of soil and a better understanding for the  preservation of the environment. Climate change leads to changes in weather patterns with an increase in extreme weather events. Better local weather information can support farmers planning their farming activities more effectively and limit the damages of these events.

 

While extensive agriculture can be damaging to our environment and planet, sustainable agriculture can integrate practices which preserve the environment and create a positive impact. Farmer Charlie encourages farmers to take up sustainable farming practices validated by international agronomists institutes.

 

Are there any upcoming regulations in your sector that other businesses should think about?

 

Regulations in net zero and pesticide use have an impact on agriculture. These regulations can only bring benefits if they are enforced. In addition, there tends to be a public awareness on the need for better agriculture. Movements such as slow food, regenerative agriculture, and organic agriculture contribute to more sustainable practices. 

 

Farmer Charlie’s policies are designed to support sustainability in a transparent manner which can be replicated by its suppliers and clients. We all need to ensure that our suppliers and our clients share the same vision as us. This requires sharing the information as well as developing policies which are clear about our objectives, easy to implement and have a positive impact on the SMEs business.

 

What inspired you to embed sustainability into your business?

 

The inclusion of sustainability in our activities came naturally, as a long term vision for our future. I firmly believe that sustainability enhances profit as it creates a longer term objective, and is definitely more efficient in the use of resources. For instance, the search for the highest yield in a field leads to soil nutrient depletion, and only brings a short term benefit. Sustainability is considering the business for the long term. 

 

Sustainability needs to be included in business as a “culture” rather than a process; it is being part of the community, the way of life, putting words into actions. Farmer Charlie promotes sustainable practices in a natural manner, considers that communities are critical for its development and places the individual farmer in a collaborative approach towards fellow farmers, bringing in learning practices within our company too – we can all learn from each other and together. We can all grow together.

 

You are our Impact Founder spotlight of the week. Can you think of any others that inspire you?

 

I am grateful for the opportunity given to Farmer Charlie to be the spotlight of the week. Working with Profit Impact shows that we both share a similar vision of the world. 4D Canvas introduced me to Sarah, and I would suggest the Canvas as a source of inspiration.

 

I met Liza, the founder of 4D Canvas, a few years ago, as she was developing her methodology. I really think it is a great tool, and I am grateful that we are a licensee to use it for us but also with others. The tool is a pragmatic approach to sustainability around four areas, governance, people, community and environment. It delivers concrete actions which can be enacted by SMEs such as Farmer Charlie, and is provided by Profit Impact though their Seeds of Sustainability program.

 

Through our own actions, one step at a time, we can together make the world a better place. That’s Farmer Charlie’s mission for smallholding agriculture. What’s your mission?

 

So, what can we learn from Farmer Charlie?


The shift in consumer behaviour means people want to know where their food comes from. The use of transparent trackable technology helps provide them with that information. 


When this technology becomes more readily available, agriculture focused companies that are unsustainable will witness customer disengagement and profit lost from inefficient yields. 


The food industry (markets, restaurants, groceries) could also be impacted by this, meaning SMEs within this sector have a unique opportunity to respond to these risks or create sustainable business models that customers are more likely to engage with and feel good about their purchases and consumption. 


SMEs also have the potential for more partnership opportunities as they already have aims to achieve sustainable goals. They can expect more engagement with the increasingly growing and invested agritech companies that will provide more long-term success, brand visibility, and farmer connectivity that has not been utilised before. 


Most importantly, the increased use of agritech and its implications for the net zero goal highlights the significance of SMEs needing to adapt and use initiative within their business to work towards net zero. 


From progressive thinking and understanding the urgency of net zero regulations, Farmer Charlie have been able to position themselves uniquely in their sector.

If you and your business would like to be featured in an upcoming blog, email Sarah at sarah@profit-impact.co.uk and it will be forwarded to our team!