The man behind Olam’s revolutionary tech platform
We put five burning questions to Simon Brayn-Smith, Director of the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS), as it hits a record 100,000 farmer registrations. Here’s what he said:
- How did it feel to reach the milestone of registering 100,000 smallholder farmers to OFIS?
It’s a big number. We started off three years ago with zero so to have reached a third of the farmers in the Olam Livelihood Charter is very exciting. What was originally just an Olam Cocoa initiative, has now been launched across our business units and adopted by eight of our products in 21 countries and translated into nine languages.
- How challenging was it to get to this point?
I’ve been living and breathing OFIS on a daily basis for three years now. My team and I have worked really hard to get to this point, particularly from a technical standpoint. We spent a lot of time perfecting the functionality of the platform to make sure it delivers what our users want in an efficient way. How did we do this? We had to listen to and incorporate the feedback of our field officers on the ground, no matter how many iterations of the platform it took! The second challenge, once we’d perfected the technology, was actually to build the brand of OFIS within Olam so it was seen as more than just a Cocoa initiative.
- What really excites you about OFIS?
The potential of OFIS is enormous. For example, the feature that pays farmers for their crops directly to a digital wallet on their mobile phone is only the beginning. We have the opportunity to create an entire banking ecosystem for people who have previously been completely overlooked by the financial system. From health and crop insurance to savings facilities and peer-to-peer lending, we could provide smallholder farmers access to these vital services and meaningfully improve their economic outlook.
- Have you had first-hand feedback from farmers about how OFIS has impacted them?
I have but it hasn’t always been an easy journey. Essentially, the farmer has to see it to believe it. Once he or she receives personalised advice on how to maximise their own farm, do they truly understand the benefits of a system like OFIS. I was there when the first cocoa farmers received their tailored farm management plans and they were incredibly excited. To receive a GPS map of their own farm was something they had never seen before.
- What are the three most game-changing aspects of the OFIS technology?
In no particular order, I would have to say the opportunity to embrace more farmers in the financial system; the level of transparency in the supply chain that we can offer customers into their sustainability programmes and finally impact that OFIS can have on Olam’s own sustainability initiatives. We can now harness the power of the data we collect in an entirely new way. Before, we could see crop yields were changing but we didn’t know exactly why. OFIS helps us to understand the big picture.