Impact Terra: Transforming Farming Through Technology

Some of the brightest minds in agricultural technology are at work right now in Yangon, Myanmar. Based in a dark, high-ceilinged, colonial-era building in the old downtown, Impact Terra is quietly creating a revolution in how farmers access and use information to improve their harvests. This small team of mostly Dutch and Burmese social entrepreneurs has achieved scale and traction thanks to a confluence of skills, dedication, and the unique conditions of Myanmar’s farming sector.

Impact Terra was built around a vision of social impact: to leverage connectivity and enable smallholder farmers to become more knowledgeable and independent. Their ultimate mission is to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and their households, and to increase the safety and security of the food supply in Myanmar.

Founded by Erwin Sikma — a former McKinsey consultant and Rocket Internet managing director — Impact Terra was designed to address farmers’ lack of access to high-quality information about weather, growing conditions, and markets. In Myanmar, these problems were made more pressing by the country’s reliance on a large and inefficient agricultural sector. As of 2014, out of a total population of 53 million people, 36 million — 70% — were directly dependent on agriculture for their incomes, and farming made up 43% of the country’s GDP. Yet there was no easy way for farmers to share information, best practices, or pool resources for more efficient production.

But it was not the size of the problem alone that made Myanmar a fit for Impact Terra’s vision. The true catalyst was the boom in connectivity that occurred once the country emerged from military rule. Between 2014 and 2017, mobile penetration spiked from less than 4% to over 80%. The proliferation of smartphones made possible the spread of vital information across the country, and sparked the platform upon which Impact Terra has built its remarkable growth. In fact, Myanmar is unique among its peers as the country went straight from low mobile penetration to the proliferation of smartphones — skipping the feature phone phase altogether.

Through the free Golden Paddy mobile app, Impact Terra allows content partners to connect with, engage, and impact farming families. With partners like the Department of Agriculture, the Impact Terra team is able to provide real-time updates on weather, pest management, and prices across different markets. They also educate and entertain their user base with non-farming services, from teaching management skills and providing health lessons, to disseminating horoscopes, games, and news.

All these services are built with user engagement in mind. The Impact Terra team spends countless hours in far-flung rural areas of Myanmar engaging and observing their users, so that they can tailor their services to meet usage patterns and consumer demand.

That hard work has paid off, with the Golden Paddy app becoming popular throughout the country. Since launching in December of 2016, Golden Paddy now reaches more than 2 million unique users per month and is present in 97% of Myanmar’s townships. What’s particularly striking is that the app has spread without a concerted marketing effort. Word of mouth from satisfied users has driven much of its growth. Behind that expansion are impressive engagement statistics: users spend an average of 6 minutes on the app per session, and usage is spread across all functions present on the app.

It’s not surprising that users have great things to say about Golden Paddy. A rice farmer in Bago Division praises its “very precise weather information which helps us deciding what the best moment is to harvest,” and has high hopes for the upcoming harvest. A sesame farmer in Aungban Township uses Golden Paddy to see which types of pests are in his area, then uses that information to cooperate with his neighbors, “so we can manage pests together.” A cauliflower farmer in Southern Shan State has seen excellent results: “I have better prices for my crops because I now have good understanding what the price at the market is and can negotiate for a higher price with the buyer.” It’s hard to think of a better illustration of the transformative power of market knowledge.

Back in that dark, old building in downtown Yangon, Erwin Sikma and his team are busy building on their success so far. They’re heading out into rural townships to gather more feedback on the Golden Paddy app and market to new users. They’re finding new ways to turn the data they’ve collected into even greater improvements in farming practices and financial inclusion for smallholder farmers. Most important of all, they’re staying true to their founding vision, building products that the farmers of Myanmar need in order to be more efficient in their work and enjoy greater financial stability and independence. From here, the future looks quite bright, indeed.

At Alter, we’re proud to partner with Impact Terra and provide support on their path to scale. We’ve helped with with our expert matching program, as well as with key introductions to financiers. As they grow their team, we’re also aiding in their search for top managerial talent. For updates and to learn more about Impact Terra and our other partner ventures, visit our website and subscribe to our newsletter. We hope you’ll join us as we continue to venture boldly.