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Guillaume Virag set-up Project Alba alongside a co-founder in 2011. This week he shares the story of his journey to Cambodia and what has spurred him on over the last few years.

“At 21, back in 2006, I discovered microfinance. To me, it brought together two areas of huge interest to me: on one hand, creating startups had been a goal since my first entrepreneurial bouts at 16, on the other, I wanted to contribute to more to key issues such as poverty than what I thought possible with IT companies. Microfinance showed you could bring entrepreneurship to development issues. And this made massive sense to me.

Farmers are living close to the poverty line

“Alongside my co-founder, we decided to analyse issues of farmers in developing countries, where up to 80 per cent are living at or close to the poverty line. We met with farmers in developing countries and with experts in the development sector to get a sense of what was missing.

“What was clear from the beginning was that farmers were locked into few staple crops such as rice, mais, cassava and because of the small amount of cash they made from it, could not afford to invest and innovate.

“If they do attempt to work alone, in developing countries, failure can come from so many areas for farmers. Inputs can be fake, they could have limited money to buy quality inputs when needed, irrigation systems could be too expensive to invest in, it’s possible they’re not able to react when pests come and if all goes well, they’re unsure of the market.

We partner with farmers

“We decided to explore the path of contract farming, which had worked well in the developed world. In the advanced model of contract farming we propose to farmers, the partnership we have with them shields them from many of these issues. We ensure to bring quality inputs, irrigation systems, and technical advice to their field, and we guarantee to buy the products to then resell it to wholesalers happy to see some reliable supply of products that were hard to get before.

“Setting up a model in agriculture takes huge effort and time. But when we saw it working, when we saw farmers not only picking up but also investing themselves in increasing more of their production, it was clear we succeeded in bringing changes for the 20 farmers that were included in our pilot.

Seeing the farmers improve week on week

“That’s were the motivation comes from now. Seeing week after week, month after month farmers partnering with us and being able through the partnership to diversify their production, to increase their income, to be more present with their families instead of having to migrate in all places to look for a job.

“Knowing that we are achieving these changes, now at small scale with about 150 farmers, with a profitable, sustainable approaches is closing the loop for me. It brings a lot of hope to see the impact that we have witnessed scale to millions of farmers in the years to come.”

Lowery Michelle, 16th November 2017