An app for millions of Zambian farmers to trade crops

Working with WFP to design and build a mobile app aimed at improving the lives of smallholder farmers in Zambia was a dream project for Torchbox.

The 'Maano' project was conceived by the United Nations World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator - a programme tasked with identifying, supporting and scaling high-potential solutions to hunger worldwide.

The goal: to help millions of rural smallholder farmers who struggle to gain direct physical access to local and national markets, connect and trade with buyers on a simple e-commerce app, optimised for low-end Android smartphones.

World Food Programme

2 mins read

The potential impact of this system at scale is immense: there are 1.5 million smallholder farmers in Zambia, 800 million worldwide.

The World Food Programme

Designing and testing the new app

We created clickable mobile prototypes of the new Maano app, ready for multiple rounds of user testing before we wrote a line of code.

WFP preselected a cohort of 15 lead Maano farmers and 30 buyers for user testing. These test participants were trained on how to use smart phones, WhatsApp, Google Maps and Airtel Money, to sell and buy produce.

We got some enthusiastic feedback, we iterated the prototype and got stuck into the app development.

How does it work?

Maano is an end-to-end marketplace, where:

  • farmers add their crops.
  • buyers bid on them.
  • transporters arrange delivery.

Maano supports a fair and sustainable marketplace, increasing farmers' bargaining power and potential profits by supplying them with real-time information the value of their crops in different markets.

Ambassadors in the field

Maano Ambassadors feeding back to a WFP representative in the field.

Maano Ambassadors

Excited first screen tweets from Evin Joyce, our Zambian WFP Innovation co-creator


We used a suite of modern technologies to deliver this project, including React Native, the Django Rest Framework and Amazon Container Engine. These tools helped us build an app with an intuitive, responsive interface which runs smoothly on low-end mobile phones, with a backend that scales automatically as usage increases.

Torchbox were a fantastic partner building the Maano app. Their expertise and commitment to the project meant that we got from concept note and whiteboard discussions to launching the app on Google Playstore in less than four months. This dedication to delivering on time was crucial as harvest time waits for nobody and if the app hadn’t been ready on time the farmers would have sold for cash as they normally do and we wouldn’t have been able to see their demand for Maano as a solution.

Evin Joyce, Programme Officer, WFP.

What's next?

Following the success of the launch, WFP is scaling up the programme to other countries. In the next phase, we’ll be enabling localisations and integrating with the recently announced WhatsApp API.


Will Heinemann

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