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June 28, 2017

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SiembraViva creates a 'Digital Countryside'

EL TIEMPO -- The calluses on the palms of Felix Ortiz's hands are witness to his love of farming. Located in the El Salado Township, part of the rural division of San Antonio de Prado in Medellin, Colombia, the farmer has been planting vegetables for 59 of his 63 years. Up to 10 times each day he surveys the three blocks of his farm, carrying a large bucket on his shoulder and kneeling down to pick the freshest greens. In his dark blue shirt, brown trousers, hat and boots he stands out in contrast to the green of the lettuces, peas, broccoli, celery and spinach around him.

Ortiz doesn't water or fumigate the plants so they will last longer, nor does he ever lose a crop or have to get up twice weekly at dawn to travel into the city to offer his products at the wholesale markets, receiving little in return. The tomatoes, bell peppers, beetroots, potatoes, carrots, onions and everything else he cultivates are sold on the internet through the portal, which offers organic produce and home delivery to all of the neighborhoods in Medellin.

For Felix and 11 other agricultural workers in the state of Antioquia, this platform was a life-changer. Not only a vehicle for sales, the digital platform provides dignity to the work of the farmers, better income and working conditions, trains them to grow 100 percent organic products, and, in addition, provides the technology to avoid crop loss due to bad weather or pest infestation.

SiembraViva was founded in September 2013, when its creator, Diego Benitez, a business manager with a master's degree in international business from France, decided to resign from a prominent position at Bancolombia — one of the country's financial powerhouses — in order to start his own enterprise and assist agricultural workers. Benitez explained that the company aids the farmers throughout the process, from planting to the final sale. On each grower's farm, they install tunnels covered with plastic sheeting to protect plants from bad weather and install water tanks with fish from which the waste is collected and turned into plant nutrients, replacing the use of chemicals.

The company also provides farmers with electronic tablets. "We use these tools to tell them what to plant, based on demand," says Benitez. "They can also report plant diseases and obtain online assistance; and if necessary, schedule the visit of an agronomist." Another benefit of the platform is that it simplifies the agricultural supply chain, which normally goes through four parties before reaching the end consumer (agricultural worker, shipper, wholesaler and supermarket), each step reducing the grower's earnings.

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