To start with, platforms are coming into being as “marketplaces”, or virtual meeting places, that match the supply and demand of goods and services by bringing together users and professional suppliers.
Initially, these marketplaces specialized in agricultural equipment and inputs. The Agriconomie platform, for instance, is a meeting place for distributors (retailers and wholesalers) and farmers in the market for inputs (seeds, fertilizers and pesticides), spare parts or small farming equipment. The “open” interface allows any company acting in a professional capacity to sell products on the website. It bypasses conventional circuits by replacing both newspaper classifieds and advertisements in specialized media.
Digital technology allows these platforms to target the global market…while still being rooted in the local (national) economy. A global leader in agricultural equipment, Agriaffaires is an open platform that was established in 2000 and specializes in the wholesale distribution of agricultural equipment (cars, trucks, tractors, combine harvesters, etc.). Both new and used products are offered for sale or lease by dealers/distributors, traders, manufacturers, and also farmers. The site is owned by MB Diffusion Group, which has created versions in over 25 countries, including the USA, Germany and Great Britain.
These marketplaces do not only involve intermediate consumption, but also – and this is a novelty – agricultural production. Hence, they replace wholesale markets. For instance, Biagri, an electronic marketplace created in early 2016, aims at “bringing together professional suppliers and buyers of agricultural products in order to conclude sales transactions.” Farmers advertise their products on the platform by indicating product specifications (including quality and place of production), available quantity and possible delivery dates. The seller may opt for a fixed minimum price or a tender (in the latter case, the seller allows the buyer to submit an offer). A buyer (trader, broker, cooperative, farmer, etc.) can respond to the ad or make a purchase announcement by specifying their requirements in terms of quantity and delivery dates. The platform serves as an exchange for feed, grain, fertilizer, fodder and straw, oilseeds, and potatoes, among other products. Payments are made by bank transfer after delivery. But the usefulness of these platforms is not limited to bringing together buyers and sellers. They also offer management services for contracts and invoices, in order to simplify administrative procedures. Furthermore, an independent lab analyzes and controls the products for sale.
Crowdfunding platforms are also interested in the agricultural sector and the food industry. In this case, providers are private individuals, consumers or professionals.
Miimosa is “a place for exchange, sharing and solidarity between a community of contributors and project leaders” in the fields of agriculture and food (with a focus on local products). The platform provides a link between “project leaders” and “contributors” who are private individuals. The former present their project to the site and specify the amount of funding they need to carry it out. The latter fund the projects through donations in accordance with their means and wishes. They do, however, receive a sort of in-kind compensation (product, meal or weekend). The platform is financed in the form of a commission of 8 to 12 % on the required amount.
The Blue Bees platform presents several distinctive features as compared to Mimosa. It finances environmentally-friendly projects in the agro-food industry (especially organic farming projects), including abroad. It also provides funding in the form of loans. Finally, it involves “local actors” (design office, associations, NGOs, fair trade companies, etc.) who “identify and structure projects and support their implementation.”