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Shamba.IO – Connect rural farmers to urban markets by empowering agricultural extension agents

Shamba.IO is a software platform that helps agricultural organizations coordinate more efficiently with thousands of farmers.

Photo of Tiffany Card
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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

Shamba.IO will revolutionize rural food supply chains by connecting farmers to booming, higher-value urban markets. In traditional rural supply chains, isolated farmers face a serious supply-demand dislocation problem. During harvest time, local markets are flooded with the same produce. Farmers turn to small-scale distributors, who are often exploitative and only service low-value markets. Farmers get low prices, and food often spoils, with local supply surpassing local demand. Meanwhile, Africa’s cities are thriving and demand for fresh produce is skyrocketing. Large urban retailers cannot source efficiently from countless farmers & distributors; instead, they turn to large-scale suppliers. But because supply chains are fragmented, many big retailers struggle to meet demand. The problem is that aggregating produce from thousands of farmers while adhering to quality standards is very complex. Hundreds of farmer cooperatives, social enterprises, and agribusinesses across Africa are trying, but struggling to scale. Others have tried to help by developing mobile tools for top-down data collection or direct-to-farmer communication. Our research shows these solutions fail to meet these organizations’ most critical need: supporting smarter decision-making in the field. Shamba.IO helps farmer extension agents reach more farmers, more efficiently, with lower overheads. By connecting farmers with urban markets, the industry can grow together, and farmers can thrive.

WHO BENEFITS?

Shamba.IO helps farmers get better support from agricultural extension agents. More farmers will gain access to: (1) top quality seeds and farm inputs, (2) training on best-practices, (3) access to capital for financing the planting season, and (4) higher prices for their produce. The result is higher earnings as more farmer products are sold more efficiently into high-value urban markets. Agricultural organizations also benefit by dramatically increasing their scale potential.

WHERE WILL YOUR IDEA BE IMPLEMENTED?

We have identified many partners in East Africa (and Bangladesh). This year we will launch with extension agents serving subsistence farmers in Ganze, Kenya's poorest district. From there, we will scale with social enterprises across East Africa.

ARE YOU IMPLEMENTING IN AN ELIGIBLE COUNTRY?

  • Yes

EXPERTISE IN SECTOR

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year

EXPERIENCE IN IMPLEMENTATION COUNTRY(IES)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU!

Shamba.IO is a social enterprise founded by Tiffany Card, an IDEO alum/Stanford MBA, who has worked at the intersection of tech & social innovation for the last 8 years. Our technical partner is West Agile Labs. We’re based in SF, but spend 30% time in East Africa and will relocate for the pilot.

IS THIS IDEA NEW FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION?

Tiffany first started thinking about mobile tools for poverty alleviation when she designed an SMS alerts system for rural farmers in Kenya in 2009. She gained her expertise in software design as the founder & CEO of a mobile commerce company in San Francisco. Tiffany went on to lead the development of an online behavioral health education company that was focused on providing minorities with information and training around social health topics, including teen pregnancy prevention and HIV/AIDS awareness. It was at this company, Sociometrics, that Tiffany first began implementing ways to use real-time behavioral data to improve social interventions, in this case, helping state health departments better allocate funding to their education programming. Following a year of research in East Africa with organizations including the Packard Foundation and the American Refugee Committee, Tiffany founded Shamba.IO as a new social enterprise serving rural farmers and the agricultural organizations that support them.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA UNIQUE?

All the organizations we interviewed actively use or have demoed other mobile tools (Farmforce, TaroWorks, CommCare, etc), yet each is seeking a better solution to meet their needs and are eager to join our pilot. Our research clearly indicated that, while there are other mobile platforms on the market, none are hitting the mark. We repeatedly heard organizations share human-level problems that are keeping these tools from functioning as desired. The most critical users are not office-based managers, but frontline field extension agents – employees or volunteer ambassadors who are members of the farming communities we wish to serve. Shamba.IO is unique because it supports: (1) Bottoms-up planning. A huge amount of farmer and community information (needs, concerns, progress, success) is stored in the minds of rural agents rather than the office. Shamba.IO helps agents translate high-level goals into their day-to-day interactions with farmers. (2) Illiteracy. Extension agents in the poorest locations struggle with literacy, making text-heavy tools overwhelming for people using smartphones for the first time. Shamba.IO translates data into intuitive pictographic tools.

WHO WILL IMPLEMENT THIS IDEA?

Shamba.IO is responsible for leading product research, design and operations of the company. We are proud to be launching with Komaza, a social enterprise that works with 6,000 farmers and manages 80 extension staff in coastal Kenya. Other interviewees who have expressed interest in participating in the pilot include One Acre Fund (maize) and Just Farming (mangos & potatoes). For technical development, we will be working with our longstanding partners at West Agile Labs. *See LOIs attached.*

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BECAUSE OF BENEFICIARY FEEDBACK?

We built a Photoshop mockup of the task creation, distribution, and monitoring workflows to learn whether our initial design met the greatest needs of our target users. We shared this mockup with founders, operations managers and field extension agents at many leading organizations, including One Acre Fund, Just Farming, Komaza, New Forests Co., Kokoa Kamili, Kiva, and Falcon Coffee. While their feedback certainly validated the need, we also learned key insights into how we can improve: 1. Flexibility. We learned that working with rural farmers involves a lot of unpredictability. So, we updated the design to increase flexibility (vs. a prescriptive “to-do list”). 2. Bottoms-Up. We learned extension agents, not office staff, drive the detailed decisions around farmer visits. We redesigned our tool to help provide critical planning information rather than static instructions. 3. Static vs Dynamic. We learned that every planting season follows the same steps, but exact timing is dictated by environmental conditions and farmer progress. We updated the design to support built-in seasonal information and alert cues to help agents and farmers know if they are on schedule.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS IDEA?

In addition to building greater empathy for our target users, top questions include: HMW design simple interfaces that field staff find intuitive? HMW build in positive incentives for all system participants? HMW highlight the metrics that matter? HMW focus on our most core feature for the MVP? HMW price the system to be both accessible and scalable? HMW design meetings and habits that support effective use of these tools? HMW craft training programs so that unfamiliar mobile users gain ease with the system? We had tremendous success with our design research trip to East Africa 5/25 - 6/19. We will be back in Kenya mid- July and look forward to testing a new round of prototypes!

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

Many organizations are trying to apply mobile tech to help farmers, but none have significantly transformed supply chains. Most apps offer services to farmers by providing market information, agricultural advice, weather forecasts, and direct access to buyer bids. None have achieved dramatic scale because rural farmers are impeded by more hurdles than lack of information, and direct marketing to thousands of farmers is costly. Other apps help organizations by enabling direct-to-farmer SMS communication, data collection, and digital trainings. No respondents are satisfied with these available apps and seek a tool to support planning & decision making by frontline staff in the field.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

Our vision is to build a world where booming urban demand drives massive income for rural farmers. Our next step, after another field research trip in July, is to begin developing our minimum viable prototype. We have confirmed plans to launch this live prototype for field-testing during the long rains planting season in early 2017. We believe the IDEO Amplify team could add tremendous value supporting us through our first critical design, testing, and iteration loop!

MEMBERS OF MY TEAM HAVE BEEN WORKING TOGETHER FOR:

  • More than a year

MY INTENDED BENEFICIARIES ARE:

  • Within 50 km of where our team does most of its work

MY ORGANIZATION'S OPERATING BUDGET FOR 2015 WAS:

  • We didn't have an operating budget

Increasing population, GDP, and urbanization are radically transforming the economic landscape in Africa. According to a recent UN study, 5.6 billion people—over half the world’s population with be African by the year 2100.


In order to feed this new world, the existing systems that generate 42% food waste are going to have to change. And in fact, they already are. This rapid formalization of the food supply chain will reshape Africa dramatically over the next decade. The fate of how formal retail will impact local growers is yet to be determined. How might we help small-holder farmers to be integral participants in a formalized agricultural sector rather than be marginalized by it?


By helping to expand the market reach of farmers’ products through formal wholesalers, Shamba.io will help alleviate the seasonal local competition that drives waste, as urban retail absorbs the extra supply. Shamba.IO helps farmers work with rural extension agents to forecast yields and arrange seasonal calendars for pick-up, so farmers can make informed decisions about what to plant, how to plant it, and when to harvest.


Introducing Shamba.IO, an enterprise software platform that enables agricultural organizations to partner DIRECTLY with small-holder growers by increasing the efficiency and intelligence of farmer extension networks.

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Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the interest you have taken in ShambaIO and for your constructive feedback! We’d love to hear more about your work in Africa – what are you working on, what’s going well, and what operational challenges do you still face? Would you be willing to share more details about your point of view and experiences on the continent? We’d love to incorporate more of your insights into ShambaIO, so it would even be great to schedule a quick phone call if you have time.

I see you’ve raised several good questions in your comments, to summarize:
(1) Is ShambaIO focused on produce?
(2) How does ShambaIO help farmers directly?
(3) How does ShambaIO reduce food waste?
(4) How is ShambaIO meaningfully differentiated from other smallholder data management systems?

Allow me to provide further clarification:

1. Is ShambaIO focused on produce?
We have been casting a wide net for our design research phase. We have interviewed several food-related agribusinesses—most of whom have expressed similar interest in joining our pilot. In addition to Gijs’ great team of mango and potato farmers at Just Farming in Bangladesh, we have also spoken with the founder at Kokoa Kamili, a cocoa company in Tanzania, and Nick Handler, the Director of Global Operations at One Acre Fund, who grow maize with hundreds of thousands of farmers across East Africa.

We are developing a platform to help farmer organizations, most of whom work in food. Our goal is to develop a platform that optimizes smallholder outreach, in order to have the greatest impact possible. Indeed, in our interview and prototype feedback sessions to date, none of the food-focused organizations expressed any concerns that our approach to helping field extension staff reach more farmers is inherently product-specific.
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