OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

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
22 43

Written by

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.

22 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
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.
CONT below.

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

CONT from previous post.

2. How does ShambaIO help farmers directly?
I also wanted to be clear about our theory of change. One quote that has always stuck with me from Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka: "Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish, or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry."

At ShambaIO, we seek to revolutionize rural food supply chains, by connecting farmers to large, high-value markets.

In traditional rural supply chains, isolated farmers sell through informal distributors into low-value markets. Individual BOP farmers have limited market access. As a result, they are dependent on local distributors who: operate small-scale operations, can be exploitative, and service informal, low-value markets. The result is basement pricing for farmers and seasonal food waste from unsold goods.

Farmers can substantially increase their earnings by partnering with formal organizations, including cooperatives, NGOs, social enterprises, and agribusinesses. These organizations add value by creating access to: (1) national and international markets, (2) formal-sector buyers, (3) negotiating power to get good sales deals, and (4) value-adding processing of raw inputs.

Many organizations want to work directly with farmers in order to increase sales of high-value produce. They must offer farmers higher value than informal distributors in order to compete for farmer land and labor. In exchange, they provide farmers with: (1) top quality seeds and farm inputs, (2) training on farming best-practices, (3) access to capital for financing the planting season, and (4) higher prices for their produce. The result is higher earnings and less waste as more farmer products are sold more efficiently into larger, high-value markets.

ShambaIO will greatly increase the number of farmers connected to high-value markets, by boosting the effectiveness of rural extension agents and volunteer community leaders. Scaling distributed outgrower programs to tens (or hundreds) of thousands of farmers is incredibly operationally complex. Current database-centered tools fall short because they were designed for data collection for HQ, rather than supporting decision-making in the field. ShambaIO will dramatically boost the efficacy of farmer extension agents by helping them understand the most effective action they can take every day, thereby reaching more farmers, more efficiently, with lower overheads. By connecting more farmers with high-value organizations, the industry can grow together, and farmers can thrive.

3. How does ShambaIO reduce food waste?
We see two key drivers behind food waste: seasonal surplus and inefficient coordination. As mentioned, by helping to expand the market reach of farmers’ products through formal wholesalers, ShambaIO will help alleviate the seasonal local competition that drives waste, as national/global retail buyers absorb the extra supply. With regards to coordination, ShambaIO 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/how much to plant and when to harvest.

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

CONT. from previous post,

4. How is ShambaIO meaningfully differentiated from other smallholder management systems?
While other tools for smallholder farmer management exist, no platform has emerged as the clear market leader. Most importantly, the penetration of these tools relative to the vast number of farmers who could benefit from connections with high-value markets, and increasing number of agricultural organizations seeking to scale their outgrower programs is miniscule.

Most of the agricultural organizations we spoke with had at one point purchased or demoed other tools (Farmforce, TaroWorks, CommCare, etc), yet each one of these organizations were seeking an alternative solution to better meet their needs, and were eager to join our pilot. We can point to a number of other players in the space that are trying to develop some common features to what we’ve got our sights set on… but not one of those players received rave reviews from the well-respected enterprises we spoke with. The evidence suggests that, while there is some “competition,” none of them are hitting the mark.

Why? Our research has uncovered a serious, pervasive need for improvement upon current solutions.

While we heard some key requests for new features, there was one fundamental element lacking from current tools: human-centered design. The most critical users of these systems are not the office-based managers, but the frontline field extension agents, who, whether employed by the organization or volunteer ambassadors, are themselves members of the farming communities we wish to serve.

We repeatedly heard organizations share human-level problems that were keeping these survey-centered tools from functioning as expected. While our feature list may share commonalities with other products, we intend to use design thinking to solve the latent human needs that are challenged by what these organizations experience as “database-centered design.”

(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. Current tools are too prescriptive, and not flexible enough to help field staff translate high-level goals into their day-to-day interactions with farmers.

(2) Illiteracy. Many extension agents (especially in the poorest locations) struggle with literacy, making text-heavy tools with clunky user interfaces overwhelming for many individuals who are using smartphones and tablets for the first time. These organizations liked our clean UI in the prototype, and we intend to hold simplicity and iconography as a core design principle for mobile tool development.

(3) Checks & balances. The most common reason we heard for why organizations abandon current tools is the emergence of inconsistencies between the reality in the field and the data in the database. Rural agents need tools for preventing misidentification, flagging errant data, and verifying updates to the system. This solution needs to be solved not from the perspective of a database engineer, but from the perspective of the agents and volunteers who will actually use these tools.

We have updated the initial prototype mockups to reflect the key learnings we’ve gotten from prototype testing over the last month. Stay tuned, and let us know in the meanwhile if there are any additional questions or ideas you have for us. One of the reasons we value the IDEO Amplify most is the collaborative, creative, and generative spirit we have encountered from the community.

Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

To help the shortlisted ideas become the best that they can be...
Land tenure is important to agriculture in North America, Australia and Europe. Some countries grant land tenure to guarantee, for example the Smith Lever Act (1914) so transparent University, 4H and Extension programs can cater to grower needs before political, religious and private interests. True Extension is is opt in or opt out education and separated from politics, private sector and religion.

How can tenure-less agriculture and the hidden protocol fess and services that power SSA now, sustain programs that are truely Extension?
Ruxin (2014) “Step One to Fighting Ebola - Start with Corruption" uses health care to resonate why SSA's Learn by Doing and "Extension specialists and trainers are weakest links in our efforts to reduce PHL" (Kitinoja, 2015).

Would transparent "OutReach" by the private sector better describe ShambaIO?
William


NeverIdle mobile utility storage

Spam
Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Tiffany!

The Amplify team and our experts have some feedback/questions for your team:

This solution appears to be primarily focused on data collection and the needs of field staff with more of an secondary benefit to farmers. Can you share more information about the direct benefit of your idea to farmers?

There are a number of mobile applications incorporating field management functions in the market presently. What are the unique benefits of ShambaIO?

How does ShambaIO address after harvest waste and loss?

Looking forward to learning more! 

Spam
Photo of Elly Nelson
Team

To be very honest its a brilliant thought and a superb idea. Its Excellent

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

Thanks so much Elly, really appreciate the support!

Spam
Photo of Elly Nelson
Team

Thank you

Spam
Photo of Bahenda Joseph
Team

Good concept Tiffany Card.
Looking forward to seeing the outcome after implementation.

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

Thanks! We're in Kenya and Uganda this week doing field visits with outgrower programs. So far the feedback has been quite positive, I'll be sure to share updates of our progress as we move towards building and implementations following the research phase.

Spam
Photo of Bahenda Joseph
Team

Thanks in advance!

Joseph
@infochicken4all

Spam
Photo of Gijs Herpers
Team

Hello Tiffany, the platform looks great! Would you already be willing to try it out in different countries? We are starting up an outgrower scheme in Bangladesh and are looking for a platform that helps us manage it. One of the criteria for us would be that the system would make it easy to comply with requirements for standards like GlobalGAP. Is that something you are taking into account?

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

Thanks so much Gijs for your interest! I would love to hear more about the outgrower scheme you are working on in Bangladesh as well as the compliance standards you mention. PM me with your contact info by clicking on my profile and let's find a time to chat!

Spam
Photo of Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes
Team

Love this idea! We work with many families who work in subsistence agriculture in Rwanda and this would make a huge impact there. Eager to help Tiffany and the team introduce this throughout Rw. Good luck! 

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

Fantastic Elizabeth, I'd love to talk more about your experiences in Rwanda. Based on my experiences there this past year, I'm curious if this could be a useful tool for outreach work by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources down the road!

Spam
Photo of JJ Card
Team

Would revolutionize farming if successful!

Spam
Photo of Matvey Farber
Team

Very cool concept and interesting challenges ahead I'm sure! 

Spam
Photo of Mansi Kakkar
Team

Awesome idea. Proud of you Tiffany!

Spam
Photo of Mattea Fleischner
Team

This is huge!  Working in the coffee industry in East Africa and South America.  I've seen so many producers limited by contracts, service models and tracking tools to have market linkages to the specialty market.  This tool would enable so many producers and communities to reach their full potential, have ownership in the process and transparency throughout the supply chain!  Can't wait to see this tool come to life and hopefully help test!!  I'm in SF as well and would love to brainstorm further.

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

Amazing Mattea. Really glad to hear this resonates with your experiences in the coffee industry. I spent time talking with stakeholders across the coffee supply chain in Guatemala, and excited this also makes sense for similar programs in South America and East Africa. Let's definitely grab a coffee - is there a way to DM you on this platform?

Spam
Photo of Meredith Bates
Team

Wow - Tiffany!  Great idea! I run an outgrower programme with around 5000 farmers across East Africa and these are exactly the types of challenges we face making our programme sometimes too expensive to scale and still maintain the quality and records.  Your system seems to make it so simple and affordable to reach even more farm households.  How exciting!  Keep up the great work and put us on your list of beta testing partners! 

Spam
Photo of Tiffany Card
Team

Thanks Meredith! YES! Making it easier for outgrower programs to track and maintain product quality across huge farmer networks like yours is exactly what we're hoping to accomplish. We are definitely looking to recruit more beta testing partners, let's be in touch! Agreed that simplicity and affordability are so critical for this application. That's why we are so excited about this Amplify opportunity - using the human-centered design process to make these tools incredibly intuitive (i.e. building off of existing behaviors and addressing latent needs) for farmer extension staff is the key to success!