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Farm.ink –big data designed for small farmers

Using the latest techniques in Big Data we are building the world's first market matching chatbot

Photo of Georgia Barrie
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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

When it comes to harvest time many farmers start looking for a buyer for their produce. It can take weeks - farmers message their friends and family to ask if they know anyone, they visit the local market and talk to brokers. Unfortunately all too often produce is sold at below market prices or not sold at all. At farm.ink our mission is to create the most simple and scalable way to connect farmers and buyers. That's why we built the world's first market matching chatbot. Messaging our bot is just like messaging a friend. The bot can understand what the farmer is selling, where and their harvest date. It can interpret spelling errors, speak in multiple languages and help guide the farmer through the process. However, unlike a friend our bot searches a database of thousands of buyers to find the best selling options for each individual farmer. In less than a minute farmers can go from a simple "hello" or "jambo" to receiving the phone numbers of trusted buyers looking for their crop in their area. All of this we can provide for free to farmers as our business model charges fees only to large buyers. We have been overwhelmed by the level of demand for this service. We are still in Beta, testing and refining our product with an initial group of users. However, through word of mouth alone, hundreds of farmers have contacted us asking to try our service. This means we could reach thousands of farmers not just in the first year but the first month.

WHO BENEFITS?

We are creating a mass-market product with the opportunity for significant scale. Our product is built to work through the major messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook which are already pervasive in Kenya. Although smartphone ownership among farmers is currently below 50% this figure is growing at a phenomenal rate. We believe in getting out in front of the market, not designing for technology that is already on its way out.

WHERE WILL YOUR IDEA BE IMPLEMENTED?

The solution will be implemented in Kenya initially due to its high smartphone and mobile financial service usage. However, the solution could be rapidly implemented in new markets not just across Africa but across developing markets worldwide.

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!

Farm.ink is a social enterprise founded by Adam Wills and Georgia Barrie who were excited to apply the latest tech to some of the oldest problems in ag. Through this journey we've met some fantastic farmers such as Noah Nasiali who is now working with us to help design the product and marketing.

IS THIS IDEA NEW FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION?

For the past year we have lived and worked out of East Africa with the aim of designing the most simple, scalable solution to market access (we've started a blog to collate some of our research here: www.acresofdata.com). We've designed and tested dozens of ideas: from SMS and USSD based solutions, to apps and websites. Each time we've taken our idea to farmers, carefully listened to their feedback, packed up our things and gone back to the drawing board. It's been a real labour of love! This IDEO Challenge comes at a perfect time for us. In March this year we finally landed on an idea that we thought had real potential. The solution was built on feedback from hundreds of farmers and you can see their thoughts in the affinity analysis we created above. Through the Beneficiary Feedback and Improve stages we further tested the idea, built a working prototype and shared it with our initial pilot group. We're now excited to finally be taking a prototype to full launch. By analysing user feedback and usage data we will continue to hone the user experience as we scale up the product and we would be delighted to have the support of the IDEO team on this journey.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA UNIQUE?

Many marketplace services have been designed to work over SMS or USSD but these services suffer from poor user experiences. Farmers struggle to remember short codes or how to follow multiple non-intuitive steps. Services like this have only worked at scale when they've had vast agent networks to train and support users. This makes products expensive to use and slow to scale up. By contrast, services such as WhatsApp have seen explosive growth in Kenya without a single person on the ground. We want to follow in their footsteps in 3 ways: 1. A simple process. The value proposition "match" is simple to understand and the entire process takes less than a minute from start to finish 2. An intuitive interface. Chatbots are the most intuitive interface out there - talking to farm.ink is no more complicated than talking to a friend 3. Virality. WhatsApp's rapid growth was driven through word of mouth. We are designing simple ways and incentives for people to refer their friends and family. Our test user group was created purely through word of mouth and spans the breadth of the country. This would never have been possible if we relied on agents to sign up farmers.

WHO WILL IMPLEMENT THIS IDEA?

Our small team of tech and farming experts is based in Kenya and manages everything from data analysis to programming the bot in-house. We want to be as agile and lean as possible so we don't believe in outsourcing any of our product development. To boost our customer acquisition rate we are currently negotiating partnerships with some of the largest inputs organisations in Kenya to use their distribution channels (e.g. posters in agrovet shops) to raise awareness of farm.ink.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BECAUSE OF BENEFICIARY FEEDBACK?

Beneficiary feedback showed that building our service as an app would see barriers to usage. This is due to cost of data, tech literacy required to download and use apps and lack of memory on low-cost smartphones. By contrast it is very easy to engage farmers over messaging services such as WhatsApp as most smartphone-enabled farmers are already using these services. Chatbots are expected to be the next revolution in mobile UI and are incredibly well suited to a market connection service. We therefore decided to build the service as a chatbot over a platforms such as WhatsApp or Telegram. Beneficiary feedback showed that ratings are very important to both farmers and buyers but they need more than a simple star rating. We are kicking off a project to investigate the methods used by best practice services and to conduct detailed interviews with farmers and buyers to understand the right rating metrics. First impressions are incredibly important. We will work alongside farmer advisors to get the content and tone of the bot conversation right to ensure that first time users are able to immediately understand and trust our service.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS IDEA?

There are lots of questions still to answer and we plan to build our solution in an agile way, constantly refining and improving it. We are lucky to be working with some fantastic digital farmers as well as a huge amount of data to help us hone our product. We have 3 big questions for the next phase: ○ Awareness - how can we create virality by designing easy ways to share our bot through social media and incentivising referrals? ○ Understanding - how can we analyse usage data from the test group to develop the most simple and compelling bot conversation? ○ Trust - what can we learn from established online marketplaces about designing the perfect ratings system for farmers and buyers?

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

This idea is emerging at a critical point in time: ○ Smartphones are finally reaching the mass market with 1 in 2 Kenyan adults using mobile data every month. The shift away from basic phones opens up a whole world of tech solutions to market access ○ Farming Facebook groups are taking off at a rapid pace in Kenya. The vast amount of data contained in these groups have helped us build a critical mass of buyers and sellers ○ New developments in areas such as data mining, natural language processing and bot technology means our idea wouldn’t have been technologically possible even a year ago. This service really is the first of its kind for small-scale agriculture

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

We see farm.ink as the ultimate farming virtual assistant. Our simple bot interface together with our huge database of who is farming what and where opens up so many opportunities such as: ○ Connecting farmers to loans and insurance based on their selling history and ratings ○ Advising farmers on market prices and what to grow when based on supply/demand analysis ○ Creation of virtual farmer groups to aggregate produce across farmers selling the same crop at the same time in the same area

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

We set up farm.ink as a small team. After spending years advising commercial & development organisations on mobile technology solutions we saw big unrealised opportunities for mobile solutions to have an impact in agriculture. We also know that this is a crowded space: too much wheel re-invention is happening and important lessons from pilot projects is being lost.

To address this, for the past year we have lived and worked out of East Africa to really understand the opportunities for technology in agriculture. We have seen the potential for truly innovative solutions to the problem of market access first hand. We have designed, developed and tested dozens of prototypes; used the very latest tools in big data and human-centred design to develop innovative solutions; and – most importantly – spent all our time in-market experimenting and getting real product feedback from farmers and buyers. We are building on what has been learnt from and we are responding directly to services that farmers themselves are asking for - not deciding what they ought to want.

Based on our on-the-ground research we have developed three core design principles:

  • We don’t believe in SMS-first solutions for farmers: 60% of all handsets sold in Kenya last year were smartphones and 1 in 2 Kenyan adults used mobile data in the last 30 days. Smartphone enabled and savvy farmers are the rapidly growing, early adopting segment that we need to design for.
  • We must observe and build on existing digital behaviours: 100,000s of farmers and buyers are posting on digital forums (Facebook, WhatsApp groups, classified ads websites etc). Facebook is currently the most successful digital agricultural trading platform in Kenya by volume and growth. In just one farmer Facebook group alone there are almost 40,000 members, growing by over 1,000 members per month. We believe that a successful solution in this space must build on what’s already working and not try to force behaviour change.
  • We must respond to farmer stated problems and design suggestions: digitally savvy farmers can articulate the issue better than we can, and design interfaces for themselves better than we can. We don’t even have to ask farmers, online farmer forums are full of problem statements and design suggestions that we can learn from. This isn’t where a solution should be tested, but rather, incepted.


So what are farmers actually saying?

Although Facebook is currently the most popular online platform for buying and selling produce, many farmers are vocal about the fact that it is not an ideal solution. As demonstrated by this Facebook post, farmers posting produce for sale often don’t find the right buyer – even when they have what “should be an automatic disposable product” such as milk.

Another farmer agrees, yet this demonstrates one of the key challenges of these large Facebook message feeds – information is getting lost in the noise.

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Another key limitation of these message feeds is that information is not recorded in a useful way. Many farmers have posted what they are growing and where they are located, but this information is getting buried in the noise.

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But the most consistently raised challenge is around trust, this farmer speaks for many when she asks whether a list of trusted buyers could be generated.

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The real farmer quotes above are not one-offs, these same issues are being posted again and again everyday!

These farmer voices pose technologists a question

How can we build a better digital solution, accessible to all farmers and buyers who use Facebook and other online tools like this (as well as those who could, but don’t yet)? A solution that means the hundreds of posts per day from farmers and buyers don’t get lost in the noise? A solution where there is relevant profile data on farmers and buyers? And a solution which gives farmers the ability to exclude bad brokers, listing ‘good brokers’ and buyers only?

Where should we start?

Too many solutions try and re-invent the wheel. Rather than starting from scratch, how can we use the millions of public digital data points online to build solutions? How can we connect to existing platforms and aggregate live streams of information already being generated online?

48 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of David Meek Jah
Team

Hi, My name is David Meek Jah, i would want to know if this is going to be an app and if yes? How do we collaborate to ensure we integrate your app on our open source payment platform that takes all source of payment in the world which is like a smart phone that has an inbuilt catalogue and receipt system via mail, SMS, or paper receipt. We believe our deep pocket data italics on products, sales, and settlement which give industrial data will also help farmers get loan faster as it can be synchronized with quick books or once payments are done via mobile money financial institutions could use that information via our inbuilt report system that can be mailed to them daily and automated to give them feedback on each farmers financial status and business profile. Kindly let me what you think and we see how we could do business. You can contact me on +23225224656 or mail me (davidmeekjah@yahoo.com)

Photo of Richard Okoe
Team

Congratulations

Photo of Rajesh YADAV
Team

Congrats. Great work.

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks Rajesh!

Photo of Detrick DeBurr
Team

Georgia Barrie I'm a software developer based in the US. Is it possible to join your team on a volunteer basis? Cool idea.... just wanna help

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Of course! Send me an email (info@farm.ink) and we can chat!

Photo of Alex Mugo
Team

Congratulations for making it to the last winning 5, wish you well.

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks Alex. Wishing you all the best with UkulimaDigital and I hope we are able to cross paths before too long.

Photo of Alex Mugo
Team

Georgia Barrie Any time you are welcome, are you in Kenya?

Photo of Amie
Team

Hi Georgia,
Congratulations! We look forward to meeting very soon, I'm very excited to find out more about your technological innovation that looks set to revolutionise small-scale farmers marketing experience.
Regards,
Amie  

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks for getting in touch Amie. Am sitting with the team right now and we're all talking about how much we're looking forward to working together with you all. Looking forward to meeting you soon!
Georgia

Photo of Muyomba Wilberforce
Team

Congrats Georgia and the team for making it

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks a lot - we really appreciate your goodwill. Best of luck with your project.

Photo of Dorine Poelhekke
Team

Congratulations Farm-Ink! We're looking forward to meet you at the IDEO Amplify Bootcamp in Nairobi!

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Likewise! We're really looking forward to meeting with and learning from you all.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Georgia, below are some feedback from the Amplify team and our experts. We look forward to reading your responses!

This idea speaks to the problem of food waste and loss of income at the farmer level. As pointed out in the comments, this product will most likely be adopted by younger generations. This is a challenge for adoption, but it also plays to the question of how to modernize farming to meet the needs and interests of a younger generation. Many development agencies are concerned with that question of youth engagement, and this could be a tool in their kit.

-We would be curious to know more about the demographics of these farmers - can we assume they are women? Is there anything the platform can do to serve that demographic in other ways that would make the experience stickier?

-There seems to be desirability from farmers on this idea. Is there also sufficient interest from buyers in paying fees to use the additional market information?

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Hi Chioma, thanks for the feedback!

We have just finished an alpha version of our product and we created a simple sign-up form for farmers to register and test it out. We let this form spread purely by word of mouth (i.e. people sharing the link on WhatsApp and Facebook) and within 3 days we had around 100 registrations. This was an interesting experiment for us as not only do we now have a decent sized test group for feedback, it also shows us how quickly this service could spread and how it may spread geographically and across demographics.

I’ve put the results of this experiment in a couple of images in the “Who benefits” section above. In terms of gender - the registrations are split fairly evenly with 52% female and 48% male farmers. I used to work in the GSMA Connected Women team and our research study in 2014 suggested at the time Kenyan women were around 25% less likely to own a smartphone than men. For this reason we’ll continue to monitor usage by gender as the platform grows. However, I’m really pleased to see we don’t have a gender gap in our base just yet!

In terms of age - we didn’t ask for a date of birth in the sign up form so I took a random selection of profile pictures to show the variation in age in the user base (see the images in the “Who benefits” section). The average age of Kenyan farmers is estimated to be 50-60 so our users definitely appear to be younger than average. However, I wouldn’t say that our user base is necessarily “youth”. In fact the majority appear to be around the 30-40 bracket. As our user base grows we plan to measure how it is spreading through social networks. It is probably no coincidence that the first farmer we shared the sign up form with was also in the 30-40 age bracket. It will be interesting to see how social sharing differs by age/gender and therefore how this affects the overall demographic split of our base.

In terms of location - I’m quite amazed by the geographical spread of the first 100 sign ups. Our farmers are located across 24 counties in Kenya, stretching all the way from Kitale to Mombasa. I overlaid these users on an agricultural map of Kenya and you can see that most of the sign ups come from the best farming land which is no surprise!

As for your final question - our business model is based on the way some farming Facebook groups are working now. Established brokers who are frequently posting on the group to source farmers are sent a Facebook message by the admin and requested a fee to help the running of the group. This provides initial evidence that there is interest from buyers to pay for this information. However, there is certainly work to be done to agree at what point someone becomes a “super user” (once a week? twice a month?), the right fee structure (e.g. subscription/pay per use?) and the right price point. If we were to be successful in this challenge we would love IDEO input on this question!

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

As a follow up to my response above:
As you said in your feedback, a lot of people have suggested that youth will drive the adoption of this service. However, as I said in my response, this isn't the trend that we're seeing in our users. In fact most of our early adopters appear to be in the 30-40 age group. I've been wondering over the weekend why this might be the case and this morning came across some interesting data.

The Financial Inclusion Insights survey published some data very recently on a survey in Kenya. The survey shows that youth are actually the least likely to own a mobile phone. 61% of those age 15-24 said they owned a mobile vs. 85% of those aged 25-44 vs. 82% of those aged 45 and over.

Young people are least likely to own a mobile phone but are they more tech savvy? Well the data suggests that actually no they're not. The proportion of people in each age group deemed as having "high digital literacy" (defined as performing functions such as accessing the internet and downloading music) were 70% of those aged 25-44, 84% of those aged 25-44 and 76% of those aged 45 and over. You can see the charts here: http://bit.ly/21hCzjm and here: http://bit.ly/1XRpa3W

It will be really interesting to track our users by age group once we launch the service and our user base grows. Perhaps, in Kenya at least, it may not be the case that young people will drive adoption of new technology?

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Wow Georgia, that's very interesting! It's true that many of us take for granted the association between technological adoption and youth – I'm glad that you dug deeper into that assumption! 

Awesome work on the beneficiary feedback component. If I understand your model, you are focusing on setting up farmers and distributors, but not on any of the terms of their agreements, right? Have you done any thinking about aggregation or price structures? Not that you should have, but curious to know if you'd considered it and why you've chosen your current focus.

I notice that you didn't have an operating budget last year - how are you and your team sustaining this effort right now? How much time are you currently devoting to this and do you anticipate being able to devote to this over the coming year! 

Thanks!

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks Chioma!

You're right - our model focuses on connecting farmers to people looking to buy from farmers (this includes brokers, small-shops, restaurants etc.). Finding a buyer is a constant challenge for many farmers, meanwhile many buyers are struggling to find farmers to source from. We want to simply connect the dots between supply and demand so that food isn't left to rot in the field as the farmer couldn't find a buyer. By connecting farmers to multiple selling options we can also improve farmers' negotiating power, driving up prices for farmers.

In answer to your question about why we chose our current focus. Our objective was always to create a mass market product that could quickly achieve significant scale. The reason we were so focused on mass market and scale is because we realised that once you have a big enough and detailed enough database of farmers and buyers so many other opportunities open up.

We've spent almost a year now testing out different ideas in the agriculture space to find that mass market product and researching what other organisations have tried. I could talk all day about what we've learned (!) so we've actually started putting some of these findings in a blog: www.acresofdata.com

One of the ideas we tried was connecting farmers to agribusinesses. We spoke to quite a few agribusinesses but the problem we came up against was that agribusinesses are often very traditional, old school organisations who are rarely early adopters of technology. In fact when we talked to other organisations such as TechnoServe who had also tried this they said the same thing - convincing agribusinesses to adopt new technology is a hard sell. While it can be done it takes a lot of time and so we realised this wouldn't be the way to quickly achieve significant scale.

We were also interested in the idea of creating a marketplace for farmers to sell their produce online. We spent a fair bit of time investigating the other marketplace products out there and found that it is very difficult to create a marketplace from scratch. Even after quite a few years of operation, none of the existing farming marketplaces today have reached a critical mass of buyers and sellers. This is why the largest farming Facebook Group in Kenya sees about 30 times the number of posts per month as the largest marketplace site.

The "aha" moment came when we realised we could create a huge database of farmers and buyers just by aggregating data that's already online. We haven't even launched yet but we've already reached critical mass i.e. farmers in our test group can tell us what they're growing and where, we can run an algorithm to find the best matches in our database and it actually works!

There are lots of ways we can go with this but we want to start with the simplest value proposition so that it's immediately understandable to users. One of the things I'd really like to do in the next few months though is introduce standard terms of selling for any sales made through our platform (e.g. once a price is agreed it can't be changed, payments should be made within a week etc.) to encourage better trading practices.

Longer term we see a few key opportunities which include:
Connecting farmers to loans and insurance based on their selling history
Information on market prices and analysing supply and demand to advise farmers on what to grow when
Creating virtual farmer groups to aggregate produce across farmers so they can access bigger markets (e.g. supermarkets/export)

In terms of our budget - Adam and I have been working full time on this project since February this year, bootstrapping with our own resources. Noah has been giving up a day a week to work on this and spends the rest of his time working on his farming business.

This IDEO Challenge comes at a perfect time for us. We applied in April with an idea and then through the Beneficiary Feedback and Improve stages we tested the idea and build a prototype. We are now looking for funding and support to move from a product prototype to a full launch. If we are successful in the challenge then Adam and I will spend 100% of our time on the project and Noah 60% of his time going forward. If not then we will have to take on some part time consulting work while we look for other investment opportunities.

Let me know if you have any other questions!

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Georgia, this is super helpful, thank you! 

Photo of Bahenda Joseph
Team

Hell Georgia Barrie,
You hve proposed a brilliant idea that solves a recurrent problem, not only in Kenya but in the entire East African Community.   I would suggest however that you go ahead and reconsider the statement below:
"Through our platform farmers can rate their experience with each of the buyers we connect them to. This means we can start to build profiles and reviews and weed out unethical or unreliable buyers". In my opinion, this argument does not constitute a solution. You may need to anticipate before unreliable buyers manifest themselves. 
Thank you again for your input, and do not forget to give us a feedback in your turn.

Best regards,

Joseph Bahenda
Chicken 4all Ltd

Photo of Adam Wills
Team

Hi Joseph,

Thanks for your response on this. You raise a great point about challenges in unreliable buyers, and how to anticipate the ways they might try and manipulate the system we propose. However, we do think that the crux of the issue is allowing people to rate their interactions with buyers. It’s worth noting that this is an idea we’ve heard directly from digital farmers themselves. You can see this blog post I wrote to get a bit more info, http://acresofdata.com/design-ideas-from-facebooks-farmers/. Many farmers are interested in seeing a list of recommended or trusted buyers, and a well designed rating system, I think, constitutes a good solution to this problem. However, the task ahead is figuring out what kind of rating system works (some nice thoughts on options are outlined in this blog https://medium.com/@poyichen/rating-system-for-online-marketplace-6d07f1704ba#.ny0068wcs). This is something we’re thinking through right now, so if you have any further ideas or suggestions they’re very welcome!

Thanks,
Adam

Photo of Bahenda Joseph
Team

Hello Adam Wills,
Thank you for your reply. If I have understood you well, you expect unreliable buyers. As part of your strategy towards solving this issue you will let digital farmers rate  the buyers that you will have connected to them. Based on these statistics you will weed out the unethical buyers.
Clear enough.
Thank you once more for the clarifications.

Joseph

Photo of Adam Wills
Team

No problem. Thanks for the comment Joseph!

Photo of Bahenda Joseph
Team

You 're welcome, Adam Wills.

Photo of An Old Friend
Team

Educating the farmer on its help would be a big challenge - Big data is a very helpful and would need a strong system to interpret the data. Support of local government would be an added advantage to it.  Also involving the family might be a good option. Since the younger generation will be more inclined to drive this app.

Great thought  and to keen to more on the project

Photo of Adam Wills
Team

Hi Rohan,

Thanks for your comment here. Just to clarify, the way we are using big data is to create an initial database of farmers and buyers to work with, using these techniques has allowed us to organise 10,000s of pieces of information that are otherwise spread across a range of public online sources, this makes existing info more usable. I agree that farmer education is something we must be aware of, which is why we’ve chosen to target farmers who are already active online. This certainly isn’t all farmers (yet), but there are a lot digitally active farmers Kenya. If you’d like to see just how much activity there is you can scan this blog quickly http://acresofdata.com/digital-marketplaces-in-emerging-markets/. As another blogger puts it nicely "There is serious agriculture going on in Facebook” (http://www.gmeltdown.com/2015/03/the-top-10-agricultural-facebook-groups.html)

The reason all this is useful to us is that we can design our service to build on, rather than work against, digital behaviours we can see from thousands of individuals. To move to another point you made, you’d be surprised by how many 25+ year old farmers are using Facebook in Kenya. Georgia referenced some very recent data from the Financial Inclusion insights report indicating that 73% of rural Kenyans have "high digital literacy" which means they can perform functions such as accessing the internet and downloading music. The same data shows that middle aged Kenyans (25-44) are more likely to have “high digital literacy” (84%) than Kenyans aged 15-24 (70%) - see this chart for more - http://goo.gl/JcPpwu. This data is interesting as it challenges views that only younger generations drive services like the one we are proposing. In fact we are already seeing evidence to the contrary.

Interested to hear your views on any of this, and hope some of the links above are helpful too!

Thanks,
Adam

Photo of Noah Nasiali
Team

I am a farmer in Kenya. Let me start again. I am a young farmer in Kenya. I have been farming for the last 6years. 

Many people have been saying that young people cannot farm but I think the main issue is not the "age" of the farmer but where they can sell their produce. In the last 6years I have interacted with very many farmers including my own mentor who had almost given up because of lack of market.

I have also interacted with very many buyers (brokers, end-users  etc) who do not have consistent supply of farm produce. 

Therefore, where is the truth: is it No Market or No Supply? 

From a farmers perspective there is no organized form of market linkage that TRULLY helps the farmer. Most of the websites (and they are very many including NGOs) as well as the social media pagesonly act as a classified advertisement pages but without a guarantee of market linkage. Even though it might be there, who has rated the buyers? 

Georgia, I think this is a very good solution to the farmer worries of market. I hope it will helps farmers get back more from their efforts and in the end help reduce the food wastage in my dear country. In fact I hope it will lead to more contract farming because buyers will get more farmers who can guarantee quality produce and for the farmer the confidence to do their best to maximize their production 

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks Noah for your feedback and for all of your advice through this process. Your design ideas have been incredibly influential in developing this product, particularly your thoughts around moving from a classified ads model to a market matching service.

You've spent a huge amount of time building a list of good quality buyers to sell to in Kenya. Opening up your phonebook to us for the benefit of the wider farming community is an incredibly selfless thing to do and will help us get this product off the ground.

It's been really interesting to hear your vision for how we take this product in future. I'm really excited by your idea of using the product to help small-scale famers sell collectively in order to access the highest price markets (e.g. supermarkets, export). Both Adam and I are really looking forward to working with you to achieve these goals.

Photo of Jeff
Team

Georgia, this is a great idea and Kenya is the ideal place to be launching. Your idea has the ability to pull together not only big data from the farmer side, but also from the consumer side, and with the large population of savvy want to do good consumers, you've got a great solution.

Love the website but curious on how you are going to distinguish between paying large farmers and non paying small farmers and where that line is?

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Hi Jeff

Thanks for your question - this is a great one! There is certainly more work to be done on establishing the right fee structure and price point for this service. While the revenue model is still being refined I can share our current thinking and I'd be grateful for your feedback.

At the moment our plan is to charge only those buying through the platform (not the farmers). As you rightly point out, differentiating between large and small farms is going to be a real challenge. We also expect to have very few large farms as users as they normally have quite well established market links. This means we'll probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out which farms to charge for a very small amount of revenue - i.e. it's not worth it.

Instead we plan to charge only "super user" buyers - i.e. those who are frequently sourcing produce through our platform. We're planning to have a freemium model whereby buyers get a certain number of free uses on our platform and after that have to pay a subscription fee.

However, there are a number of questions still to answer such as: What's the right number of free uses per person? Should we reward buyers with more free uses if they recommend the service to someone else? Should we reward those with good ratings? What's the right price point for subscription? etc.

Any thoughts are very welcome!

Photo of sensheng
Team

This is a good idea to solve the selling problems for farmers. But I think the farmers can accept the new technology or not. In my country, most of farmers cannot accept the new technology, Using the smart phone for them is a big challenge. So, I think before we should increase the farmers knowledge first.

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Hi Sensheng

Thanks for your feedback. You are absolutely right that there will be many farmers in Kenya who do not have a smartphone. However, Safaricom data suggests that approximately one in two adults in Kenya are using mobile data each month which gives us a good section of the population to work with. While it's hard to estimate, the signs are pointing towards significant growth in smartphone ownership over the next few years. We think there is an exciting opportunity for our product to ride this wave of growth.

Digital literacy has also come on leaps and bounds. In a Financial Inclusion Insights report published a few days ago 73% of rural Kenyans are deemed as having "high digital literacy" which means they can perform functions such as accessing the internet and downloading music - see the chart here http://bit.ly/25SKMBp. Contrast this with India where only 9% of people in rural India are deemed as having "high digital literacy" - http://bit.ly/21hCYCp.

However despite these positive signs, you are right that it's important not to underestimate barriers to smartphone usage. Poor access to good data connections, limited available memory on low cost smartphones and lack of understanding of how to use app stores mean there are significant hurdles to new apps in Kenya. That's why we decided to build our product as a chatbot over established messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger. We are also designing our bot to work over Facebook web if the user isn't able to download any of the messaging apps.

A chatbot is also much more intuitive than an app to use. As demonstrated by the charts above, 83% of rural Kenyans have at least moderate digital literacy which means they are able to send and receive SMS. We don't see using a messaging app as a huge step up from sending/receiving SMS so we hope that we shouldn't need a big education effort around this product.

Interested to hear your thoughts...

Photo of Dr Simon M Holland
Team

Farmer profiling, really its value addition to the data and it has immense value...you can link so many services to this...banking etc.
Love to know more about your project.
Best
Simon

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks for the feedback Simon. Yes there are lots of ways this could go including linking farmers to financial services, market prices, extension services, agronomy advice etc. We've actually just updated our website: www.farm.ink so you can see more information there. Otherwise if you have questions please just shout!

Photo of Brian Powell
Team

Georgia,

I just watched your YouTube video.  Outstanding!  Everyone in this challenge should watch it.  If you don't mind, I'd like to post a link to your video on my website to send more traffic your way.

Cheers,
Brian

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks Brian! And please go ahead!

Photo of Brian Powell
Team

Hi Georgia,



I am 100% on-board with your solution! Smartphones are the way the customers are going and it makes complete sense to get out in front of the market instead of developing solutions for technology that is on its way out. Please add me to your team.



I am currently working Myanmar, which also has very high smartphone usage among farmers, and I would love to test and implement your idea here.

I am currently getting quotes from several vendors in India to develop the apps for my platform, so if you have any good advice on app developers, I would appreciate it.

Check out my project on peer-to-peer lending (and 16 other apps) or take a look at the website I have started putting together at i1P2P.com to get an idea about what I am working on and how similar it is to your project.

Looking forward to working together!



Best regards,

Brian

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks Brian! It's interesting to hear about what you're up to. A little while ago I worked on a project in Myanmar to build a healthcare smartphone app and it's really exciting to see how smartphone technology is taking off there. What made you decide to focus on agriculture?

As for your question re. developers - we're currently building everything in-house so I haven't had experience trying to find external app developers I'm afraid. I don't know a huge amount about the developer scene in Myanmar but I'd be happy to connect you with some of the tech start-ups I know there if that's helpful.

As for whether to take this to Myanmar - our main focus at the moment is to really nail the product. We want to keep it small to start with and invest in getting feedback from the early adopters and rapidly iterating the features and design.

Once we reach that point then we'll be looking for other markets that also have high smartphone use so Myanmar could be an interesting target.

Photo of Brian Powell
Team

Hi Georgia,

I decided to focus on agriculture because it is the only route out of poverty for most of the world's poorest people.  By cutting the interest rates that rice farmers here pay for loans down to 20% APR, I can save them 3.8% of their annual net income.  Once Stellar.org's platform comes online, I can easily knock the rates down another 5%.  By giving farmers the opportunity to invest their gross sales until they need the money, I can add an additional 10% to their annual net earnings.  By connecting them to markets, giving them access to better inputs, giving them access to information, crop insurance...suddenly the future is looking brighter for all of us!

Cheers,
Brian

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Exciting to see you two connect Brian and Georgia! 

Georgia, here another idea in Kenya that involves the use of data (not from online platforms, but from collection points) bext360: Smart kiosks to collect coffee + data in the Democratic Republic of Congo Check it out:)

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks for sharing Shane. This looks like a really interesting take on the data problem. Although we're in different markets and coming at it from different angles I can see how we could potentially partner in the future.

Bringing together properly organised, real time data on agriculture will unlock so many new opportunities for the industry. One of the things I'm most excited about regarding the solution we proposed is that we can not only build very large datasets on farming but also open this information up to partners. Given the lack of good data in this space this could be of huge benefit to so many initiatives.

Photo of Rachel Ndiema
Team

Hi Georgia,

I like your idea and that you have had your time to learn what is happening on the ground. As you have answered to Shola's question your main target is the growing younger generation. My question is, being a young Kenyan farmer myself, what different product is your team bringing to the ground ?
Kenya is indeed in the forefront when it comes to technology and mobile penetration and we already have several similar products in the market that we are accessing, .g. M-shamba that collect the data, link us with markets and even transporters so as to help reduce the time taken between farm gate and the market(hence tackling post-harvest losses)
Will/ can your team take up a more direct approach towards pre-harvest losses that some are not doing as yet in terms of the mobile-come-data approach?

Rachel

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Hi Rachel, this is a great question. We have spent a lot of time researching and learning from some of the platforms that already exist in Kenya such as m-Shamba, mFarm and Mkulima Young. These are great initiatives but we've seen that they've not yet reached large numbers of farmers.

The way we are designing our platform differs in two key ways.

Firstly, rather than building a platform that first requires buyers and farmers to enter their information we are working to organise the information that already exists using the latest in data science techniques. We want to build on the work that's already been done and the wealth of data that's already out there in public forums rather than start from scratch. The key point here is that we'll start with millions of analysed and organised pieces of data for users, so it's useful from day 1.

Secondly one of the main barriers we hear from farmers to selling their produce online is lack of trust. Learning from the lessons of platforms such as AirBnB we are designing mechanisms for farmers to submit ratings and recommendations. This way we create a community of fair and reliable buyers that farmers can really trust.

Photo of shola
Team

I like that your experience in mobile comes very useful in helping to solve the supply chain problem. Apparently, Kenya is an outlier in Sub Sahara Africa for mobile penetration. Two questions come to mind, do you have an idea what the internet penetration for rural Kenya is like compared to mobile penetration? Are small scale farmers in rural communities natural enough to use a smart phone?

Irrespective anyway, I like your approach to get traction by onboarding already existing farmers on digital platforms. Providing a better experience and giving them the required tools will help them migrate.  

Photo of Georgia Barrie
Team

Thanks Shola! I've just had a read of your submission and it also sounds really interesting.

To answer your questions:
Figures on urban vs rural mobile/Internet penetration usually rely on survey data and the problem is that these figures become out of date so fast! The best and most up to date figure we could find is from Safaricom which suggests around 1 in 2 Kenyan adults used mobile data in the last 30 days. This implies that there are already a decent number of rural mobile internet users although it's hard to say exactly how many.

You're right that there will be farmers (particularly in older generations) who may always struggle to use smartphones. However, the segment of smartphone-using farmers in rural areas is growing rapidly (particularly in younger generations) and we believe that designing for small, rapidly growing segments is the way to go.

We've found loads of real examples of rural farmers using services like Facebook to find a market for their produce. The massive advantage of designing for this segment is that we can actually see exactly what's happening. This takes a lot of the speculation out of how users will behave.

From what I know Nigeria rivals Kenya on the mobile and Internet penetration front. What are your thoughts around designing for smartphones vs feature phones vs basic phones in Nigeria?

Photo of shola
Team

Thanks for the clarification Georgia, really helpful. I think what I can see is that you have a target market segment of farmers with some of their characteristics showing that they 
1. Are small but rapidly growing market
2. Already carrying out online transactions

Nice!

I think Kenya does better in rural areas than Nigeria in terms of internet penetration, especially made so by mobile payment solution, M-Pesa, so I will hazard a guess that you have a lot more sophisticated users than we do in the rural areas.

Your solution, designing for smartphones is like 'skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been', which is what we have considered for the consumers here in Nigeria. But for the rural farmers, they will probably not have a 3G network in their location, the education, cost of internet data if they have a network, etc. So we are looking for the easiest way to onboard them with the lowest friction. Perhaps as we help them earn more, we will be able educate them and offer iterations and solutions that makes it easier for them to make the transition.