Ideas for farmers from IDEO.org

IDEO.org is the non-prHCD-field-guide-2015-coverofit arm of the design and innovation company IDEO. It applies the concepts of human-centred design to poverty alleviation. Juhudi Kilimo first worked with IDEO.org in 2012, on a project that used rapid prototyping to find out how technical information could best be shared with rural smallholder farmers.

During the project, a team from IDEO.org visited some Juhudi farmers, building and testing prototypes of different agricultural training techniques, including instructional videos featuring peers (members of the farming community) and a call centre. The videos were found to be more effective than the call centre, as farmers trusted the expertise and experience of their peers, and also learnt more effectively in a peer-to-peer setting. The rapid prototyping exercise is featured in the latest edition of the Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, published in April 2015 by IDEO.org.

Building on the initial human-centred design project, we have developed a library of training videos for our farmer clients, following the principles and best practices identified in the prototyping exercise. The engagement with IDEO.org was a good example of a field research partnership that generated practical and actionable insights for Juhudi Kilimo, and we are proud of being mentioned in the new Field Guide.

A few weeks ago, we met up with IDEO.org again, this time to gather information about the farming and irrigation practices of one of our farmer clients. Together with our Thika Branch BDO Milly Muhuro, we visited the farm of Ms. Teresia Katunge, a Juhudi client who has taken a loan to purchase irrigation equipment for horticultural farming.

The IDEO team – John Collery, Natalia Sourdis and Barry Lachapelle – asked Ms. Katunge about her agricultural practices, decision-making processes, and irrigation needs. They also tested a prototype low-cost sensor device that can be used to gather data about soil quality and weather conditions.

The visit was brief but sparked many questions about how timely and accurate information and data could help farmers conserve limited or costly resources like water and fertilizer, while making crop production and irrigation practices more efficient. The Juhudi Labs team is keen to continue working with IDEO.org to find practical, human-centred solutions to such challenges facing smallholder farmers.

Photos courtesy of Natalia Sourdis, IDEO.org

Meet Echo Mobile, the first Juhudi Labs partner company

Communicating with customers in a timely, cost-effective way is crucial for any business. Because we maintain long-term relationships with our clients, communication is a top priority for Juhudi Kilimo. Our loan officers often travel long distances to reach rural farms, and information gathered from our farmer clients can get lost, if it is not captured quickly and correctly.

Farmer Jackline gets a text message from Juhudi Kilimo

Smallholder farmer Jackline gets a text message from Juhudi Kilimo

In 2010 Juhudi decided to improve its client communication and data collection using text messaging, a mode of communication that is well established and very popular amongst our rural clientele. To do this, we chose to support the development and deployment of Echo Mobile, a then early-stage platform for messaging and data collection via SMS.

We began by using Echo Mobile for informational question-and-answer campaigns with our farmers. We also started conducting SMS surveys to gather data about our farmers and their needs. Juhudi paid for sending text messages, but farmers could respond free of charge. Farmers also self-registered for the service and were able to communicate with us in their own language. The feedback and practical experience we gained from working with Echo Mobile have been used to make changes and improvements to the solution.

Echo Mobile has proven very popular, both amongst Juhudi staff and our clients. For our staff, it provides a fast and far-reaching channel for sharing news and information with current and prospective clients, as well as a tool for collecting client feedback and other data. The benefits of using Echo Mobile outweigh its costs, reducing the amount of money spent on logistics and customer acquisition, and increasing the speed with which data from the field becomes available for analysis and decision-making.

For farmers, who can subscribe easily to the service by sending a keyword to Juhudi’s private shortcode, Echo Mobile is both a free source of information and a convenient customer service channel, helping them feel more connected to Juhudi Kilimo and improving their customer experience.

Jeremy on CNN iHub

Echo Mobile founder Jeremy Gordon at work in the iHub, Nairobi

Developed and tested to meet real business and customer needs, Echo Mobile has grown alongside Juhudi Kilimo and today is an independent company with over 30 organizational clients, using the platform to reach over 400,000 mobile respondents in sectors such as education, finance, healthcare, energy, and agriculture. Needless to say, we at Juhudi Kilimo and Juhudi Labs continue to be active users and enthusiatic fans of Echo Mobile.

To learn more about Echo Mobile, visit http://www.echomobile.org