A Farmer’s Information and Technology Experience

The brief : Is there potential for technology to play a role in assisting farmers?
The first step was to study existing solutions and services. The initial task of finding these services was substantially more difficult than anticipated though eventually the coverage seemed reasonably comprehensive.
More than 110 different applications/services in more than 20 countries are the focus of this desk research. The countries include Bangladesh, Cameroon, Chile, China, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Zambia and more.
The operational areas of these various apps can be summarised to :

  • Advisory and Value Added Services
  • Agriculture Information and News
  • Agriculture Query Knowledge-base
  • Animal Treatment, Vaccination trackers and Animal Health
  • Buy/Sell Crops and Fertilizers
  • Weather Information
  • Crop Management Information and Tools
  • Digital Scale
  • Earth Observation and Techniques
  • Resource Planning for larger farms
  • eVouchers, Mobile Payment
  • Fertilizers, seeds and Fruit Information
  • Land Shape, Size and Maps
  • Market Information, Data Trends, Prices
  • Messaging/Email and Photos
  • Financial Services
  • Mobile Money Credit Delivery solution
  • Agronomic Solutions
  • Supply Chain Advisory Information, Payments and Financial Serices
  • Video Library
  • Voice Helpline
  • And many more

These applications are available on diverse platforms

  • Type   : Number of Applications
  • SMS      43
  • Voice    17
  • IVRS     11
  • USSD    04
  • Web      17
  • Mobile Apps  23
  • Kiosks   02

Eventually one seeks to understand all this from the perspective of various types of farmers and the complete agricultural ecosystem. For now consider all this keeping the farmer who has a small to medium holding in mind.
As you mull over the seemingly comprehensive operational areas and platforms, consider the first issue that cropped up almost immediately at the start of the study. How do we find these applications and services?
Discoverability : Suppose the farmer wants such applications to improve productivity, they would have a tough time finding them with their available knowledge/device. It is fairly apparent that beyond the initial introduction coverage of these applications, most have not followed a consistent outreach programme within the farmer community.
Do you trust the weather information on your phone and take crucial business decisions basis this information? Or do you seek out other experts as well?
Who is the expert you seek out for other important decisions. Is it an app, a technology solution or a person?
Assuming that the farmer did sign up or install some of these services, would they have trust in the information provided.
Information Quality – A parallel research in India found limited trust in the information that was delivered by most services. The farmer would rather trust the local community than an unknown application that delivered information from a source the farmer knew nothing about. Can this be improved?
There is relatively low confidence in SMS and yet there are as many as 43 applications that deliver information on SMS. This eventually is a continuing cause of low trust in the information provided.
A related question that emerged, do these applications and services assume the farmer is simply an information receiver/consumer with limited expertise of their own?
Should the farmer not be empowered to create and manage information the way they choose best? How can technology help and specifically how these application improve their outreach and deliver on this premise.
Integration or the lack of it?
If the farmer is part of an ecosystem within the local and larger community then should the applications not be talking/sharing data? Initial study has revealed that most applications seem to be stand alone and thus limiting their potential.
Most applications focused on information delivery by SMS or voice services. Could this be because it was assumed that the devices on offer would be fairly basic? Perhaps yes but looking further ahead provides for an interesting scenario. The continued gains of the Android platform plus the enhancements of the Nokia Asha platform provide a new perspective on capability of the entry level devices in the very near future.
In India, there are more than 35 mobile devices from various companies in a price range of 30 Euros to 90 Euros. The form factors are equally diverse and range from feature phones to phablets, smartphones and tablets. Some 7 inch tablets even have calling capability and cost about Rs 5000 or approximately 66 Euros. Perhaps a similar market situation exists in African countries as well.
While the study continues there are enough indicators that point to a need for forward thinking about solutions, devices, ecosystems with the farmer at the centre of this discussion.
In other words, A Farmer’s Information and Technology Experience needs to be detailed.
The purely technology framework discussion would need to consider the following amongst many others in an integrated manner

  • People within the Ecosystem
  • Information Design and Content
  • Information Delivery
  • Payments Mechanisms
  • Partner Ecosystem
  • Data Management, Analytics
  • Devices and Technology
  • Organisational Stakeholders if any.

Ongoing discussions will seek to define these aspects in light of insights gained from the desk research, field visits that seek to understand the ecosystem in greater detail. Please do share your thoughts on this note.
To continue this theme :
Value proposition, and value delivery in emerging markets through trust
Reaching rural communities in emerging markets: Ecosystems, people, and pipelines
Contextualized Information Empowering the Farmer
Trust in SMS
The All-Important Personal Relationship





4 responses to “A Farmer’s Information and Technology Experience”

  1. Bart Doorneweert Avatar
    Bart Doorneweert

    Great points Syamant!
    I love how this overview shows some red flags on the tech development side. It seems like the challenge we’re facing is trying to find a mesh for the online to the offline interaction systems. The offline will of course bring constraints to the scale and speed of outreach. These constraints will need to be dealt with once a service gets traction and is consequently to be introduced to a wider market. An important constraint that the design structure should take into account from the first day. I wonder what that would look like. Can’t wait for the next steps to find out!

  2. syamant Avatar

    indeed, another point to consider is that the apps and services seem to focus on the immediate aspects of farming etc. Maybe the farmer also has a requirement for services in education, healthcare and many more.

    1. Anjalee Avatar

      Hi Syamant, this is indeed a great article, you have touched upon many
      areas where farmer’s have potential to improve their productivity with the use of IT. My only question- is the farming sector in India ready or mature enough to embrace these changes.

      1. syamant Avatar

        Hi Anjalee, One aspect that clearly emerged is that current solutions need to better understand the entire ecosystem of people. Technology then needs to be included within their context. Current application providers and companies planning to start services should consider understanding this ecosystem within each country they plan to be available.

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