What do Tanzanian farmers want from Agri-VAS?

Wednesday 24 Sep 2014 |

In March 2014, two M4D researchers went to a village in the Bagamoyo district of Tanzania. We wanted to find out what Tanzanian farmers want from Agri-VAS using techniques from human-centred design. This would require two translators, some quick thinking and a lot of post-its.

Here are some of the highlights of our activities and findings.

First Activity – Stakeholder mapping

We asked 10 farmers about their preferred sources of information, what they trusted and found most relevant.

Finding: we could segment our participants into three broad categories in line with their information seeking behaviours

Less able/uninterested traditionalists

  • trust their close families and neighbours to help them with farming decisions
  • have relatively low levels of access to information and rely on traditional methods
  • are not able to implement new methods, through lack of will or lack of capital
  • use mobile to contact friends and family, but not for business

Able/receptive traditionalists

  • are experienced farmers
  • talk to respected farmers about farming decisions.
  • try new methods when they see them working in the village e.g. growing cash crops
  • use mobile to contact friends and family and occasionally for business and entertainment

Village innovators

  • respected farmers with close links to the village hierarchy
  • use modern methods to farm cash crops
  • call government extension officers for advice on farming methods
  • use mobile as a tool for business to gain information and sell crops

Finding: Village innovators are a good target for Agri-VAS although they are likely to be the smallest segment in the village.

This segment are teachers, highly influential over other farmers, leading to a trickle-down effect on service use and impact. They are already practiced information seekers, who are most likely to persist with even a difficult-to-use service if they can see the benefit. Perhaps most importantly, they are excited and able to try new things – which means investing in their farming practices, perhaps including in mobile agriculture services. Target this group by providing information about cash crops.

Second activity – crop calendar mapping

Crop Calendar Mapping

We asked 10 farmers about the crops they grow and when information is most relevant to them.

People in the village traditionally grow rice, maize and cassava – usually kept for the family or sold at the gate. Village entrepreneurs and some able traditionalists also grow cash crops like tomatoes, watermelon and okra which require irrigation – usually sold to trusted agents.

Finding: Farmers don’t immediately think of MNOs as farming experts. Base marketing campaigns around the crop calendar to show expertise.

mAgri Crop Calendar

Third activity – situation games

We asked 10 farmers about the specific pain points in their farming processes

We asked 10 farmers about the specific pain points in their farming processes.

Finding: Small scale farmers are often at a disadvantage when selling

The ‘walanguzi’ (middle men) have a powerful position and can offer any price at the gate. Farmers often check with their neighbours to find out what price they got; some call contacts to ask them to check market prices in person.

They see the benefit in having this information to give them power over the prices they get and to root out dishonest traders.

However, in order to be useful, market price information must be:

  • Local – preferably from several local markets
  • Updated daily
  • Specific – exactly what is being supplied? Wholesale/retail? Dried or fresh?
  • Some farmers suggested a service which connects straight with the buyers in order to cut out the walanguzi altogether

Finding: When it comes to weather, only one thing is really important…

Farmers want to know when the rainy seasons (vuli and masika) will begin so that they can plant their seeds: too early and they will bake; too late and they may be washed away. Some farmers listen to the weather forecasts on the radio, but find them too high level and aren’t always near the radio at the right time. They see the added value in having this service on their mobile. Daily forecasts are not seen as any more useful than looking out of the window.

A great weather service would:

  • talk about rain – things like temperature are not seen as so important
  • cover a relevant area – national is too big

This service would be most important for the BOP farmers who can’t afford irrigation.

Finding: Agronomy information should be able to answer specific questions

At a time of crisis (such as a new pest or disease outbreak), farmers would like somewhere to turn where they could solve their problems. Advice on cash crops is not part of traditional knowledge so would be well accepted by the identified target segments.

The wealth of agronomy information available is like an encyclopaedia. However a USSD menu with a two minute timeout is not the best way to offer this information. Tech literate users struggled with the timeouts on the USSD menus; older users, especially women, struggled more.

A call centre would be a valuable asset to such a service; users would be willing to pay to have their questions answered.

Qualitative techniques allowed us to gain a richer experience of the target audience and fuller understanding of their needs. Working with frog design on our next six projects should allow creation of Agri-VAS which really can make an impact for farmers and service providers.

If you want to find out more about the methods or findings from these research, or have any similar experiences from qualitative research, please get in touch!