On the 28th of July e-Agriculture organized a webinar on the topic of farmer-centered design. Human-centered design or user-centered design is at the core of the Principles for Digital Development: guidelines to help development practitioners to integrate best practices into technology enabled programs. The concept of user- or farmer-centered design has been around for more than a decade but still raises a lot of questions. Far too often, an application is designed far away from its beneficiaries or users and does not correspond to their needs. Why does farmer-centered design remain a challenge? How can it be applied better? These are a few of the questions that were answered by our guest experts during the e-Agriculture webinar.
Judy Payne, USAID’s former Digital Solutions Advisor for Agriculture, moderated this session and introduced the concept of farmer-centered design, and its importance within the context of the Principles for Digital Development.
Esi Sekyiamah, former Project Director in Ghana of the USAID ICT Extension Challenge project talked about the project that aimed at developing an integrated and sustainable ICT-based extension solution to promote behaviour change among smallholder farmers. The question was “How to increase smallholder farmer adoption of targeted agronomic technologies?". To do this there were two journeys: a farmer journey that showed, among other things, that many farmers were not technology focused and but were influenced by trusted and supportive human networks to change behaviour, and an extension agent journey that showed that agents worked with limited tools to provide services to large groups of people. The solution design process focused on leveraging trusted and supportive human networks to deliver high quality organized and repeated information and services to target farmers. The result was a platform that is used by aggregators and extension agents to support farmers in the planning, production and sale of their crop and that can be used to provide other services like financial and tractor services to smallholder farmers.
Nathalie Collins and Adam Reineck from IDEO.org shared their experience with farmer-centered design from Myanmar. In collaboration with Proximity Designs, IDEO.org has investigated the potential for precision technology to increase the yields of smallholders in Myanmar. The 80% smartphone penetration rate in Myanmar opens an interesting opportunity for mobile technology to influence agricultural yields. What if GPS technology could help smallholders map their fields to obtain precise acreage, used to then create recommendations for right amount of inputs for each growing season? What if a simple soil moisture sensor with LED light display could indicate to farmers when or when not to water their fields? The collaboration was able to fully explore these opportunities grounded with the needs of smallholder farmers that they interacted and prototyped with in mind, with tangible solutions such as a soil moisture sensor that farmers can use in remote areas at low cost.