By Evans Campbell,
Did you know thatupon selection, a government extension officer (responsible for training farmers) must go through a 2-week motorcycle riding course and pass to obtain a license?
In January 2013, the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) and CABI, in collaboration with iHub Consulting and iHub Research sought to tackle the problematic flow of international research output to local farmers. Much of this research is available openly in online portals such as ELDIS and R4D, but this is not accessible to those who need it most, the farmers.
Q: Why would farmers need research output?
A: To ensure that their activities can yield them the best quality of produce possible, therefore earning them better quality lives through higher revenues and ultimately drive a more agriculturally productive Kenya, or if you may an improved economy.
This formed the basis for the collaborative iHub project aptly namedResearch-to-Impact (R2I).
A hackathon was first organised to involve local agriculture sector stakeholders and iHub's community of techies in developing potential solutions to this problem. Two teams, LDConnect and Mobidev, emerging 1st and 2nd respectively, earned the chance to develop their prototypes into actual, fully-fledged commercially-viable applications for the agricultural sector.
iHub's Research and Consulting initiatives took this opportunity to develop a toolkit for moving applications from hackathon-prototype stage to commercially-viable technology products using R2I as a case study. With the teams ready, tasks clear and goals bold, the project team set out to involve all stakeholders -agricultural experts, farmers, extension workers and the technology developers - in improving the prototypes into the most relevant type of solutions.
10th April 2013: First on the to-do list was to conduct an interview and needs assessment with the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), an international NGO recognised for providing access to agricultural information and technology to areas plagued by problems such as lack of electricity and connectivity. The interview shed light on many of the problems faced by extension officers who work to relay research-based agricultural information to farmers. It became clear that we needed to dig even deeper to see just how our applications could deliver the impact we were looking for.
10th May 2013: A team comprising of Kioko Wambua (Mobidev), Christine Murimi (LDConnect) , Elly Okutoyi (iHub Research) and Evans Campbell (iHub Consulting) set off to ALIN's Isinya maarifa centre to carry out a design research study with extension officers and farmers. The immersion into the environment of our target users was an eye-opener, showing just how much simplicity mattered to all of them. In a place like Isinya where some farmers live as far as 10km away from a power source, nothing mattered more than being able to access information easily, consult quickly and share with many.
Today: Inspired and enlightened by the insights from their recent field trip, the R2I team has enough material to begin what promises to be a challenging, but surmountable development process. This project could very well revolutionise the lives of farmers and make the work of anyone charged with training them far simpler than it is now. At the moment, so much research is done on farming practices and the best animal breeds and crop strains, but how much of this information benefits the farmers who should act on it? Through a simple, localised app, the R2I project aims to make the transmission of that information to farmers more effective. After all, knowledge is power.