How HARA empowers the grassroots level through tech: Real stories from the field
“Nothing becomes real till it is experienced” — and based on our experiences in the rural areas, we cannot agree more. In this post, we would like to reflect and share on how our operations team is deploying HARA, with both the outcomes and learnings that came with it. Our pilot projects took place in several areas across Indonesia. In June 2018, we have acquired over 1,000 farmers’ data and scaled it up to 13,000 farmers in only 6 months of time. An achievement we are definitely proud of!
Let’s start with our mission: HARA aims to make the invisible visible. A common narrative about smallholder farmers in Indonesia is that they have limited access to financial institutions for working capital of crop inputs and financial support, hence no other choice for them but to be dependent upon loan sharks. Also, limited access to the market makes the farmers go around the vicious cycle of having a hard time to pay back the loan sharks (with interest rates going up to as high as 300%). The immediate effect of these loans is that it comes increasingly difficult for these farmers to provide for their families and loved ones. That is where HARA can make the difference, these are the gap that we are trying to tackle.
Our aim is to set up a sustainable ecosystem with a continuous flow of supply (data provider and data qualifier) and demand (data buyer) of data. In our first step to set-up a pilot project, we identify farmers and field agents (as the data provider and data qualifier, respectively) and engage with them through several socialization and training sessions. Farmers and field agents will receive an incentive for their data input.
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Our deployment team has to build an ecosystem within these rural areas from zero. Building the foundation for our HARA ecosystem requires social engineering because we are trying to implement tools for digitalization on the grassroots level, for which behavior change of all local stakeholders is necessary. Through our experiences on the ground, we found that engagement with local government is necessary to add the value of their economic development in these areas.
“Establishing and maintaining a relationship with the local government and leaders to start is crucial. Once we’ve passed that, we can gather the field agents to socialize, educate, and engage them through our services, such as the micro-finance program.” — Lisa Irawati, Head of Operations of HARA.
After implementing HARA in several areas, we learned that understanding the social structure in a rural area is the key to engagement. We figured that the field agents are actually the influencers and that farmers have huge trust in them. This is the reason why we increased the number of farmers over the past 6 months drastically. Besides farmers, the HARA field agents also attract other stakeholders to join our ecosystem, such as banks, academic institutions, and credit bureaus have a desire to work with us.
However, surely onboarding 13,000 farmers was not a smooth process and we faced several challenges along the way. First, introducing the HARA application to the field agents was sometimes a problem, because they were not used to advanced smartphones with multiple features. But surprisingly, some of the field agents have a mid to high-end Android device that we did not expect at first.
Second, the very poor network infrastructure in Indonesia limited our field agents to input data into the HARA application. In these areas, many are facing a lot of intermittent data package status, where they have a 4G signal but practically no internet connection.
Lastly, farmers and field agents can be very creative when it comes to data input. Enforcing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is therefore crucial to improve data quality. One example of the problem we faced was the selfie (self-portrait) with Kartu Tanda Penduduk (KTP) identification. A lot of them used a cigarette box as their ID card, which defeated the purpose of identification verification. We learned the hard way the importance of creating a comprehensive SOP for what seemed to be even the smallest tasks.
The HARA deployment team forms the bridge between the users (field agents) the designers (product team) of the HARA App. We established a feedback mechanism, so we can continuously improve the App and make it more user-friendly. For instance, the developers created a “Contact Us” button featured in the that allows field agents to submit the problems they face and input regarding the usage of the App. Some feedback we have obtained are bug reports and feature requests such as the “Contact Us” button connects directly to the customer service person via Whatsapp. In addition, we also have the HARA deployment team staying at the site, hence the users (field agents) and consumers (farmers) can easily reach out to them for help.
Last November, we started to disburse the micro-finance program to over 700 farmers in Bojonegoro, East Java. The program will last until March 2019, and of the main indicators for our success will be the repayment rate. Meanwhile, we are adding another service to the HARA ecosystem together with the off-takers. The HARA field agents will help to sell and distribute the agriculture produce to the off-takers.
Our engineering team is also planning to test features related to hardware on HARA App, like an Image Recognition with regards to various camera resolutions on different phones. A Polygon Tagging feature will also be tested with its intelligent corrections and smoothing with different GPS sensors quality.
On the long term, HARA aims to develop scalable, appropriate, and efficient features on HARA App for farmers to have well-managed operational activities that can encourage other farmers to do their day-to-day activities efficiently. Also, the implementation of user behavior analytics for every feature exists inside the App in order to have a better data-driven decision in the forthcoming.
Reassurances aside, we know that we will face a lot more challenges along the way, but that doesn’t stop us from learning! One of our focus points is figuring out yet another improvement to use the HARA App feedback mechanism from the users (field agents) to our engineering team as a progressive tool and problem solver for the field agents.
That all said, farming in the future will be very different from today. With new technologies that are finding their way to the agriculture space, we are excited to see what the future will bring us!
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