Social Agriculture — understanding Kenyan farmers’ use of social media platforms for agricultural practices
Caribou Digital is excited to embark on a new research project to understand how Kenyan farmers use social media platforms as part of their agricultural practices. We’ve spent the last few years in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation exploring the phenomena of platform livelihoods — the ways people earn a living by working, trading, renting, or engaging in digital marketplaces — and the many diverse ways in which individuals and small businesses are engaging with digital technology. While each of these ways is distinct in its own right, they all have “digital marketplaces” and platformization at their core.
Beginning in 2019, our early work in this area explored “platform practices”. In 2020, our colleagues conducted a global literature review and held discussions with 80 young platform workers and sellers to establish an overarching approach to Platform Livelihoods, encompassing eight key sectors: microwork and freelancing, local services, asset sharing, farming, micro- and small enterprises, ride-hailing, creatives, and logistics.
Since then, we have been doing deeper dives into the intersectional topics that make this so urgent — exploring Platform Livelihoods and Resilience in the Face of Covid and Platform Livelihoods and Gender in Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana. This new project will take a deep dive into the new form of “social agriculture” being innovated in Kenya, where Facebook and WhatsApp groups create new connections between farmers and their markets.
This work is exploratory, intended to test and develop our hypothesis that the use of social media is a significant part of Kenyan farmers’ agricultural life. There is growing evidence of the ways micro-enterprises and entrepreneurs appropriate social media to pursue “social commerce”, and how the tech titans are rushing to fold transaction and commerce support into Instagram, Facebook, WhatApp, and TikTok. We know many farmers are using the same tools — as just two examples, the Digital Farmers Kenya group on Facebook has 431,000 members andhe Kenya Dairy Farmers Forum has 209,000 members. But we don’t know how widespread the farmers’ use of social platforms is, or how these platforms are being used. In short, while the digital development community has come to know a lot about social commerce, it needs to know more about social agriculture.
Importantly, this is a study based on exploring and understanding what Kenyan farmers are doing themselves with the tools available to them. It is not a study of instrumental (information and communication technologies for development) ICT4D; we are not examining the digitization of agricultural value chains nor studying specialized transaction marketplaces like DigiFarm or Twiga. It is explicitly grounded in our understanding of digital transformation as an always ongoing process, irrespective of “developmental”interventions. In this study we seek to understand digital transformation in the context of Kenyans’ use of social media platforms for agricultural practices, and to identify ways in which this might be supported with careful, intentional interventions to mitigate challenges and support Kenyan farmers to make use of the tools and capabilities they already have.
We’re excited about this research, the insights we anticipate will surface, and the opportunity to work with new partners. We value partnering with locally owned and led firms, and are particularly pleased to partner for this research with Agri Vikundi, owned by a farmer who also runs a large Facebook group for farmers and is a global expert on the use of social media for agriculture. We will share more of the work as we progress, and are looking forward to engaging with those working on similar questions, and welcome questions, comments, and suggestions.