What 100,000 African farmers can teach us about social networks
In July 2017 we started the Africa Farmers Club (AFC) with the aim of helping farmers share their knowledge, networks and markets. Since then we’ve gained over 100,000 members and generated over 150,000 posts and comments. But we had two big questions. What change has this really made out on the farms? And how can we do better?
We asked our members…
How is Africa Farmers Club impacting farmers?
We ran a survey using our chatbot and gained 2,473 volunteer respondents across our 31,000 monthly active chatbot users. We split respondents into those who said they’re currently farming and those who were thinking of starting soon. Of those currently farming an incredible 92% said AFC influenced the way they farmed.
50% of farmers who said AFC influenced the way they farmed even offered to provide an example. We list just a few below. While some of the positive reports derived from specific services we’d designed (e.g. milk price market reports) the majority of results come from community knowledge sharing.
It’s inspiring to be part of the spirit of Africa Farmers Club. Repeatedly we see a selfless concern for the well-being of farmers from their peers, demonstrated through freely sharing knowledge, encouragement and concern.
Indeed while the tangible examples above are powerful, the emotional side of farming is equally critical. Farming can be tough, and so we asked both those farming and those interested in starting-up farming how AFC had affected their confidence.
What’s excellent to see is both groups of farmers and those interested to start generally report an increase in confidence with almost equal frequency. This is really important to ensure the community can support new members and inspire those starting to farm for the first time.
How did this all begin and why does it work?
We started Africa Farmers Club less than a year ago. Since then the growth in users for our farming group and chatbot service has been phenomenal.
The reason AFC has been successful is that it’s run by farmers for farmers, including a dedicated and incredible team of farming moderators. Our role is to simply amplify what farmers themselves find useful and to empower members to get the best out of the community. AFC works because it taps into a willingness to share knowledge freely. It’s about building a community that honestly and effectively enables farmers to help each other. One of our members sums it up much better than me below:
How did we figure this out?
We had formulated this all in a dark room early on in 2017 and then executed it first time and it worked perfectly….
That’s obviously a lie!
If I could give you a really short answer to how we figured out, it would be Post-it notes. But the more robust answer is that we trialled and tested almost as many prototypes (in various forms) as there are Post-it notes in the picture above. We were always focused on making products for farmers that fulfilled our social impact mission, but we went through countless product iterations to get there.
We did this with the support and guidance of IDEO.org’s Amplify Program which was backed by the Innovation team within the UK Department of International Development (UKAID). The focus of this Program was to allow small teams of innovators like us to take an idea from concept to realisation focusing on prototyping and product iteration. The scale and impact we outline above was funded entirely by the initial grant support provided by the Amplify Program. We want to thank these teams again for their support and forward thinking approach to helping us get to where we are today.
Where are we going next?
Of course this is just the start, and we’re excited to see where Africa Farmers Club can go within the next year. But how do we figure it out?
By listening to our members…
And they have plenty to say. As part of the survey we received 804 suggestions on how we can improve Africa Farmers Club. Just a few are selected below:
Hear from our members yourself!
Before I go I want to quickly callout Habitus Insight and thank them for their recent work to create a mini documentary piece about some of the AFC members. We asked the team to come to Kenya and explore farmer experiences to understand the good and bad sides of digital farming communities. If you’ve read this far please take another 7 minutes to watch their excellent mini doc below.