Inspiration

Across Africa, farmers are struggling with brand new challenges such as climate change, new pests and diseases and poor soils. Every year many farmers are giving up and moving to urban centres meaning countries such as Kenya are now importing maize and sugar from Asia and South America.

Access to practical and credible information is extremely difficult and the best source of information is the advice of local, experienced farmers. There is a huge opportunity for a digital platform where farmers can share their knowledge, networks and experiences with the wider community. This is the future of African farming.

The beginning

We started the Africa Farmers Club (AFC) as a Facebook Group in July 2017. Our aim was to create a forum where farmers could share their tips and experiences, successes and failures. Since then we've seen phenomenal interest from the African farming community. There are now over 20,000 members active daily in our online group (Africa Farmers Club), which has over 110,000 members and organically generates over 700 posts and comments everyday.

Building new tools

Since we started the Africa Farmers Club Facebook group there have been lots of requests for new features to improve the group. We built the AFC Messenger bot at the end of 2017 in response to some of these requests. The chatbot was designed to enable AFC members to search farming questions and answers that had been posted in the group to find the information they need. We've had great feedback on the chatbot which now has over 50,000 registered users.

What our members have been requesting

We recently surveyed AFC users using the chatbot and got lots of great feedback. We were excited to see how many farmers reported that AFC had really influenced the way they farm.

How AFC influenced farmers

Many of those who said they'd been influenced also gave examples. We were struck by how many of these discussed knowledge sharing between members, especially relating to sharing practical skills. It is clear that in-person meetings would drive even more impact in this area.

Examples of influence

The launch of AFC Meetups

The survey also asked members what new features they would like. A very large number requested tools to help meet other AFC farmers offline. We have been testing various solutions to this, including hosting our own events, and we are excited to release a new feature in the chatbot that enables AFC members to set up events in their area.

What it does

The AFC Meetups user journey

To describe the user journey we created the diagram below. The journey starts when a farmer decides they want to meet other AFC members in their area. Using the AFC chatbot they can find out how many farmers there are in their local area and the types of crops they're growing.

User journey

If there are enough farmers in their local area then they can submit an event idea. This will notify the AFC team who will contact the farmer to verify their information and help them plan the meetup.

Once the meetup is planned the AFC bot will notify all farmers within 50km of the event with the option to accept the invitation.

As the event gets closer we will send a reminder to everyone who accepted with more information about the event. Once the event is over we'll ask the attendees to give a star rating to tell us how it went.

How we built it

The AFC Meetups feature was designed and built by our team of three in June-July 2018

  • Noah is the Community Manager and manages our user testing, AFC moderator community and the hosting and supporting of AFC Meetups.
  • Georgia and Adam are designers & developers and are responsible for the development of the AFC chatbot.

We use human centred design techniques to build features that are simple, fun and accessible to farmers. The diagram below shows the process that we go through to bring a feature idea to reality.

Design process

We started work on the AFC Meetups feature by drawing up designs on paper and then prototyped live demos using tools such as Lookback and Postman. We went through a number of user tests and iterations to get the right user experience. The key objective was to create a user journey that could collect all of the information required while also remaining simple and easy to use.

Once we were happy with the design and user feedback we built the feature into the live codebase. The AFC chatbot is built on a simply stack using Node.js and PostgreSQL, hosted on a cloud PaaS.

Challenges

Creating events through the API

We had hoped to create new events in the Africa Farmers Club Facebook group through the Graph API. This way new AFC Meetups could be verified through the bot which would automatically trigger the publishing of the event on the Facebook group. Unfortunately the Events API doesn't allow for event creation at the moment, and we understand this will likely be because it could be abused.

As this particular API integration doesn't exist we will request that members manually create events in the Facebook Group that we can promote, both via the group as well as the chatbot.

Our achievements

Bringing new knowledge to farms

Farmer quote 1 As mentioned above, we recently ran a survey through our chatbot service which almost 2,500 users responded to. We found 92% of those farming said AFC had influenced the way they farm, and around half of those volunteered examples, some of which were very inspiring. It's exciting to see that we’re having real and meaningful impact at the farm level.

Building confidence and community

Farmer quote 2 While making practical improvements on the farm is our first priority, we have also learnt that there is huge value in bringing farmers together to motivate and support each other. This is exemplified by the story of one of our members, Charles Osawa.

Earlier this year Charles created a post where he talked about his experience of farming with a disability. He received great support from the AFC community and farmers local to Charles went to meet him at his farm. They were so impressed with his efforts that they, together, raised the funds to buy Charles a water tank to irrigate his field. It's fantastic to see how the Africa Farmers Club is harnessing the power of community to change people's lives.

Hosting the first AFC Meetup

We hosted the first AFC Meetup on the 14th July in Athi River, Kenya. Over 50 farmers travelled to Noah's farm to share their experiences with horticulture farming in the area.

AFC meetup

We had great feedback from the AFC members who attended the day. Here are some quotes from the Facebook group.

Amazing experience,thanx bro - David K

Thank you Noah and the whole team. It was an awesome experience. Be blessed! - Doris M

Thank you too for inviting us; all the knowledge, new people... we should do this alot. - Fohm M K

What we learned

Our experience running the first AFC Meetup taught us a lot about how to get the most out of these events.

AFC Rules and Guidelines

We designed the AFC Rules and Guidelines to ensure that AFC members are organising events in the right way and for the right reasons. The guidelines include information about the purpose of AFC Meetups, good locations and rules around involving company sponsors and charging attendees. We imagine these guidelines will evolve as we learn more about what works well and what doesn't.

Supporting AFC members

In the early days of the AFC Meetups we plan to offer high-touch support to those wanting to organise events. This will help us ensure that the meetups are well organised and provide real value to farmers. It will also allow us to learn about what additional features or services might be needed to ensure everyone is getting the most out of the AFC community.

What's next

We're excited by all of the positive feedback from our AFC members and the impact we're having at the farm level. Over the next year we plan to scale this impact to a much larger community of farmers.

Rolling out AFC Meetups

We'll be rolling out the AFC Meetups feature over the coming months. We'll start slowly, with high-touch support, as we learn more about the best way to support AFC members to host these events. We're currently recruiting regional volunteers to help us in this effort.

Scaling our impact

We currently have over 100,000+ members registered across the AFC Facebook group and bot. The majority of our members (~80%) are based in Kenya but there's a very real opportunity to scale up our presence across Africa. In the future we hope to see hundreds of AFC Meetups taking place across the continent every month.

Growth

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