This is a project proposal to work with groups of women small holder farmers in Kenya and Tanzania to develop a mobile application that can support them in documenting, sharing and developing their farming techniques, as well as potentially supporting their links to markets.
The series of maps below (from NEPAD) identify that Kenya and Tanzania are experiencing agricultural land degradation as well as numerous threats to community land ownership. The agricultural potential of the land suggests that there is an opportunity to support farmers and communities who are living in rural areas but whose livelihoods are under threat. Women smallholder farmers play a significant role in smallholder agricultural production and are more likely to be maintainers of rural community social structure than men (who are more likely to migrate for work). The ability of women smallholder farmers to continue their livelihoods by maintaining possession of their land, developing farming practices in response to food market needs and climatic changes, and their continued access to local food markets are in need of support.
The map below (from Open Signal, 2018) shows that Kenya and Tanzania have high 2G/3G and 4G mobile coverage relative to surrounding regions. The map illustrates the potential for mobile network technology to be a tool to assist women smallholder farmers in their farming practices. If an app is seen conceptually as a store of knowledge, the ability to share and grow that knowledge, a social connector and/or a link to markets, an app has the potential to recognise, support and help grow the social and economic value of the roles that women smallholder farmers are filling. Such an app could enable farmers who inhabit separate plots of land to be able to work together in ways that transcend the restrictions of geographic separation, but if designed with reference to geographic conditions, could also support sets of relationships that are most suitable for farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing and journeys to market.
I propose working with a few communities of women small holder farmers (in association with an app developer) to understand what problems the women face in carrying out their livelihoods and how this can inform an app development process. In seeing the farmers as the people who are best able to understand the set of social, environmental and political conditions that they face, I propose an engagement methodology that is designed to facilitate them to develop problem framing that would inform how the app is conceptualised, both pre-prototype and post-prototype. In documenting the process that I follow and publishing papers to capture this, the project would also contribute to the knowledge gap that exists of the potential of pre-app prototype methodologies to engage small holder farmers to contribute significant creative input into farming app development.
In conceptualising a methodology, I referred to Peter Rowe’s book “Design Thinking”. In it he discusses the relationship between normative ideas that a designer has and procedural aspects of the design development process. When faced with a wicked problem there is a need to focus on more well-defined problems for which a solution is able to be designed. The problem framing process itself thus strongly establishes the direction that a designed solution takes. This means that there is significant potential in the problem framing stage of development for intended users of a designed solution to establish the understanding of what their needs are, and to begin to propose and develop hypothetical solutions through an engaging process that replicates the potential that a designed solution has to address their problems.
I propose a two stage community engagement methodology in which the potential that an app could have for farmers is demonstrated and explored with a physical mapping and sharing process.
I would approach specific communities to find out if there is an interest in participating in an engaged app development process. I would seek to have informal discussions with women in community leadership roles who have concerns about different problems facing other women small holder farmers and are seeking solutions. I would also seek to have informal discussions with any community members interested in learning more about app development processes. I would take on board the suggestions of these community members to adapt my envisioned engagement methodology.
A pre-prototype methodology could work as follows:
Women smallholder farmers from the community gather together in a central public indoor space. Each is given a cork board with various basic elements that describe land use and connection (e.g. textured pieces to illustrate different types of land uses, basic geometries for built homes, and strings to illustrate connections between different activities with other small holder farmers or to markets). In an initial round of map making each woman would put together pieces to illustrate her personal farming set up. This would be followed by each individual presenting their set up, with reference to practices going well, and practices needing support. The presentations would be video captured. There would then be a period for loose discussion in which women could have conversations with other women to identify potential to assist each other in needed skills, uses of land or journeys to market. Summaries of these discussions could be video-captured in a second session of sharing by each woman as she shares ideas about how to collaborate with others in any number of ways that emerges, new solutions thought of, and new problems identified. A second round of mapping could then be done more collectively, by laying the corkboards on the floor, to form new connections with strings based on the ideas that emerge.
The extent of focus on visual development techniques as opposed to spoken sharing would have to include a consideration of any language barriers, but it would be ideal for me to find some communities to work with that have more English speakers for a more fluid communication process.
The project proposal timelines that follow propose work flows in association with theoretical development:
NEPAD Agriculture in Africa: Transformation and Outlook. United Nations.
OPEN SIGNAL. 2018. Open Signal: Networks [Online]. Available: https://opensignal.com/networks [Accessed 14/2/2018].
ROWE, P. G. 1987. Design thinking, Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c1987.