Inside the Australian startup AgUnity Pilot Project in Ethiopia.
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
(narrated by Nurvitria - program manager at AgUnity)
Today in developing nations, 500 million smallholder farmers do not have access to the simple services that would help them to improve their lives such as having access to digital identity, opening a bank account and securely transacting theirs produces in a trustworthy environment. AgUnity is a digital platform that creates a secure and auditable transaction framework for the 500 million farmers (the AgUnity demand-side) in developing countries and the organisations that interact with them (the AgUnity supply-side). It’s a dedicated smartphone device and operating system, which offers farmers access to the services they need and a platform for organisations to supply those services.
For example, after partnering with organisations such as bank and insurance companies, AgUnity integrates the partner solution into the AgUnity platform and together with the partner, supplies the AgUnity smartphone device to the targeted farmers at scale.
AgUnity is Partnering with the World Food Program (WFP) country office of Ethiopia and a local organisation in the Jimma region of Ethiopia, to implement AgUnity for farmers and remote communities of the region. This project could have an impact on approximately 420,000 smallholder coffee farmers.
Nurvitria, program manager at AgUnity tell us the story of AgUnity second trip in Ethiopia:
Chapter 1 - welcome to Addis
Our flight arrived on Sunday morning (21st July), and Jerbos our field manager picked us up from Addis Ababa Bole International airport with a warm welcome. Landon, our great intern has already arrived more than a week ago, the airline had unfortunately lost his bag but he received it on the seventh days.
On our arrival day, three of us reconciled all findings from quantitative analysis and run through scenarios and refine assumptions for the AgUnity qualitative study work schedule for the upcoming week. We were excited to get started on the ground with the farmers.
Our plan was to stay in Addis for the first day and go to Jimma on the next morning (Monday), the plan was to download the AgUnity application on all our AgUnity smartphones, and properly setup all the devises while we have a better internet connection in the capital. Alas, the phones got stuck in the custom and we had to wait until we can load the phones with our apps. Obviously pretty much everything went absolutely not as planned but we kept our calm “Where there is will, there is ways”.
Chapter 3 - Arrival in Jimma
While Jerbos was still waiting in Addis for some extra documents and equipment, we traveled from Addis to Jimma in a minivan, for almost 9 hours, and arrived around midnight in Jimma. The next morning, we met with the cameramen, and all six of us traveled in the dusty rocky roads for another 3 hours to Limu (they told us it was only 70kms but it felt more like 700kms to us). We were happy to finish the 3 hours ride and got out of the minivan, paid the fare, and the minivan went back to Jimma.
That afternoon, we met Fairchain local management people: Mezgebu and Tamiru and they took us to the washing station to meet with the researchers from Netherlands who had been conducting surveys with the farmers for the past two weeks.
Chapter 4 - Immersive research
It was decided that Landon will help us with the cameramen, with the help of Tamiru who speak quite well English, while Denny and myself would go on with the immersive research. Mezgebu took us to the farmers' house. Due to the political tension often times resulting in unpredictable situation in the country, we only got confirmation of the location of the farmers houses a few days before we came. Not the most robust planning, but considering everything, it turned out quite well.
Immersive research involves Denny and I (with our interpreter) living with two farmers families for two nights, following and helping with their daily activities—while at the same time interviewing the farmers’ household members. Being immersed in activities together allows openness and depth normally inhibited during normal interviews. We spent the days grinding coffee, preparing Injira for dinner, weeding and cleaning the plantation. We had gathered valuable User Experience (UX) insights this way.
The next day, we conducted our second immersive day in Limu, and Mezgebu, Tamiru, Aleks and Landon visited Denny’s farmer's house. An accident happened : all four of them squished into one bajaj, combined with muddy undulating road to the village had managed to tip the bajaj over!. Thankfully nobody got injured, but according to Landon, “it was quite an experience,”.
Chapter 5 – Re-group
After concluding the immersive research the next morning, we said thank you to our amazing host farmers and went back to Jimma. We needed to set up the AgUnity smartphones with the fairly good internet connection available there in the city (and after three days we could make good use of a shower too!). I also had scheduled some meetings with other potential buyers and partner NGOs in the area.
We met with Jerbos in Jimma, and the next day, after some meetings and installing the Applications onto some new smartphones, we traveled back to Limu.
Chapter 6 - Focus group study
Saturday morning, we managed to secure a hall room in the local hospital between Limu and the village, for our UX Journey mapping and prototyping exercise. That was the perfect place, located not too far from the first intended washing station. Unfortunately, the promised internet connection worked very intermittently in that venue as we expected. We were ready with videos of app walk-through and interface print-outs so the app walk through ran almost perfectly.
The group scheduled for UX Journey on Saturday was dedicated to the young (under 35 year old) female farmers. They were enthusiastic and engaging, as well as insightful. "If we got confused with the mobile phone, we will ask our children-- after a while we will get used to it"—one insight that we will take note during the actual deployment, that is to include young member of the household for female users. Throughout the sessions, we emphasized that we were representing the AgUnity mission, that we needed their support and feedback in order to help us design the application solution that match their needs.
The Sunday group consisted of male farmers,young and old group. Originally, on Sunday, the plan was to only have one group, young male farmers. But we decided to run the training with both group since monday was a national trees planting day in Ethiopia, where they plan trees to set Guinness world record. So we decided to move everybody to Sunday, and have only older female farmers on Monday.
We explained clearly, before we start the session, that we were AgUnity and remind them about the purpose of this exercise. The exercise went well, they were active and very engaging, giving us various relevant insights and from a different perspective compared to previous group. However, during the day, there were few uninvited female farmers who came to the hall, and we heard from our interpreters that they wanted to join the discussion. It was amazing to see the traction coming from this training program—everybody felt encouraged by how technology can help them in their day-to-day struggles. We were very happy to see the enthusiasm around AgUnity and we are committed to contribute to fulfill these aspirations.
On Monday, the female group was even more engaging with us and seems to totally understand the concept of AgUnity and the benefits we hope farmers will get out of it: 'yes, you want to learn about our life and want to learn how you can help us to make a better product for us to use everyday'. ‘We need the three modules: without learning, we won’t be able to buy or to sell effectively’—referring to the three modules we want to deploy : Marketplace, Provenance, and Learning Center.
On the last day of the UX mapping and prototyping exercise we managed to show to the Wold Food Program (The Donor, coming all over from Munich and Addis Ababa) the core function of the application, how the farmers understood the flow and start using the QR scanning feature. They were impressed with the technology, our immersive and group-work Human-Centered Design (HCD) methodology, and the way we run our project and the way how we explained the functions to the farmers. WFP people attested that “it was encouraging to see that farmers seems to see the immediate benefit of the application on their day-to-day issues”.
Chapter 7 - Last day
All is well. We were definitely happy and as I said, "all pieces fall into place".
We traveled back to Jimma where I had a debrief meeting with the core World Food Program (WFP) team, and on the next morning, we proceeded to Addis. On the 31st of July, our final day in Ethiopia, we had a scheduled meeting with WFP office in Addis Ababa. We stayed in a hotel located at only 20 minutes walking distance from their office. We figured there was enough time to walk and enjoy the city for the last day. Alas, it was raining cats and dogs. We had our raincoats, but wet and cold pants before important presentation was not flattering. We were a bit too excited and too happy after having a local fried chicken for lunch, and especially because the week went very well on the field. We decided not to take the taxi despite the rain.
The presentation went very well. On our side of the table, Nikolas from WFP Munich sat with us (Nurvit, Denny, Jerbos, Landon). And on the other side of the table, various people from WFP, from the vice country director to various staff on technology, supply chain, innovation, program departments--around 15 people attended. They came interested and initially not knowing about the AgUnity project or what the meeting was about. The audience asked good questions, seemed to be happy with the presentation and our answers, and felt that new avenue of collaborations are just opening.
We went out of the meeting room, still in damp pants and drenched hair, but happy. It was a good trip: we bring home a lot of learnings and insights for the many next ones to come! Thank you team AgUnity to have made all this pivoty-agile trip come out well!
AgUnity aims at tacking issues around Digital Identity, Technology and Financial inclusion with a solution designed around security, connectivity, identity, support, It is easy to use and relevant for the 1,8 billion people around the world living in poverty.
Today, we are raising money via an Equity crowdfunding campaign. To learn more about AgUnity, visit AgUnity.com, register your interest and join us on this journey.
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