Innovations in Platform-Led Upskilling: DigiFarm trains its farmers through SMS with the support of a face-to-face advisory network
DigiFarm, a digital platform for Kenyan farmers run by Safaricom, provides smallholder farmers with access to products and services that help them source, transact, learn, and increase their outputs.
As of May 2019, DigiFarm had 1,038,000 farmers registered on its platform accessing high quality inputs, digital input credit, harvest cash loans, and educational content.
How DigiFarm Trains Its Farmers
To date almost 310,000 farmers have accessed DigiFarm’s learning content, provided via integrated SMS learning services bundled into the core product offering.
The SMS services are delivered by partners including Arifu (with more than 2 million interactions on the service) and iShamba by Mediae. The SMS training is supported by an offline “Village Network Advisory Group” managed by the Kenya Livestock Producers Association (KPLA).
See the snapshot of some of the educational content delivered to DigiFarm farmers through these online and offline channels.
We spoke to Craig Heintzman, CEO of Arifu, as well as Emmanuel Makau, Technology Product Manager at MercyCorps AgriFin Accelerate—which has supported Safaricom with the development of the DigiFarm platform for the past three years—about how the platform trains and upskills its users.
“Training is really important, without training people wouldn’t know how to access the platform, and without training they wouldn’t know how to leverage the various products on offer.“
—Emmanuel Makau, MercyCorps AFA
“Farmers tell us that learning content has helped them solve some of their toughest problems and gain the skills and confidence to turn farming into a viable business.”
—Craig Heintzman, CEO of Arifu
Arifu’s interactive SMS learning service enables farmers to access a range of content from agronomy and farming techniques to financial education relating to DigiFarm’s loan and credit services as well as product training on the various applications available across the DigiFarm platform.
“Technical skills for farmers to improve their yields is consistently the big draw.” —Craig Heintzman, CEO of Arifu
To develop the various content modules Arifu either works with partners to digitize existing materials, licenses already existing digital content, or develops content from scratch. Owing to their significant experience in financial literacy training, Arifu developed the content for DigiFarm’s financial education modules in house. All of these content creation strategies involve a sophisticated, human-centered design process to ensure content is relevant and appropriately designed for farmers.
Through various approaches Arifu measures the usage and impact of their training modules. Usage is measured by an analysis of what content is getting the most traffic and at what point in the user journey people drop off. On average, Arifu has seen farmers pulling over 25 messages, which enables them to complete 2 trainings. Knowledge retention is assessed through responses to quizzes, questions, and surveys, and Arifu measures customer satisfaction through a ratings system. Arifu is also in the process of bringing the Arifu Skills Score to market, which uses proprietary algorithms to measure users’ proficiency in and comprehension of concepts. Additionally, they are currently running an impact evaluation on their financial literacy and agronomy training with the World Bank and Harvard Business School to measure outcomes relating to capacity development, behavior change, yield and income increase as well as the application of chatbot-based learning data for use in alternative data credit scoring.
“I had never heard about kikuyu grass before. I got to learn about it in Arifu trainings. Before I would feed my cows on the grass around my compound and maize stems when they were available. But after discovering kikuyu grass, my cows produce more milk than before.“
“The cows health has improved. In the past I was not deworming the cows after every 3 months, I did not know the importance but when I learned I understood it is a must to deworm the cows after every 3 months because the worms affect the milk.”
A year after launch, in 2018, DigiFarm rolled out the “DigiFarm Village Advisory Network” (DVA), a network of over 1,500 field experts designed to support farmers’ digital journeys. The physical support network was introduced based on feedback from farmers who wanted to be able to share their questions and queries in person.
While the DVAs are on hand to provide support and advice relating to the financial products available through the platform, as well as to answer any general digital literacy questions, their training focuses on technical agricultural practices. The DVAs work with farmers throughout the journey of a crop cycle, from planting to sales, providing advice and training to fill gaps in knowledge and understanding.
Photo by Gerald Anderson #TwawezaLive
Tech and Touch to help fill learning needs
DigiFarm farmers use a mix of physical touch points (DVAs) and online SMS training to help fulfil their various upskilling needs. Despite the notable costs involved in managing a face-to-face support network, the hybrid model of online (SMS) and offline training has been a success in terms of driving uptake and usage of the platform and improving agricultural practices. A key benefit of interactive SMS for online delivery is that it works without internet or data bundles and is widely usable among farmers with even very low levels of digital literacy.
While DigiFarm trains users on “platform proficiency”, giving farmers the necessary skills to access and use the platform itself, the bulk of training focuses on vocational agricultural skills and financial literacies. The latter two content categories result in portable skills that farmers can use off the platform, that is, transformational upskilling. By that we mean training that helps address skills gaps by teaching skills that users can utilize outside the platform itself.
With DigiFarm the portability of skills is evident in the certification provided to farmers who complete Arifu’s SMS learning modules. Once farmers have completed a content module they receive a branded, online certificate that they can then download and print. A number of DigiFarm “Power Users” have taken these certificates to potential employers, demonstrating the off-platform utility of these skills.
“There is huge demand for farmers to acquire certificates, for pride in what they are learning and the challenges they are working hard to overcome but also to support them to find new sources of livelihoods.”
—Craig Heintzman, CEO of Arifu