Cultivating Digital Knowledge Networks for Smallholder Farmers
Rebecca Brand (MDE ‘23) and Caroline Fong (MDE ‘23)
Independent Design Engineering Project
Fall 2022 – Spring 2023
Jock Herron (GSD) and Tom Vranken (SunCulture)
“Jua: Cultivating Digital Knowledge Networks for Smallholder Farmers” integrates backend, technical rigor, sophisticated user design, and the expertise and buy-in of stakeholders. By the time the project won the Outstanding IDEP Award at graduation, it was already in use with a community of farmers in Kenya. Its potential to scale for positive, socioeconomic impact is exemplary and critical given the threat of climate change to agrarian communities.
About Jua: Global food demand is expected to double by 2050. Meanwhile, as climate change persists and global average temperatures rise, an additional 183 million people are predicted to face food insecurity and malnutrition. In sub-Saharan Africa, 33 million smallholder farmers cultivate 25 percent of the world’s arable land but only produce 10 percent of its agricultural output. The ability for these farmers to increase productivity will not only be a major driver of sustained growth but will also serve as an effective measure toward reducing poverty and hunger. “Jua,” which means “the sun” and “to know” in Swahili, is a digital platform intervention that aims to connect smallholder farmers to information and resources across the agricultural value chain in an effort to reduce this productivity gap and support farmers’ decision-making and future-planning. Through extensive participatory research and two field visits to rural Kenya, our team has validated demand for farmers to be grouped through digital messaging to share agricultural advice. These research insights have also illuminated the opportunity to connect farmers to local suppliers, markets, and other resources to generate a more efficient, mutually beneficial agricultural ecosystem. The de-identified, aggregated data from these conversations could ultimately increase the effectiveness of government extension officers, service providers, NGOs, and climate scientists. By leveraging existing social infrastructure and rapid mobile phone adoption, Jua has the potential to redesign the agricultural value chain in a way that empowers and uplifts smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and across the world.