Small-scale famers living in remote rural communities the world over are set to benefit from a SMS application and a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform which allows for agricultural information and best practice to be shared, questions to be asked, and solutions to any issues they may encounter to be found.
WeFarm is a peer-to-peer information exchange project which promotes the sharing of 'generations' worth of family knowledge' held within smallholders in diverse regions of the world.
Small farms in isolated regions in Latin America and Africa often share common challenges such as soil erosion, crop disease, dealing with the effects of climate change, as well as the need to find ways to improve their income generation opportunities. They also tend to share an often poor access to resources to tackle these and other issues.
WeFarm allows farmers to ask for or share advice by sending a simple, local SMS message. The message is then translated through the WeFarm peer translation system, so that it can be shared with other WeFarm members around the world.
The system relies on an innovative peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform and a team of volunteer translators - such as language students, ex-pats or anyone who wants to volunteer within the project - to translate questions, tips and ideas shared by farmers.
When a SMS is received at WeFarm, it is instantly passed on to members who speak the language that the message was typed in. Heads also come together to translate the message into the other members' languages before WeFarm then forwards it on to them - a process which generally takes no more than one day.
In its pilot stage, some 66 farmers in Peru, Kenya and Tanzania got connected and shared best practice, with a whopping 5,723 SMS exchanged and translations made into English, Spanish and Swahili, as well as a first 'on-farm' implementation where a "WeFarm member in Kenya was able to learn about rabbit keeping as an additional income source from a coffee farmer in Peru. He now has a small, but thriving rabbit project on his farm, and is earning additional money for his family."
Speaking to RESET, WeFarm CEO Kenny Ewan said:
“It's been our vision for a long time to create impact on the ground through access to information, and seeing farmers start seeing the benefit is an amazing feeling, and sets us up for the next stage.”
After a successful pilot stage in the three countries, the new scaleable version of the WeFarm platform was launched in February this year in Kenya, with 9,000 farmers already on board. And after only six months, the initiative is already showing its great potential.
Ewan shared some Kenyan statistics with us: 48 percent of members are actively contributing every single month (compare that with the engagement of Twitter users, at 13 percent), and 88 percent of those who have used the service once become regular users.
Last week the new scaleable platform was launched in Peru, with some 400 farmers already engaged, and up next is Tanzania in about 10 days. Momentum is certainly picking up it seems, but the ride hasn't been without its bumps.
For Ewan one of the greatest hurdles has been a cultural, philosophical one: within a still prevailing 'top-down' development culture, trying to convince funders, investors and NGOs that peer-to-peer knowledge exchange has a place in development, and that farmers find it valuable, has not always been easy. Although Ewan ackowledges that that mentality is starting to shift.
Perhaps testament to this shifting mentality, and for Ewan, one of the greatest successes of the scheme to date has been winning the Google Impact Challenge, which has made a big difference in WeFarm's ability to take its ideas to scale.
So what's in store next? By the end of 2015, WeFarm aim to connect some 500,000 smallhold farmers across the three countries of Kenya, Peru and Tanzania.
Thanks to newly set up national shortcode telephone numbers - which are able to handle one million SMS every minute and allow farmers to send their SMS for free - such scaling up is no doubt just a matter of time.
Then, the goal is to reach one million smallhold farmers worldwide, helping reduce their isolation, find tried, tested and locally relevant solutions to their problems, helping make small-scale farming profitable and sustainable.
That local knowledge is also preserved and disseminated in the process is yet another important tool towards empowering those whose voices are often unheard or unlistened to.
Want to use your language skills and join the team of WeFarm volunteer translators? Find out more here.
Finally, you can watch a video about WeFarm here:
An introduction to WeFarm from WeFarm on Vimeo.