Zimbabwe: Experts gather to develop new mobile agricultural service product


June 26, 2013

By Jordan Martin

Zimbabwe’s rural populations can often be characterised by poverty and food insecurity, recently exacerbated by unprecedented economic hardship due to the nation’s economic decline and the hyperinflation crisis. Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe play a distinct role in the nation’s agricultural and economic development. Their efforts are especially significant for these rural populations experiencing poverty and food insecurity. Mercy Corps’ Agri-Fin Mobile program is currently working in Zimbabwe to implement a mobile platform that will connect and empower the nation’s smallholder farmers through extension and financial services. These efforts are ultimately meant to aid in reducing poverty and food insecurity as well as improving other indictors of social development.

Last month, Mercy Corps’ Agri-Fin Mobile team was joined by local partners and experts from around the world in a weeklong conference on smallholder farming in Zimbabwe, and mobile technology’s future role in empowering poor smallholders. Experts included consultants and representatives from firms such as Open Revolution, ThoughtWorks, and GSMA.

ThoughtWorks facilitated the discussion, moving the group through a human-centric design approach to product development. The conference commenced with hopeful outcome, brainstorming and goal mining from these outcomes to set the stage for the remainder of the week. Participants were encouraged to share individual insights into smallholder farming and mobile reach. As the week progressed, the group cultivated consumer personas and journeys. These tasks were undertaken with the help of local agricultural experts and organisations such as the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union.

The farmers’ journeys identified the needs and demands, and these opportunities also developed mobile concepts to fill service gaps. The group pushed these embryonic concepts through a product development process that included the utilisation of storyboards, technical mapping, packaging, and branding. During the culmination of this process, the group recognised and developed three strong business concepts to be integrated into one mobile agricultural service product.

Mercy Corps worked, with continuous input from experts and the consumers in mind, to identify three distinct product lifecycle phases that best consider the evolution of demand and the capacity to supply. The group was ecstatic with the results; a week of furious creativity fuelled by an abundant supply of caffeine had resulted in a new mobile product for Zimbabwe.

Many of the week’s participants have since gone home, but the product moves forward. Mercy Corps is continuing to work out logistical issues as to provide this new mobile product for smallholder farmers and other interest groups as quickly as possible. It is estimated that in the next few months rural Zimbabweans will be connecting with valuable extension and financial services via their mobile phones. Mercy Corps believes that the human-centric design approach to the development of the service design will be a significant factor contributing to the success of the product, rooted in its ability to help those in precarious situations.

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