Digitizing rural communities

By March 13, 2017 No Comments

by Patrick Kiao

How do you feel when you switch from an iPhone 6 to iPhone 7? That rush of excitement and anxiety….you just can’t wait to open that box and stare at your new found “companion” who from now on will be part of your life 24/7. Granted, the rush of excitement does die down as you come to realize there isn’t much of a difference with your previous phone and your focus shifts to the new release…iPhone 8, 9, 10…! This is what characterizes the life of a seasoned smartphone user.

Now, shift focus to a developing country, Tanzania. Zoom in to the rural district of Babati. Zoom in again to a village called Gijedabung …steady the view…in focus…meet John.

John (58) is one of the beneficiaries of the Farm Africa led Sesame project aimed at providing rural communities with knowledge on better agronomy practices and market intelligence, that will lead to more yield, more income and translate to improved livelihoods.

So how does the iPhone story relate to John?

In the excitement to tell John’s story, I got derailed from my initial tale. At this point I am sure you are asking yourself, ‘so how does the IPhone story relate to John?’ I will get to that in a minute.

But first, a bit of context. John is a farmer living in a country where the extension worker to farmer ratio is 1 extension worker to 1,145 farmers. Considering the vastness of the country (947,300 sq km), John would be lucky to get even a visit a year from the extension officer assigned to his area.

We often define access to extension workers by the worker to farmer ratio, forgetting other important factors that greatly determine the success of extension services; factors such as quality of content, mode of information delivery and availability of officers. It is against this backdrop that Esoko came up with a way to address these challenges:

K+ was born

Kplus or K+ simply means Knowledge Plus. It is an extension and training app that ensures John and 34 other farmers have access to at least 1 extension officer. It also ensures the extension officer resides within their community, hence improving access to him / her. Information is delivered as videos, images, diagrams, audio and text in a language that John comprehends (Swahili). At this juncture I’m sure you might wonder ‘how do you reach John living in a hard to reach community’ and ‘how do you ensure the information he gets is current, relevant and timely?’

The K+ web interface

Well, this is where the sharp minds of the business and engineering teams at Esoko and the content team at Farm Africa came to the rescue. Esoko provides a solution where content can be added and edited on the web, and then instantly synced to the trainer’s smart phone device. The content is usually available offline after the initial download, and whenever new content is added, the trainers/extension personnel receive a text message requesting that they switch on their internet and sync the new content. These are but a few of the features Kplus has; for more, send us an email.

How does the deployment work?

Remember the iPhone 6 story? The excitement the seasoned smartphone user has when unboxing his/her IPhone 7 is how 100 lead farmers felt (among them, John’s trainer) when they were unboxing their new H8401 smartphones. The $45 phone was distributed to the farmers as a loan payable in kind. Each farmer was required to train 35 other farmers in their village to pay back the cost of the phone. Additionally the lead farmers were given a chance to train an additional 35 farmers to earn an extra income of $40.

Among these cheerful new “IPhone 8” owners sits John’s trainer.


This intervention has helped thousands of farmers get vital agronomy and market information that has impacted every aspect of their lives. The content is so rich farmers described it as a “digital demo plot”, because they could easily visualize entire farm activities like harrowing through videos and identify pests and diseases in pictures. Unlike print, video adds another dimension to training because long descriptions can be compressed to 20 second clips. This has been a great contribution to the success of Farm Africa’s sesame project. Now John is the pride and joy of his village.

Other Farmers admiring John’s farm

Do you want to recreate John’s story in your community? Get in touch with us through:


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