Keeping Farmers Connected
In Kenya, One Acre Fund serves over 80,000 smallholder farmers, many of whom live in very rural areas. We live and work with the farmers we serve, and our field officers see them nearly every week for trainings and group meetings. But cell phone penetration into even the remotest areas gives us greater options for communicating with farmers and the field staff that serve them. One of the exciting new ways we're communicating with farmers is through text message.
One Acre Fund’s customer engagement team uses SMS to ensure everyone in the field stays connected. When a farmer makes a payment on her loan, she is sent a receipt via text message. When field officers are out in the field, texts keep them up-to-date on One Acre Fund activities and let them know about important inter-department memos.
These days, the African continent is a hotbed of creative uses for SMS messaging. African SMS companies are light-years ahead of countries in other parts of the world when it comes to using SMS for banking. In the agriculture sector, the use of SMS has increased the transparency of crop prices, meaning that farmers know what they should be selling for. All this new information ultimately means greater financial returns for smallholder farmers.
How One Acre Fund Uses Mobile Technology
At One Acre Fund, the SMS program promotes synchronicity and teamwork. Here’s how it works. First, a department sends an SMS request to the customer engagement team. The message cannot exceed 160 characters, so if it’s too big the customer engagement team shortens it without sacrificing meaning.
The initial message is always in English. This means the field team and customer engagement team have to translate the message into the recipients’ spoken language. For example, messages sent to recipients in western Kenya are translated into Swahili.
Using the client database, the team prepares an Excel workbook based on the content of the message being sent. For example, in the client database, there are farmers who have received solar lights and those who haven't. When the team needs to send an SMS about solar lights, they will build an Excel workbook of only farmers who have received solar lights.
Next, two people from the customer engagement team double check the recipient list. If the list in the workbook is correct, it is sent to the external quality control team and the message requestor to triple check. Errors are corrected, and once everyone has agreed, the message is sent out.
Text messages are a powerful tool for rural development. As more and more farmers get access to cell phones, the potential uses are multiplying. One Acre Fund will continue be at the forefront of this work – using mobile technology for the benefit of smallholder farmers.