SMS support for Kenyan farmers

We're delighted to be working with Mediae, a Nairobi-based organisation 'dedicated to improving the livelihoods of large audiences in Africa through the development of educative, entertaining and effective media'. 

The project is part-funded by TRAC, who have defined some impressively challenging measures of success.

The service we're building is called iShamba, after the Swahili word 'shamba', which means something like 'smallholding' or 'subsistence farm'.

Women smallholder farmers in Kenya

Smallholder farmers in Kenya

Smallholder farming produces the majority of Kenya's agricultural output, which itself occupies around 75% of working Kenyans. Mediae's TV show 'Shamba Shape Up' has been broadcast to huge audiences across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania since 2012; it follows the weekly make-over format familiar to viewers of 'What Not to Wear' or 'Pimp My Ride', but with more emphasis on maize and goats than kitten heels and alloy rims.

 iShamba builds on the success of this show – and the knowledge which has been amassed through its production – and takes advantage of Kenya's well-documented mobile tech revolution, delivering precisely relevant data to subscribers via SMS.

iShamba workflow

iShamba Workflow

Our part in this is to build the systems which store agricultural data and map them to users. The interfaces are almost entirely SMS and voice: a farmer subscribes by texting a short code, which triggers a payment request via M-Pesa, Kenya's ubiquitous mobile payment system, and creates a time-limited subscription. 

A call centre operator gathers information about the farmer's location, crops and lifestock, and associates this with the account. We gather data about market prices ('sweet potatoes are selling for X shillings per kg at market Y within Z miles of your home') and local weather, and pick the most relevant tips from our agricultural database, based on the time of year, where the farmer lives, what animals she has and what she's producing. 

These are delivered over SMS by a local provider, who also provide a Twilio-style voice API which we're using to handle incoming calls from subscribers, allocating them to call centre staff, whose screens will show all the relevant details of the farmer they're helping.

iShamba Django admin

iShamba Django admin

We're building iShamba in Django, with Redis for queued requests, AngularJS for the call centre screens and Pusher for real-time updates. The first SMSs should be sent out in the next few weeks; although with no public-facing web interface this is an unusually private project for us, we're terribly excited about launching it.

Get in touch

If you'd like to find out more about iShamba, or want to discuss your exciting tech project, please get in touch

Tom Dyson

Tom DysonTechnical Director