Kenya    |  2016 onwards

Design thinking for building innovative agricultural solutions in Africa

Partners: GODAN , P4CDA , Agribora

Article by: Dhairya Pujara  •   Sep 2020

Challenge Statement

How might we solve the issues of food insecurity, gender inequality, farmer incomes and technology adoption in agriculture using Design Thinking?


EYcenter started working in Kenya in 2016 where our first program was held in collaboration with Digital opportunity Trust in Kenya. The goal was to train 20+ young people from across Kenya in design thinking, social venture building, designing a business model and digital prototyping to co-create agriculture domain solutions.

In 2 weeks we had students create solutions ranging from a Financial literacy and financial planning app for farmers to low cost storage solutions for bumper harvest of grains to android app for animal veterinary services. Not only we trained young people, we also got to travel the countryside and meet farmers and truly understand their challenges on the ground. At the end of these 2 weeks, we walked away with many friendships and a Ycenter partner to speahad our work in African continents for years to come.

The story of our Partner

Kiringai Kamau is the Executive Director at Ycenter Africa and a GODAN representative in Africa. He has served as an advisor to Kenyan government on matters of youth development, agriculture value addition, professor and researcher associated with University of Nairobi and most importantly a farmer himself. We developed a vision anchored in Kenya that came to be implemented across African continent considering the challenges are very similar. He adopted the term “Impactathon” used by Ycenter in 2014 to launch a youth based 48 hour coding marathon to solve global problems and transformed it into a national movement in Kenya called Impactathon School of Agriculture.

Partnership with GODAN

In 2017, we connected with GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition). GODAN is a rapidly growing network of over 1000 global innovators and change makers across national governments, non-governmental organisations, and international and private sector organisations. A facilitator for pioneering ideas and cross-continental growth, GODAN aims to impact the lives of at least 12 million smallholders internationally by implementing innovations that help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 - ending global hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture by 2030. Learn more about GODAN here.

Integrating Design Thinking for Agriculture

The participants went through the 5 stages of Design Thinking for every training program.

  1. Discovery
  2. Empathize
  3. Prototype
  4. Implement
  5. Improve

Even though most of the participants hailed from rural towns and possibly even had someone in the family from a farming background or agriculture related occupation, they had to take on a new lens and discover new gaps. From that point, they learnt how to conduct interviews with farmers, middleman in supply chain, consumers and came back to the classroom to create visual customer journey maps. These allowed them to ideate and start prototyping ideas using technology as a medium. Mobile phone adoption has been a big positive factor, especially in Kenya, where solutions like mPesa have transformed the transaction for every single person with a cell phone in the country.

The biggest draw for integrating Design Thinking for Agriculture was to bring the farmers into the process of solution designing. And move the needle from - Solving problems for the Farmers to solving problems WITH the farmers.

1. Program for Capacity Development in Africa (P4CDA)

This is the umbrella initiative created in Kenya by our Executive Director to support and drive all partnership and business development work in Africa. Driven by the vision set by P4CDA we focus on

i. Train the trainer program that goes from village to village in different Kenyan counties and trains the farmers in Design Thinking, Market understanding and GALS. Gender Action Learning System (GALS) is a community-led empowerment methodology using specific participatory processes and diagram tools that aims to give women as well as men more control over their lives as the basis for individual, household, community and organizational development.

ii. Impactathon School of Agriculture - This is an actual physical space loathed in Kangema country, approx 2 hours from Nairobi. It has a farm with goats and cows and dairy processing equipment. It provides a learning and development space to farmers, youth, local policy makers to come in one place, brainstorm on new ideas and co-create new solutions.

It is like a design studio + incubator + classroom + farm labs + think tank to drive the vision of transforming agriculture. We want to create more such centers across Africa that are truly multi-stakeholder driven, innovative in terms of programming and local community driven development.

2. Agriedge - UM6P - Filaha Innovation program

We got a chance to work with UM6P’s Filaha innovation program in 2020. A 5 month long virtual business incubation program to support innovative tech driven agricultural solutions in Africa. In the first edition of the program, we received 131 applications from 23 African countries. We had submissions from domains of e-commerce, data science driven ideas, startups using IOT (Internet of things) and Remote Sensing and others. The goal was to find locally created tech solutions and support them to go from idea to prototyping to business development and market launch in 5 months. Check out these snapshots of graphics with details from the first version of the program. We are about to launch a global second edition of Filaha Innovation program in 2021 with partners including not limited to University of Davis among others.

i. Agritech solutions - Providing Drone based services for smallholder farmers in Ethiopia and Drone spraying services for Wheat growers

ii. Kenzbladi - Equity based Crowdsourcing platform for small farmers in Morocco

iii. Farmin - End-to-end mobile based Farm management app in Benin and consulting services for farmers

3. Farmhubs - farmer-owned youth led technology hubs

These are farmer owned and student led agriculture extension and advisory service centers. This model ensures ownership and truly makes it a community based participatory program. The student led part ensures promoting the culture of entrepreneurship with young people in Kenya. Here are the list of services provided to all farmers

- Insurance Services
- Livestock advisory services
- Environmental Services

- Youth and Women services
- Industrial and SME services
- Agricultural/ICT/Data Services

- Water services
- Crops/coffee/horticulture
- Food and nutrition

In 2019, we organized a workshop with University of Nairobi, check out the testimonials for students sharing their experience on this video here

the way forward

Ycenter is excited to continue working with institutions, universities, foundations, ground level farm organizations to advance our work of creating sustainable impact in the continent of Africa. We will keep pushing newer updates of our work on this page or on our official blog on medium.

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