What will the early adopters of mobile agriculture services look like?

We ran an experiment. We created a simple sign-up form looking for farmers to be beta testers of a new mobile agriculture product we’re designing. We posted it on Facebook and shared it with a farmer in our network and then waited to see who would sign up. In less than 3 days we had almost 100 responses. This helped us understand both how quickly a new service could grow just through word of mouth but also to see what our early adopters would look like. Here’s what we found.

Is it just young people?

We’ve read lots of articles and heard lots of people tell us that digital behaviour in agriculture is driven by the youth. We didn’t ask people for their date of birth (people probably wouldn’t answer accurately anyway) but instead scanned the WhatsApp and Facebook profile pictures of the sign ups. The profile pictures show that in fact most of our early adopters appear to be in the 30-40 age segment. While these people are younger than the average farmer (estimated to be around 50-60 years), they are certainly not “youth”.

Since this finding doesn’t align with the general hypothesis around youth driving technology adoption we started to dig a bit deeper. Financial Inclusion Insights conducted a survey in September last year analysing digital and financial behaviour in Kenya and the results are quite surprising.

The survey measured mobile phone ownership by 3 age segments: “youth” (15-24), “middle” (25-44) and “older” (45 and over). The results show that the rate of mobile ownership is actually lowest amongst the youth in Kenya at only 61%. Compare this with the “middle” and “older” age segments where over 80% of respondents claimed to be mobile phone owners.


The percentage of respondents who own a mobile phone (Financial Inclusion Insights)

So young people are less likely to own a mobile phone but are they more tech savvy? Well the answer appears to be no. The same survey gauged the digital literacy of each survey respondent. Literacy is inferred from the proficiency of use of a mobile phone where N/A = does not use a mobile phone, low = only makes/receives calls, moderate = sends/receives text messages, and high = performs functions such as accessing the internet and downloading music.


The percentage of respondents by level of digital literacy (Financial Inclusion Insights)

Even when you exclude the “N/A”s (i.e. those that don’t use a mobile phone) 80% of youth who use a mobile phone have “high digital literacy” vs. 86% of middle and 79% of older people.

Are they all around Nairobi?

The sign-up form to be a test user was first shared with a farmer located just outside of Nairobi in Kitengela. Since we asked him to share the form with farmers in his network we assumed that the majority of our sign ups would also be clustered around Nairobi. While we certainly did see find that many of our respondents were located around the capital we were surprised to find that our ~100 responses covered 24 counties in Kenya and most of the main farming areas.


The locations of those who registered to be a test user

In less than 3 days we had sign-ups spanning the width of Kenya. This goes to show the power of social media for spreading awareness across large geographies.

Is it mainly men?

The gender gap in technology use is a pervasive problem across developing markets. Therefore many people have suggested that the early adopters of mobile agriculture services will most likely be male. In 2014 GSMA Connected Women conducted a study to analyse the gender gap in mobile access and usage. One of the focus countries was Kenya and I summarised the findings in a blog post last year.

One of the findings was: “While women are less likely than men to try using social media on their phone, the majority of women who have tried Facebook on their mobile use it everyday making them more frequent users than men.”

If women are more active users of social media this may explain why 52% of registrations to try the test product were from women vs. 48% from men.

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