Leveraging Tech to Support Smallholders Through Climate Change

Designing an accessible mobile solution that enables coffee farmers to easily optimize their yields.

With increasing global temperatures, many smallholder farmers are faced with the risk of losing both their crops and their livelihoods to worsened drought, disease, and pest outbreaks. As a result, farmers and agricultural communities are proactively looking for ways to better understand their crops and adapt their processes in order to survive shifting environmental conditions.

In 2022, we worked with Producers Direct, an organization founded by farmers for farmers that serves underserved and rural communities, to support the research and design of a digital solution for coffee farmers in Peru. After extensive research and testing, we designed the user experience for Croppie, an app that provides farmers with insight into the health of their crops, tips for optimizing their yield, and projections for their financial gains in a given season. In addition to the technical aspects of the product, we worked to make it easy-to-use, accessible, attractive, and effective.

To better understand the challenges facing this community, we worked with local researchers who could speak with farmers about their barriers and opportunities, gather feedback on prototypes, provide technical guidance, and support the translation of the app’s content. Through initial interviews and conversations, we learned that the most important considerations were: a farmer’s tech literacy and digital confidence, knowledge of farm management, their individual farm spread, their financial situation, and the state of their ability to access the internet. 

Senior farmers in particular were excited about Croppie’s value proposition, but they acknowledged digital confidence as a challenge–expressing that they plan to rely on their youth family members (who often also work on the farm) to leverage Croppie for their benefit. This vital information about our users allowed us to better finetune the app’s technical protocol. That involved a complex process of determining the sort of data we needed users to input into their phones to calculate and deliver the intended outputs—from crop health insights, yield projections, and process suggestions. It also meant ensuring that the app supported audio and video as a supplement to the text and to accommodate farmers’ learning practices. We arrived on an MVP that was simple, informative, and intuitive.

“With the yield prediction report, I know how much coffee in quintals I am going to harvest. This is how I can see the issue of laborers, the space for drying, if my solar dryer supplies me with that amount or if I am going to have to set up other spaces for drying, all that stuff for harvest cost planning.”

Smallholder farmer, 28yrs, Peru

The Process

As a user begins using the Croppie app, they are walked through a series of processes that help them collect a robust set of data about their crops. First they must select a sample of 15 plants, and then capture 4 pictures of each plant. It’s a completely guided experience, instructing users on when and how to capture photos—during which part of harvest season, which parts of the plant, in what light, and how close they should be taken. Using the photos as a data set, the app then estimates the farmer’s yield weight by using a machine learning model to count the number of coffee cherries visible in the image to calculate potential revenue and generate informed projections. Through these estimated yield calculations, Croppie can then provide farmers with other relevant market information that helps them stay on top of their crops, offering more personalized advice with each season.

Going forward

As of January 2023: 

  • 2,300+ smallholder farms use Croppie
  • 700 women have utilized the app to improve their digital skills in farm management
  • 10 financial institutions and companies are utilizing Croppie in their services 
  • 1 model is undergoing testing to adapt Croppie to other crops 

Our hope is that Croppie will allow farmers to become more self-sufficient, informed, and capable of navigating a dynamic market and climate.

The project was made possible through a partnership between IDEO​.org; the smallholder farmer-led Producers Direct; the research for development center, Alliance of Bioversity; and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. It was implemented by the German Agency for International Cooperation’s (GIZ) Fund for the Promotion of Innovation in Agriculture (i4Ag). Read their report here.

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