June 7, 2012: Stories From the Field. Guest post by Ana, Christie, and Lindsay, co-founders of Siembra Orgánica, a student-run social venture start-up manufacturing and distributing organic fertilizer to quinoa farmers in Bolivia. Siembra Orgánica is currently conducting a month of field work as part of the Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at CSU to determine if they can increase yields and farmer incomes while restoring the land.
Siembra Orgánica has now spent almost three full weeks in Bolivia and has been able to apply many of the concepts from class to the research in the field. Here are the top three:
1. Market Research: Much of the first semester of the GSSE MBA is focused on how to identify market opportunities. Figuring what people need and want reveals market opportunities, and the only way to figure that out is by asking them directly. Taking into account what we learned in Ken Manning’s marketing class, we are not using standard surveys to gather information, but rather, we are conducting in-depth interviews using open-ended questions. In this way, potential customers speak more naturally about their experiences and reveal more information than they would otherwise if the questions were narrow and directed. For example, we came to Bolivia with the basic assumption that llama farmers would be willing to sell their manure if offered a good price. However, instead of asking them directly, we asked them to tell us about what they currently do with their manure and that naturally led to a discussion on the value they placed on the manure. Overall, our methods have proved to be successful, and we are indeed seeing an attractive market opportunity for organic fertilizer in the Altiplano region of Bolivia.
2. Quality Control: Another subject that has been useful in conducting field research is the notion of quality control as defined from an operations management perspective. We had the opportunity to tour a quinoa factory and were impressed by their attention to cleanliness and detail. As the factory workers explained their system of process control, we were able to follow along and visualize how their process would look graphed out in an x-bar chart. Jacha Inti, the quinoa exporters, buy quinoa from middlemen, who buy directly from the farmers or from associations of small farmers. For every amount of quinoa, a certain percentage is taken to the factory and analyzed for the presence of stones, dirt, animal droppings, straw etc. Jacha Inti only accepts quinoa that is below a certain percentage of “dirt” per ton. Because they work with small farmers, they are able to directly communicate their standards and help them to improve the quality of their product.
3. Last Mile Distribution: Since the beginning of the GSSE MBA, we have been told that one of the hardest parts of conducting business in developing countries is the “last mile distribution.” We have paid attention to this challenge in our own business plan and have examined the market with a critical eye for creative solutions. In class we learned that the key to delivering a final product to our end user is to leverage established networks already in place. Despite a robust network of quinoa and camelid associations in Bolivia, last mile distribution will inevitably be the most complicated part of our business plan and the biggest cost driver.