8/13/13 – Stories from the Field: This guest post was written by Julie Baker, a student in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA at Colorado State University, and a member of the LimaLinks team working in conjunction with iDE to develop an ICT tool for Zambia vegetable farmers.
Understanding vegetable market dynamics sitting in a university, thousands of miles away from Lusaka, Zambia, is at most a superficial activity. One may think they understand the situation based on research and can easily make assumptions on the relationship dynamics between market agents and farmers, but in reality, you know nothing. It isn’t until you walk through the markets yourself and speak with the stakeholders on the ground (market agents, farmers, and agricultural organizations) that complex questions and answers become simple and readily available.
But how do you get started and truly get to know your customer?
My team found that sector mapping was a useful process which helped us understand the broad landscape of who was who in the agricultural sector, and dig deeper into the vegetable farming supply chain. Sector mapping is a simple activity that breaks down a large project into key topics to explore further such as Agri-business, Microfinance, and Information Communication Technology. With the local support from our partners iDE (International Development Enterprises), we were able to build out a list of key contacts and organizations within each of these mapped fields. This process helped shape the research on the ground and got us up to speed on who the players were – turning energetic but naïve MBA candidates into energetic and informed MBA candidates.
There is something exciting about speaking to tomato farmers and knowing when they speak of seed agricultural inputs and refer to MRI SEED, or e-voucher services and refer to ZOONA, that you know who the companies are – having spoken to them yourself. It creates a common ground that helps you – previously the stranger – gain critical credibility. Because of this, we were able to move beyond the superficiality of the problem to addressing the actual need.
And so after 2 months in Zambia, LimaLinks is now much better positioned to help Zambian vegetable farmers. Indeed, LimaLinks can now actually become a powerful tool that provides market pricing information via a simple text message service. Researching the complexities facing the vegetable farmer was one thing, but speaking first hand to farmers on the ground was entirely another. All it took was seeing the fire in their eyes when they told us how Lima Links was truly making their lives better to drive home the importance of sharing time with your customer, and understanding how all the sectors affect each other.