This originally appeared in Harvard Computer Society Tech for Social Good on September 5, 2021.
The Client: Clinton Development Initiative
More than a decade ago, President Clinton founded the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI) to support smallholder farmers. CDI works through its community agribusiness approach (CAB) to transform subsistence agriculture into a catalyst for social and economic change for farming communities in Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. According to a report, “since its implementation in 2017 in Malawi, the CAB program formed more than 2,000 farmer groups with 15 officially recognized cooperatives supporting over 30,000 farmers.” Across Tanzania and Rwanda, CDI is working in partnership with more than 60 additional cooperatives on fostering, growing and capitalizing on agribusiness opportunities, as well working with 450 community banks. Today, CDI is actively working with more than 80,000 smallholder farmers.
The problem: How can we make market and production data and financial information as accessible to farmers of different crops across countries?
As a team of technologists, we sought to develop a web portal to be used by farming communities across three countries (and hopefully, counting) in Africa: Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. How could our portal be used to strengthen smallholder farmers’ position in value chains? And, how could we make our portal accessible to people of different backgrounds with respect to location, experience with technology, language, and agricultural involvement?
Through our iterative development cycle in which increasingly high-fidelity designs were rendered week by week; weekly conversations with CDI staff; and interactive interviews with staff in Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania, we crafted a website that prioritized accessibility, transparency, and administrative flexibility. The website relies heavily on iconography, rather than solely English-language description. Training documents — which convey critical best practices and resources on leveraging collective economic power — are pullable from the page, so that cooperative leaders can share materials directly with their communities. CDI administrators can frequently update market prices to disseminate more accurate information about prices, and a table of historical data alerts farmers as to parts of the season during which they can expect to achieve certain prices.
They can access statistics and metrics pertaining to CDI’s work, as well as agriculture nationally and internationally.
Finally, the website consolidates information on loans sorted by bank and country, so that farming groups and cooperatives can find financial support for their specific location, conditions (interest rates and repayment periods) and farming economy.
By building this critical information into the website in one hub, T4SG, in collaboration with CDI, hopes to empower farming communities and cooperatives by increasing access to sector-specific market resources.
As a team, we learned tremendously about collaborative web development, working with a client, and designing with and for populations that we aren’t personally part of. From developing workflows and learning GitHub best practices to working closely with others’ code, many of us grew as team-based engineers — an essential skill for effective software development. As the vision of our product changed over the course of months, with feedback from CDI staff in the U.S., Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania, this project also emphasized the necessity and utility of iterative coding, which allowed us to deliver a product with as much functionality as we could deliver over the short course of a semester. We’re excited about what we’ve built in a semester, and most of all, about the potential of this website to be an asset to farming communities.
Senior Software Engineer Cassandra Kane is a Computer Science concentrator and resident of Adams House. She hails from Boston and plans to pursue software engineering after graduation.
UX Designer Jennifer Guo is a rising sophomore studying computer science and neuroscience in Adams House. She is passionate about product design and coffee shops!
Software Engineer Nick Castillo Marin is a rising sophomore studying Computer Science.
Software Engineer Ray Chen is a junior studying Computer Science and History of Science. Ever since he was a kid, he had an interest in solving math problems and serving others, hence he found a perfect fit at T4SG.
Software Engineer Jamie Lu is a rising sophomore studying computer science with a background in web development.
Software Engineer Sam Zana is a rising junior in Pforzheimer House studying Computer Science possibly with a secondary in African Studies.
Project Manager Shruthi Venkata is a rising senior from NYC studying Computer Science and Comparative Literature. They are passionate about the intersections of tech, art, and advocacy.