Q&A with a Youth Agent in Peru

Our network of youth agents connects us to farmers on the ground. They work closely with farmers by coordinating training sessions and visiting their farms to check progress and to help solve the challenges that farmers face. 

Since 2022, our youth agents in Peru have been carrying out surveys with coffee farmers, training them on how to use our digital app Croppie. This PhotoCropping app allows smallholders to generate coffee yield predictions using smartphone pictures and AI, providing farmers with actionable agronomic advice on how best to adapt to these forecasts. 

Youth agents are also a key part of our model, linking farmers to buyers through our digital tool FarmDirect. This way, farmers access markets for their produce and the services they need to grow their agriculture enterprises. 

In this interview, we spoke to one of our youth agents in Peru to learn more about what she does, the farmers she works with, her experience so far and her personal goals for the future.


Introduce yourself and tell me what a typical day for you is like

My name is Yacory Ocaña and I am from Jaén city. I have been a youth agent for close to five months now, working specifically in Las Tirias de Jaén. My work as a youth agent at the moment is focussed on doing surveys with farmers and training them on using Croppie. Together with my fellow youth agents, we enable the farmers in our network to sell their produce by linking them to buyers on Farm Direct. We also visit farmers in their kitchen gardens to check on progress and find out from them what challenges they are experiencing then together we figure out how to solve these challenges. 


What motivated you, as a young person, to want to be/ work in agriculture?

My parents are farmers and since my childhood I have seen them do agriculture on their own without getting any advice or training about agriculture. But nowadays, I see farmers getting all kinds of support and this is one of the reasons why I got motivated to work with farmers. I get motivated when farmers tell me things like  ‘I had never sold a product from my organic kitchen garden. I didn’t think that I could make an extra income from my vegetables but now I can.” These are farmers who have been growing just coffee for many years, but now they have kitchen gardens where they grow vegetables and sell those for an extra income. I have always wanted to work with the farmers in my community to diversify because we had been growing only coffee for a long time but as we’ve seen today, it is possible to grow other crops as well.


Are there other young people in agriculture that inspire you? If yes, please tell us about one.

There aren’t very many young people who are doing agriculture, but there is a young farmer who grows vegetables and sells to markets in the Bagua area and he makes good money from that. During the pandemic, his vegetable business did very well and this motivated him even more. He started out with a small area but now he has about half a hectare or one hectare of land. 


How do you link farmers with markets for their produce?

We usually sell directly to small bodegas (small grocery shops). We cannot sell wholesale in large quantities because the markets here in Jaén bring vegetables from the coast at low prices. So farmers end up making little or no profits at all. So we prefer going to bodegas. We gather their produce in small quantities and distribute the produce in bodegas or restaurants. This way, the farmers make more profits.


Could you share with us what your experience has been with working with farmers on Croppie?

When we introduced Croppie to farmers and told them that it is an app designed to enable them to get a yield prediction and even estimate their income, they were very happy. “If Croppie can help us count the coffee cherries without us having to do it entirely manually, we will have better results,” they said.

I also let them know that they could download the app and have it on their phones just like Facebook or WhatsApp. And that by following the clear, farmer-friendly instructions, without needing a technician, engineer or any other expert they would be able to estimate the yield from their farms. 

And because farmers will be able to generate their own yield predictions, they say that this will really help them to make better investment decisions. So when I train them on how to use the app, I mostly allow them to experiment. When they get errors, I let them try again and only intervene when they are completely unable to do something and need support. Seeing farmers interested in understanding how to use the app, having them give feedback on their experience engaging with the app is always encouraging.


Are there any other opportunities Producers Direct has given you as a young agripreneur to help you grow your skills or grow in this field? 

I learned more about biogardens and now I can train farmers on how to manage biogardens. I had very little knowledge in this area before, but by attending physical training sessions and through Farm Direct I got to learn more about vegetables and diversification of production. It is always nice to see farmers bring something new every time we meet for training.


In your opinion what kind of challenges do young people face when it comes to agriculture??

Today most youth prefer to live in the city. While their parents prefer for them to stay in their rural homes, most young people want to study different careers. It is not common to find many young people growing coffee but when you think about something like growing vegetables for example, that doesn’t take that much time and young people can do it. For example, I started my kitchen garden in a small part of my parents’ farm and I’ve gotten extra income from it. Sometimes young people don’t know that there are many opportunities they can explore in agriculture.


And how do you think they can be supported?

I think we need more orientation or training. Many young people see agriculture as difficult. When we speak about agriculture here, what comes to mind for young people is growing coffee, but it would be good to also learn about other diversification products so that they get to know that there are many different things they can grow and make money from growing these products. 


Where do you see yourself five years from now? What are your future goals?

I will have graduated with a degree in forest and environmental engineering and I want to continue working in this sector. By 2028 I would like to have access to new markets for all the crops I am growing. Like I said earlier, I am interested in helping the farmers in my community and I would love to continue doing that through conducting training, visiting them in their farms and supporting them to increase production in their farms. I would also like to have my own business.


Q&A: Young Kenyan Agri-preneurs developing tech solutions for bee farmers

When three engineering students from Dedan Kimathi University of Technology saw the challenges bee farmers experience every day, came together and developed a solution. Jackline Tum, a tech enthusiast with a passion for using technology to solve community challenges was interested in helping bee farmers because growing up in Nandi County, she had seen first-hand how farmers would incur losses and fail to get value from their beekeeping ventures. Together with her fellow student, Joseph Musya and Clinton Oduor, they started IBees – an automated non-invasive method to help beekeepers remotely monitor the state of their beehives in real-time on their phones.

This way, farmers get notifications via the IBees mobile application that inform them about any potential risks to their hives, enabling them to act fast and deal with the challenges. Using the mobile application, farmers can also keep apiary records such as harvests and beehive operations tasks and schedules that allow them to track progress and stay up to date.

Last year in partnership with support from UK-Kenya Tech Hub and UK aid, Producers Direct held a Youth Direct na AgriBiz Digital National Innovation showcase to provide a platform for young agri-preneurs to showcase their work in the agriculture space and share their successes from these innovations. IBees won the best innovation award. We spoke to one of the co-founders Clinton about their brilliant innovation, their learnings as they develop it and their future plans for IBees.

How are bee farmers responding to the IBees innovation?

Clinton: At the moment, we are working mostly with bee farmers in Nyeri County and we just recently began to work with bee farmers in Murang’a County and so far, we’ve received positive feedback from the farmers we sampled. They’ve told us that there are a lot of challenges they are facing and having the IBees device is helping to provide solutions to some of  these challenges.  


Are there examples of farmers who have shared their challenges and how IBees is helping address these challenges?

Clinton: There is a farmer from Nyeri County who told us that she kept having issues with honey badgers and this was a big problem for her. The solution we offer using our device is the ability to detect vibrations, knocks and also tell if a bee hive has been toppled. Having near real time alerts for her was a much needed relief that helps her respond to these threats in good time. So, whether a farmer is close to the hives or not, they can receive alerts from anywhere in the world. 

We also spoke to a bee farmer in Kitui County, where there are many bee farmers, who told us that a lot (about 14%) of hives destruction is caused by honey badgers. This is a big number considering the number of bee hives that are currently in Kenya, so it is a big problem. We’ve also noticed honey badgers coming to our bee farm at the research centre, further reinforcing that they are a big problem for many bee farmers and farmers need to be able to detect their approach before they get to their hives. 


Tell us a little about the farmers in your network

Clinton: Most of the farmers in our network are above the age of 35, but they are also not very old. We have a few young farmers aged 35 and below, but most of them are still trying to understand the business of beekeeping, so they have not done it for a long time. Some of the farmers in our network do beekeeping at large scale for commercial purposes, but some just keep bees as a hobby. There are also farmers from counties like Laikipia County, where they experience human wildlife conflict, who keep bees as a form of protection against destruction by wild animals like elephants. 


 How have the farmers in your network embraced using digital tools in their day-to-day farm activities?

Clinton: Today,a good number of Kenyans can access digital technology. But we also acknowledge that this is not so for many farmers. Because of that, we’ve ensured that the device we have designed can be used by any phone user. For example, we have enabled alerts on SMS texts, so for farmers who own feature phones, using our device is not a challenge.  Besides, even bee farmers with traditional bee hives can still use our device


What winning the Youth Direct na Agribiz competition meant for IBees

Clinton: Winning the Youth Direct na Agri Biz competition last year was huge for us. First, it showed us that we are contributing towards improving the lives of farmers and helping increase their produce and in turn their incomes. It also made us know that we are enabling sustainable beekeeping practices and  playing a role in bee conservation. We are currently losing bees at a very high rate and this threatens things like food security going forward. The win also enabled us to buy some of the equipment and tools  that we needed to take our project to the next level. At the moment, we are doing extensive active learning before we begin to do this at scale, so that win was a great boost for this project.


What are the challenges you’ve experienced when trying to get more bee farmers to use your product?

Clinton: One of the biggest challenges that we have had so far is that some of the components needed to put together our device aren’t sourced locally, and so when we factor in all the costs incurred, the device becomes expensive for the average bee farmer. Because of this, it is difficult to convince a farmer to buy it. So we have invested a lot on our prototype to ensure it works really well before we take it for mass production. And we are hoping that if we produce it at scale, because many farmers will need it, the cost will reduce, making it affordable to many more farmers. At the moment, the device goes for 5000 KSH (USD 50), but after mass production, we are hoping the cost will reduce significantly. And after purchase, the only other cost the farmers will incur will be an annual subscription fee that’s about the price of a jar of honey, like 800-1000 KSH (8-10USD)

What, in your opinion, can be done to make young people consider opportunities in agriculture?

Clinton: As a young person with a technical background, I’ve seen a lot of innovations by young people in the agri-tech field. This is encouraging because it shows young people have an interest in developing innovations that farmers and the agriculture industry can benefit from. And while not all young people can be directly involved in agri-tech, I think there are many opportunities in this industry. The value chain is broader than just taking a jembe and going to dig. And I think if organisations and stakeholders in this industry can make the opportunities available for young people by offering the skills and training required, many young people will take up jobs in this sector.  


What’s next for IBees?

Clinton: Like I mentioned, we just expanded into Murang’a County and our goal is to scale beyond Kenya into other beekeeping countries. The challenges bee farmers are facing in Kenya are also common with bee farmers in other countries, so we believe we can help provide a solution. Aside from making profit from selling our device, we want to gather the data we receive from the devices from beehives in different locations and work with institutions to use the data to learn about how we can save our bees. We want to make an impact on our planet through saving the bees because the importance of bees for our environment and to our crops and food systems cannot be understated. So, aside from IBees being something really cool that my two friends and I designed, we want our work to make an impact in the world.