The service, which is in the design stage, will serve as a means of communication where there is poor internet coverage and smartphone penetration.
SomeOne/Else, the digital arm of consultancy SomeOne, says the system is effectively ‘the internet for the people without internet.’
WeFarm members can ask questions and share farming tips and advice by sending a local SMS message.
The message arrives at a centre of volunteer translators – possibly at the Essex University language department – who then pass the question on to a farmer with appropriate knowledge in another part of the world.
On the ground, ‘extension workers’ in Tanzania for example, will be communicating with farmers on foot and will have smart-phones and iPads to aid communication.
Warren Hutchinson, experience design director at SomeOne/Else says ‘It means that for the first time a coffee farmer in Peru can ask questions, and share tips and advice with other coffee farmers from all over the world.’
Hutchinson says he is working on the design of an interface using SMS, and may use USSD, a type of SMS that allows real time chat sequences.
In addition he says, ‘We’ll need to design a responsive website for desktop, tablet and mobile which the translators and the extension workers can use – but we don’t want all the knowledge locked up in the website – that’s what the SMS is for.’
The WeFarm brand development and pilot projects were started by Airside in 2010 and since the consultancy closed in 2012, Airside co-founder Nat Hunter has remained involved.
Hunter invited SomeOne/Else to pitch two month ago and the consultancy is now working alongside technical partners Manifesto and the Conker Group.
This follows three years of work by the Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation which conceived the idea and has been leading the project, as well as developing a pilot and proof of concept work.
The design is expected to be finished in the first quarter of 2014 and the service is expected to launch in in Haiti, Kenya, Peru and Tanzania in the second quarter of next year.
Initially the service will focus on farmers but can be potentially expanded to work for health and education professionals.