Africa | Innovation

Justdiggit Regreening Africa with an App

21 August 2023 9:00

The earth is warming and Justdiggit wants to cool her down again. To achieve this ambition, the Dutch organization inspires and activates smallholder farmers in Africa to regreen their land. Not only in favor of the climate, but to improve their own lives, too. Justdiggit expects that an innovative app will enable them to reach more farmers – reason for Rabo Foundation to support its development financially.

Farmer in a field

“Justdiggit activates farmers with proven techniques from the world of gaming”

‘Our objective is to slow down global warming by regreening arid land,’ says Margot Frederiks, Project Manager Digital Regreening at Justdiggit. ‘That’s why we encourage smallholder farmers to restore their land. Our primary focus is on farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. The region currently loses approximately 3.9 million hectares of woodland annually and faces severe land degradation, which is causing significant water and food shortages. At the same time, it is a very large area of potentially restorable land, which – when once again green and fertile – will yield farmers better harvests and increased incomes.’

Justdiggit applies local techniques to regreen the land. These are easy to implement, enabling as many farmers as possible to restore their land themselves. ‘Examples include the restoration of felled trees and digging trenches to store rainwater and reduce erosion. Trainers from the villages themselves offer their fellow farmers advice on these techniques and help them on their way.’

Achieve more impact faster

Together with local partners, Justdiggit has trained 220,000 farmers in Tanzania since the project’s inception in 2017. Through these efforts, we have restored 13.9 million trees in Tanzania and dug 139 kilometers of trenches. This results in 368,610 hectares of Tanzanian land being restored. ‘These figures are great, but our ambitions are much bigger,’ explains Margot. ‘Our target group comprises 350 million African farmers and we want to reach as many of them as possible. One of the ways we have reached out to them has been with movie roadshows with which we travel from village to village. Farmers receive some brief training during these events and watch a film explaining the regreening techniques.’

In order to reach more people and make a bigger impact, Justdiggit started working on the development of a mobile app since last year. ‘More and more farmers in the region have mobile phones with internet access, so we can now reach a huge number of people at once. The free app will provide farmers with information in the form of inspiring and practical e-learnings with step-by-step explanations on regreening methods. Everything they need to know is accessible right there on their phones.’

Farmer in a field holding a smartphone

Activating farmers with gaming techniques

In addition to educating, Justdiggit aims to activate farmers and their communities. To do so, the organization takes advantage of techniques borrowed from the world of gaming. Margot: ‘The app compliments users when they achieve results, for instance. Farmers can also share photos to show others how well trees are growing on their land and incentivize other users to step up. These are proven techniques, which are also used in apps such as Duolingo.’

The app is the heart of a digital platform that will incorporate social media channels, direct messaging, an interactive voice-response service and more. Farmers will be able to ask questions, share experiences and inspire each other. Justdiggit expects to reach more farmers through these channels and farmers can use the app to share results on social media, for example.

Adding functionalities

‘Justdiggit took the first steps towards the app in 2021,’ recalls Margot’s colleague Carl Lens, Head of Digital Regreening. ‘Together with our local partner LEAD Foundation, we talked to farmers extensively to find out what they need and whether we could offer a solution to meet those needs with an app. During the development phase, we regularly tested the app with farmers and improved it based on their feedback. So their contribution was crucial.’

“With the app, we can reach far more smallholder farmers’”

‘In June of next year, when the busy harvest season is over, we will launch a campaign to promote the app among a wide audience. And in the meantime, we will be adding more functionalities. A chat function, for instance, and tailor-made advice based on GPS data and information that farmers enter themselves, such as which crops they are sowing.’

Smartphone in hand with the Justdiggit app open

Platform open to partners

‘Initially, the app will be launched in Tanzania,’ says Carl. ‘In that country we’ve already gained a lot of experience and we have a considerable network there. In time, we hope to offer the app to partners in other countries. By making our method and platform open for use by others, we make our impact scalable. In principle, our physical presence on the ground will not be required.’

Rabo Foundation and Justdiggit

One of Rabo Foundation’s goals is to support smallholder farmers move forward with innovative solutions. ‘Justdiggit’s app is a tangible example of just that,’ says Program Manager Innovation Anne Rappoldt of Rabo Foundation. ‘Justdiggit has seen success with its regreening method offline for some time. But until now, the means and capacity to scale up have been limited. With the app, the organization will soon reach more farmers in a larger area.’

‘They will not only be educated, but also activated – an important advantage compared to other apps. Moreover, the app offers possibilities for future expansion with new modules and linking with, for example, reward systems. That all makes it very attractive for us to co-fund the project.’

With support from Rabo Foundation, Justdiggit is working on a greener, cooler planet. Would you like to know more or contribute yourself?