The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Agri-Innovator Program (SEARCA-AIP), a short-term training program, is advocating for a human-centered approach combining "design thinking" as a mindset and "lean startup" as a methodology for developing agricultural innovations.
According to Dr. Glenn Gregorio, SEARCA director, this program contributes to responding to an era of change when the vulnerabilities, uncertainties, complexities and ambiguities of a fast-evolving environment dictate the way agricultural challenges are appraised and addressed for agri-ventures and their innovations flourish in Agriculture 4.0.
Gregorio noted that SEARCA-AIP, which will feature weekly sessions, was formally launched on Nov. 22, 2022, and will end on Feb. 28, 2023.
"The program aims to capacitate agricultural and rural development practitioners to succeed in innovation by adopting a human-centered approach to solving problems and developing new or improved products, services, processes or ventures within their constituencies," he said.
Gregorio also said this short-term training program brought together 16 agriculture and rural development practitioners from diverse backgrounds to walk them through the principles and processes involved in the program approach and methodology.
"The program will have a particular focus on designing and refining agri-innovation projects," he added.
The SEARCA director said it specifically seeks to equip the participants to embrace and advocate for Agriculture 4.0 and minimize intimidation by technology.
Program participants include a mix of agri-entrepreneurs, representatives of farmer organizations and cooperatives, mid-level leaders and staff of higher education institutions, government agencies, local government units and non-government organizations from the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar.
Associate Professor Joselito Florendo, SEARCA deputy director for administration, also noted that SEARCA-AIP's conception of innovation goes beyond technology development.
"This is so to adopt unique and more comprehensive solutions to the challenges faced by a specific node in the agri-value chain, ensuring that these solutions involve social, organizational and institutional processes in overcoming the challenges identified," Florendo said.
Carlo Valencia, SEARCA-AIP technical coordinator and lead coach, said the project aims to help practitioners of agriculture and rural development to succeed in innovations by taking a customer-centric role and start-up approach to the innovations.
"Preparing them for Agriculture 4.0, the participants are expected by the end of the program to be able to perform and advocate for human-centered techniques, namely, empathizing with their beneficiaries, clearly defining problems worth solving and prototyping, testing and iterating on their ideas," Valencia also said.
President and Chief Executive Officer Juca Lacsina of GoEdenPH also shared her insights and experiences on establishing an agricultural start-up from idea to execution, as well as the value of business tools.
A one-stop e-commerce platform for agricultural inputs, supplies and services, GoEdenPH aims to consolidate fragmented supply chains for more efficient delivery of agricultural supplies and services to farming communities.
Lacsina noted, too, that prioritizing customer segments, identifying customer pains and gains and obtaining a better understanding of their digital readiness, design thinking and the customer journey mapping in creating persona was helpful for GoEdenPH.
Gregorio said the program is structured into two modules that employ an experiments-based iterative approach with Module 1 on Agri-Innovation Idea Generation, which spans six sessions on topics such as running empathy and problem interviews, creating personas and journey maps, solution research and Lo-Fi prototyping.
Module 1 focuses on learning the principles of successful innovation by applying them to the real world and will culminate in a presentation of the participants' findings.
Gregorio said Module 2 deals with Agri-Innovation Idea Validation, which builds on the previous module and provides opportunities for the participants to learn how to implement an iterative approach to further develop their ideas.
Module 2 has six sessions composed mostly of synchronous coaching sessions discussing topics that include preselling and prototyping, building a minimum viable product, concierge testing, Hi-Fi prototyping, usability testing and the five-minute pitch.