CABI recognizes the significant need to stimulate the use of biopesticides in agriculture and other biological control products as viable alternatives to chemical pesticides, based on sustained evidence of the unintentional harm to human health and the environment caused by inappropriate use of synthetic chemical pesticides.
Synthetic chemical pesticides have a critical and positive contribution to make towards food security in Africa and elsewhere. However, manufacturers’ safety advice is often inadequately applied by farmers. Many smallholder farmers use such products without personal protective equipment or due regard to environmental risks.
Given the ever-increasing pressure to use integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods, whilst reducing the use of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), there is a substantial and growing need to provide farmers, and most importantly their advisors, with objective information about inherently safer alternatives such as utilising biological control of pests.
CABI has therefore developed the CABI BioProtection Portal, which gives users information about registered and locally available non-chemical pest control products as alternatives to chemical pesticides. This innovative and free-to-use, web-based tool was launched in Kenya in February 2020 and ultimately aims at raising the awareness and uptake of more environmentally friendly biocontrol and biopesticide products by growers and their advisors.
In September 2020, CABI conducted user testing of the CABI BioProtection Portal in Kenya as part of a broader project funded by the African Development Bank. The testing aimed to assess the ease of use and effectiveness of the tool at the user’s level and was conducted across three counties in Kenya, namely Meru, Kirinyaga and Nakuru, which are among the major farming areas producing farm produce for export. A mix of users along the agriculture value chain were selected to be respondents. These included farmers, extension agents, agro-dealers and agronomists from the private and public sectors.
Each user testing session lasted approximately one hour. During the session, the test administrators explained the objectives of the test session, the user’s role, the usability scenarios and information needed in the brief background section of the questionnaire. Users were asked to complete a series of pre-prepared tasks and administrators observed each participant as they navigated through the portal performing tasks. Notes were taken to record when the user struggled to perform the tasks or when users nodded in appreciation of specific areas of the portal. After all the tasks were completed, the test administrator asked the participant to rate the portal by using a 5-point Likert Scale. Measures ranged from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree for eight subjective factors including; Anticipated frequency of use, Complexity of the system and Ease of use
Most of the participants found the portal comprehensive, very useful and easy to use and comprehensive in terms of addressing advisors’ challenges of making recommendations for an identified pest problem in the field. Other feedback to improve the portal included, i) issues related to locating the ‘find a product’ button owing to too many details on the home page, ii) filling in the search terms (not straight-forward), iii) lack of clear instruction to navigate through the results, a ‘back button’ to start a new search or clear previous search results, and iv) lack of a visible and understandable feedback process.
“This is a great and rare opportunity we have been given as users of the tool to try the portal before it is fully rolled out. We have in the past been left out in the development of such support decision support tools and as a result, they are often difficult to use or learn about. More importantly, we find them lacking in so many aspects that we could have given feedback on,” said Mr. David Kariuki, an extension officer in Kirinyaga county.
One of the key lessons drawn from the exercise is that a sense of ownership is acquired when users are recognised and allowed to give input to the development of digital tools. The users were very positive and proud to provide the very first feedback on a product for which they are the target users. They were clear that in instances when they are not involved from the start, learning to use the end product is usually slow and, in most cases, the product fails to include what they as users consider important in supporting and making their work easy.
Another valuable lesson learned from the user testing study was that to ensure a valuable outcome from user testing, it is important to always be very clear in terms of the tasks that the users are expected to perform to avoid making the testing a Q&A session. Some of the hurdles faced included a language barrier and lack of technical know-how (especially the farmers who had difficulty in using the computer or digital platforms). This called for administrators to be slow and clear in communicating and giving instructions related to the tasks.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges, but the prior preparation and adherence to the COVID-19 guidelines, including providing users with the right personal protective equipment, helped build their confidence to participate in the user testing exercise.
In conclusion, the usability testing of the CABI BioProtection Portal was an important exercise that allowed users to interact with the portal before its full roll out. It is evident that this process has built ownership and trust among the target user groups and will lead to the development of a product that is more in line with user requirements and expectations. This, in turn, will aid the portal in achieving its goal of raising awareness and uptake of biopesticides in agriculture.