Source: iCow’s website
iCow is a subscription-based digital platform that allows Kenyan farmers to enhance their productivity. Farmers can access the platform by mobile phone and the web. iCow started as an SMS mobile phone application and has developed into a digital platform with a large array of services. The platform helps farmers keep track of their cows’ gestation calendar and also provides farmers with valuable nutrition and illness prevention tips to take good care of their herd.
According to iCow’s website, there are approximately 1.6 million Kenyan farmers, most of whom use “rudimentary methods to manage their cow’s estrus cycle and milk production.” iCow was developed by Su Kahumbu after she realized how small farmers in poor communities struggled to provide their most precious assets, cows, the care they need.
I grew up in a small farm in rural Panama and I remember how much time my father spent taking care of our cows. The Ministry of Agriculture conducted many workshops in our town with the intention of teaching farmers the best practices of the “cow care industry.” Unfortunately, farmers in lower income countries don’t get the support they need from their governments to increase their herds’ productivity. Thankfully tech entrepreneurs are paying close attention to the challenges of the agriculture sector and are coming up with creative solutions, such as iCow, to tackle such problems.
Overall, prior to ICT4D I never really thought of technology as an integral aspect to development. In my mind I pictured the merging of the two concepts similar to One Laptop Per Child. I envisioned people giving technology to poverty stricken people who were uneducated about the devices and therefore never used them. In general, I assumed it would simply be a waste of development resources. Like we’ve learned in class this is often the case. However there is another side to the story, a side where technology (if appropriately used and implemented) can drastically help areas of development (i.e. radio in rural/agricultural areas).
Specifically, I enjoyed learning about different sectors. I found the participatory radio campaigns particularly interesting because I had never heard of the concept. Not only is it integrating technology into education but it also deals with capacity building. Both are extremely important in terms of development. When I think of technology I immediately think of the iPhone or other new devices. However using what we would consider “old” technology in a smarter way can be more innovative than the newest gadget. If a community does not have a need for a device, the device is useless no matter how high-tech it is.
As part of her internship with Food Tank, former IDEV4100:ICT4D (Fall 2011 semester) student Suzannah Schneider authored this blog entitled “Five Ways Cell Phones are Changing Agriculture In Africa.” The post lists some familiar ideas, such as using mobile phones to access market prices and weather information, as well as receive useful information via SMS messages. However, it also mentions some more specific and innovative ideas such as iCow and micro-insurance. Based on your experiences in our class, what are your thoughts on these 5 applications of mobiles for agricultural development?
More information about Food Tank can be found in this video: “The Food Think Tank Trailer“
Radio National, a segment of abc.net.au, recently broadcasted an interview with Mark Wahlqvist from Monash University on their program Ockham’s Razor. In the discussion the issue of food security was evaluated. Walqvist argues that food security is a growing concern around the world, and that in order to combat the growing phenomena a fundamentally different approach is necessarry. This approach must consist of support from national governments, international organizations, and assistance from the local and commuity level. More emphasis needs to be placed on biodiversity and ecology of local areas in relation to the functioning food ststem. A way to encourage these types of innovation come with connecting the communities at hand. While Walqvist’s Australia may have access to advanced ICTs enabling the farmers to community, developing regions are relying on other ICT.
According to Dr. Hilde Munyua in a report published for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, food security can only be achieved “when all people at all times have access to sufficient food for a healthy and productive life, and has three main components: food availability, food access, and food utilisation” In order to obtain this reality an effective and efficient agriculture system, that suppies food utilizes natural resources in a sustainable manner needs to be put into play. The information revolution is just one way the issue of food security can be alleviated. By increasing the spread of knowledge of rural development, we can increase one of agricultures most important inputs. Knowledge and information are basic ingredients of food security and are essential for facilitating rural development and bringing about social and economic change. These communities need information on new technologies, early warning systems in relation to drought, pests, and diesease, credit, market prices, and their competition. These systems of rural information sharing must place emphasis on the local communities. Traditionally the information has been spread through radio, print, television, film, and mobile phone messages. New ICTs, however, have the potential of getting vast amounts of information to rural populations in a more timely, comprehensive and cost-effective manner, and could be used together with traditional media.Telecommunication and internet can completely change the global agricultural industry. It worked with the Green Revolution in East Asia, why not spread the word?
An installment from the National Geographic series Digital Diversity that shows how “mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives” greatly coincides with the report by Farm Radio International, “The new age of radio: how ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. Both the report and the article state that radio is extremely important for agriculture and increases awareness productivity and knowledge. The article stated an interesting point that having other farmers speak on the radio creates a sense of community as well a larger impact. Rural farmers are more apt to take advice from people they can relate to and trust (like a fellow farmer) than a radio producer or radio host. The FRI report stated that there were some concerns about the availability of the shows since they are not always accesible, but the article states there is a higher chance of the farmers listening if they air them at night when they are relaxing in their homes.
The “two way” versus “one way” communication was also mentioned in the FRI report, letters being the only option for farmers to contact the hosts or programs, though the article shows that many are utilizing their mobile phones and texting in questions and comments (around 20 texts a week per program). The FRI report states that there are more listeners when the program sends out text alerts around 30 minutes before hand. Both these usages of SMS are beneficial, quick, and painless. The benefits of radio are not only seen in agriculture, many could be seen seen in other sectors such as health. For instance, how farmers find out how to prevent or treat poultry disease can be transferred for human diseases and treatments. Overal the widespread penetration, accessibility, and affordability of radios’ make them great for less developed nations and should be utilized more often.
Across the board, most development practitioners would argue the bottom-up approach is more successful than the top-down approach in regards to development projects. The main reason for this is sustainability. The following blog outlines Esoko, an organization that brings the “market” to Africa. They focus on tools for market and agricultural information via mobiles and ICT. Their success is largely due to the fact the organization is demand-driven as “60% of Africans earn their living from working in agriculture, a sector so underserved in terms of technology solutions”. Additionally, Esoko uses the bottoms-up approach. The idea was not pushed onto the people, rather the idea sprung from the people and their needs. Mark Davies, the founder of Esoko, saw the benefits of putting street markets into the viral atmosphere. Esoko hires locally, employing mostly Ghanaians and West Africans.
The organization uses the increase in mobiles and ICTs’ in Africa to their advantage. The services and apps Esoko provides are SMS messaging, market price alerts, inventory reporting, SMS bids and offerings and maps. The model they use “starts with government or donor funding and then transitions into a business; a franchise that can grow into a sustainable company”. They have started working in Ghana where local businesses are using Esoko. As of right now there are franchises and resellers in Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Malawi. Many other African countries are using Esoko via government funding (North Sudan and Nigeria), while even more are funded via donors (Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Madagascar, Uganda, Malawi, etc.).
In regards to monitoring and evaluating, “In November 2010 a survey of 62 farmers in Northern Ghana who have been receiving price alerts for one year confirmed that they have benefited from the service, with an average improvement of 40% on reported deals and revenue.” As stated before, their success is due mainly because of their bottoms-up, grass-roots approach. Why do practitioners continue to push top-down approaches onto governments and other NGOs when bottoms-up projects tend to be the most successful?
In ICT4D Unwin discusses the extent to which ICTs are present in today’s world and how they are present in almost every aspect of our daily life. Furthermore, Unwin also points out their role as tools in the development and improvement of communities. Personally I believe that Unwin makes a very important point, ICTs are now present in areas that would not traditionally be associated with this kind of technology and are functioning as an aid to improve these fields. One such case is agriculture and the use it has given to ICTs particularly in developing countries. In the report titled “The Importance of ICTs in the provision of Information for Improving Agricultural Productivity and Rural Incomes in Africa” published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) it is proposed that access to technology will help farmers in Africa “improve agricultural productivity, practices and farmers livelihood”. The study argues that through the spread of information and knowledge farmers have the ability to improve the techniques they currently use and adopt new technologies. Furthermore, the report advocates for the spread of technology in the region particularly at schools to expose future generations to the power of technology. Despite the current increase in usage of ICTs in Africa and the potential they have for the agricultural development of the region certain barriers impede the spread in their usage. Particularly the report warns against two of them: high costs and monopolies. The report proposes that countries in Africa “cooperate in rolling out ICT platforms in terms of equipment and content”. This would reduce the costs of implementing new technologies and will allow for the cooperation in solving problems that exists throughout the whole region. In addition, to avoid monopolies and increase efficiency it suggests that governments in the region encourage competition between technology providers. In my opinion the impact that ICT can have in fields such as agriculture will serve as a stepping stone in the development of countries; however, governments of underdeveloped countries should create policies that facilitate the spread and use of these technologies in order to get the most out of them.