Tag Archives: agriculture

Reuters Market Light-Case Study

This week I did a lot of work looking into the rural and agriculture sector in ICT4D and there has been massive amounts of implementation within this field.  One organization that has made tremendous strides on this topic is Reuters Market Light, which aims to provide agricultural information over mobile phones to farmers in a number of countries.  There are a number of benefits to this platform.

  1. Reuters Market Light aims to decrease the digital divide in the agricultural world by providing these small holding farmers with crucial information so that they are able to compete with larger, industrialized farms.  This will help to improve the abilities of a greater number of small farmers, rather than allowing a monopoly on success by larger farmers.
  2. By increasing access to information, Farmers will be able to increase their yields as they will be more educated on different important techniques and innovations in the field that they can apply to their work.
  3. As weather patterns are changing due to global warming, Reuters Market Light will be able to mitigate for that, and will allow for the farmers to understand new adapted practices, rather than remaining with their current strategies to no avail.

However, there are also some problems with the program as well, which do not allow it to access its full potential.  For instance, the issue of infrastructure is problamatic as this program only targets those who are already in range of a mobile phone network.  However, the farmers who are probably in the worst conditions and may need the most help are those who are in areas that are so under-developed that they do not yet have access to cell phones, continuing the digital divide.  Also, this project continually has the difficulty of working in rural areas, rather than cities, which are often passed over for larger, metropolitan areas when it comes to aid work.

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CAMELTEC: Minimizing the Effects of Climate Variability in Peru

This case study focuses on radio’s contribution to the livelihoods of Alpaca farmers in the Peruvian Andes. Over recent decades Alpaca farmers have seen an increase in climate variability, which has led to a set of cold spells that have killed livestock, reduced birth rates, introduced new diseases, and reduced yields of their herds. In 2008 the Peruvian NGO Desco joined with Oxfam GB to pilot the CAMELTEC project “aiming to address technological, social, political and institutional issues that affected these communities.” CAMELTEC was based around information access–using radio to offer meteorological warnings and advice on how to reduce the impact of climate variability on animal death. Radio broadcasts were provided in preparation of weather events and throughout the events themselves. Additionally, CAMELTEC offered information on market pricing for alpaca wool, institutional support from local governments and more.

Specifically, CALEMTEC applied this information through a weekly radio broadcast called Amanecer Alpaquero (Alpaca Farmer’s Daybreak), provided in both Spanish and Quechua (the most important indigenous language of the region). This program was popular not only because of its informational value, but because of its use of humour and music. The program also offered women a unique opportunity to provide input, giving farming women opportunities for learning which were unavailable before because of cultural and family reasons.

This radio program was very successful, reaching around 2,000 people instantaneously at a very low cost (only $900 a month). More than 80% of respondents said the tuned in weekly to the show and since the start of CAMELTEC the mortality rate of alpacas has been reduced from 18% for adults and 25% for calves to 12% overall, saving about $500 worth of livestock per farmer.


Shamba Shape Up: Extreme Makeover Kenyan Edition

All of us have either heard of or seen make-over shows in the US, but “Shamba Shape Up,” a television show in Kenya, provides a different type of make over.  Each episode of the show features a farmer who is struggling with his business. The Shamba Shape Up team swoops in and teaches the farmer how to improve his crop yield by planting different crops, installing new irrigation systems etc, often calling in experts to explain and demonstrate the recommended changes.

This article talks about the success of the show since it was first broadcasted in 2007. Mostly funded by the Department of International Development in the UK, Shamba Shape Up also incorporates an interactive aspect. Viewers are encouraged to text or e mail questions to the show, some of which have served as inspirations for entire episodes. Viewers can also text in requests for informational pamphlets and communicate questions on the show’s Facebook page, which is getting more and more traffic as Kenyans start to enter the world of social media.

Although it may seem unlikely that many rural Kenyans would have access to televisions, it appears that the shows audience is quite large. In just one season of the show, 16,000 leaflets were requested and over 22,000 text messages were received. Viewer surveys are also promising. 40 percent responded that they have changed their farming practices after watching the show, and 91 percent responded that they had learned something new. A similar show, Makutano Junction, which focuses on general development issues has 7.2 million viewers in Kenya, the majority of whom live in rural areas.

I think that Shamba Shape Up is an excellent example of a way to combine several types of ICTs in a way that is fun, entertaining, and can help a lot of people.

Here’s a clip of the show where they talk about drip irrigation:


Dr. Vandana Shiva, the WTO, and GMOs in India

During our class discussion of the future of rural and agricultural development, the idea of GMOs as a future means of alleviation of poverty and hunger was advanced. Although a contentious issue, it is an empirical fact that genetically modified crops offer increased food security through drought resistant and higher-yield crop varieties. However, we should not let the promise of the technology blind us to the trade policies of some of the largest GMO producers and pushers. One of the chief problems that has arisen is the patenting of life. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto enter a country, extract the seeds and strains they consider of value, and patent them. They can then claim sole rights over the seeds and sell them back to the community they were taken from, at a premium. Given that multinational corporations have the backing of the WTO, smallholder farmers are unable to export any patented crops unless they pay a licensing fee that cuts deeper into the razor-thin profit margins of the millions of smallholder farmers in India alone. So far in India at least, the result is a surge in bankruptcy and suicide among smallholder farmers, fueled by an acutely increased sensitivity to price fluctuations and poor harvests due to the increased cost of farming for those least able to afford it.

Several developing and developed countries are actively fighting the WTO agreement that patented life (TRIPS Article 273B) and/or the rise of GMOs in general. One of the breakout stars of the resistance movement is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who succinctly and I believe convincingly argues against the WTOs IP legislation in the video embedded below. How we look at agricultural rights has important implications for discussions of globalization and human rights, which I believe makes everyone a stakeholder in the fight for agricultural sovereignty.

I have included several other resources below for learning more about the current seed-war, as well as a link to the website for Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s organization:

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1547185/reclaiming_the_seed.html

http://healthfreedoms.org/2011/04/28/monsantos-great-seed-robbery-of-india/

http://www.navdanya.org


LifeLines India- a Follow up

In this week’s reading, from Tim Unwin’s book ICT4D, there was a Case Study (page 162)that particularly interested me about an ICT4D project called LifeLines India.This project was focused on giving rural farmers the ability to access web based information that could help them increase economic growth and solve agricultural issues. The farmers could call in and leave questions on an automated voicemail, which were then researched by specialists who would respond within twenty four hours.

This is a service that caters specifically to the needs of rural India, where many people are illiterate and poor agricultural workers who could not access the internet for information. The project was a great success and when this book was printed in 2009 the service was aiding more than 100,000 farmers, was planning on expanding to more than 3,00o villages, and inspiring similar programs in other sectors. One independent study cited in the book says that the information aid increased product quality and productivity enough to have a 25-150% profit growth for the farmers!

I wanted to see how Lifelines India has fared in years since this case study was published, in hopes that the project has continued to prosper. The website lists that it now hosts not only Lifelines Agriculture, but also Lifelines Education for teachers. They have expanded to 2,000 villages in north-central India and now serve 200,000 farmers. In 2009 they were awarded Award for Social Responsibility by the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP).

It is refreshing to see that Lifelines India has not only continued to help rural farmers, but also expanded and improved in the last three years. The project works well because it noted the unique needs of the communities that were being served and also used simple technology, such as telephones,to better connect the people.


eLearning and Peace-Building in Rural Africa

When I was working at an NGO last summer, I would often ask my supervisors about their experiences working in the field. They shared many of the joys and hazards of field work with me, and, when speaking of the latter, focused on one in particular: burning out. They told me that they could spend years on a project that, even after being implemented successfully, would be undone by conflict or government corruption. They spoke of projects that had to be halted or failed entirely because of political instability. And they spoke of the helpless feeling that, for all their hard work, what they did was simply a “drop in the ocean”–something helpful that did nothing to change the larger environment in which they worked.

Every day, thousands of development projects take place around the world. But how can these projects come together to promote wider stability and peace? A new project, eLearning for Peace, seeks to answer this question. Organized by representatives from a number of post-Soviet countries in concert with African researchers, the conference has two main goals. First, it seeks to examine the relationship between eLearning and peace-building. To this end, it does not focus on broad-based conflicts, like the Sudan-South Sudan oil dispute or Ethiopia’s border conflicts with Eritrea. Rather, it takes a grass-roots approach to conflict resolution, targeting small-scale rural conflicts, such as disagreements over cattle or land. To this end, it asks how eLearning can empower mediators to help opposing parties reconcile more effectively. Second, it researches the potential of eLearning to aid development in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, governance, and business practices.

The project will begin with a workshop, taking place in Benin, during eLearning Africa 2012. It does not end there, however–eLearning for Peace intends to serve as an online community and forum in which theories on eLearning can be debated and like-minded researchers can connect with one another to develop projects of their own. What really intrigues me about eLearning for Peace is its attempt to tap into ICT4D’s potential in a sector ICT4D seems to generally ignore: conflict resolution. Indeed, this blog doesn’t even include conflict resolution as a category. I think this is a mistake.  There is no reason to think that, with a little creativity, ICT4D, which has so much potential in so many areas, cannot be used to help resolve the small-scale conflicts that drag down living conditions for millions of rural Africans. By emphasizing conflict resolution, this new project seems to me to be something of a pioneer. While it may not prove effective methodologically, I think it’s innovative focus on conflict resolution is inherently valuable.


Smartphone App for Rice Farmers

We have been talking a lot lately about different uses for mobile phones for farming, fishing, market monitoring, etc. in rural and underdeveloped areas; most seem well intended but not always well implemented. This app is different from the others in that rather than relaying market demand or prices, it gives rice farmers instant information. The Nutrient Manager For Rice Application (NMRiceApp) was launched last month in the Philippines where it is available in both English and Filipino languages.

The app is designed to provide site specific information on fertilizers to rice farmers. It makes recommendations based on the specific circumstances of the farmer. The app was developed by the International Rice Research Institute, which asserts that the app is designed to be used by extension workers. These workers enter the farmers information into the app, and then relay the apps recommendations to the farmers. This procedure solves a number of problems including the farmers possible lack of cellular phone access, language barriers and misinterpretation of information.

Unfortunately this procedure also presents another looming issue: sustainability. Staffing the extensions workers to enter and interpret the information for a prolonged period of time is not likely to succeed for long. As with most projects it is likely that funding and/or company support will run out at some point, and therefore it would be more useful to make the app user friendly. Hopefully the company will use this time to monitor how the farmers themselves are able to utilize the app. Different versions of the app are now being tested in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and it will be interesting to  observe the apps effectiveness.