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?
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In October of 2011, the organization Agro-Insight conducted a study prompted by The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, & the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to identify the recipe for success in common or open exchange video platforms for farmers in developing countries. The study found that 8 in 10 respondents had, indeed, used the Internet to find and learn from agricultural videos. The 2 in 10 that had not done so struggled with A) successfully navigating the WWW, B) finding videos pertaining to relevant information, or B) finding videos in the appropriate language. Thus, 85% of the respondents asserted that accessibility of videos in local languages is “very important.” Beyond that, videos in local languages, but of poor quality, were not preferred to high quality videos made in foreign languages & translated into local languages. Farmers indicated the need for information regarding “crops and trees, water management, plant health, soil health, and farmers’ organizations.” If anything can be said for these results, it is that ICT4D must be pertinent to local needs and customs in order to be successful.
The agricultural sector continues to dominate much of Kenya’s economy as almost two-thirds of the population makes a living off of farming. It is no surprise then that much of the ICT policies enacted should focus on this sector in particular to ensure increased development within the country. One such initiative, M-Farm, was set up by the Kenyan Agribusiness Company through which local farmers received crop prices and market information through a simple SMS on their mobile phones. Furthermore, it provides a digital marketplace in which subscribing farmers can easily sell their crops. The process is simple -“M-Farm has a contract with a local exporter, who buys the produce directly from the farmers using their mobile devices.” Not only does this give the farmers a reliable market at their fingertips, but also reduces transaction costs leaving more money in their pockets. Since the program’s beginning in 2010, over 2,000 farmers benefit from this initiative. Moreover, seeing the success of the project, investors continue to support M-Farm as it grows into many of the neighboring towns as well. Ultimately, the vision of the company is to implement the same model in other developing countries which rely on the agricultural sector as well.
I believe this project is more effective than other agricultural initiatives in that it not only gives farmer access to market prices but also sets up a marketplace for them to sell their crops. During the video in class which discussed the reasons for failed ICT programs, one of the individuals stated that farmers are given the wrong information – they do not want just the market price of tomatoes, but also information on how to keep them ripe longer and process them into ketchup and other products for example. While M-Farm does not provide this information, it goes beyond the simple access of prices by providing a marketplace just an SMS away. Furthermore, another concern of failed ICT projects is that funding eventually decreases, causing the project to slowly diminish. Yet, M-Farm has many investors supporting it and is expanding rapidly.
On the other hand, I believe that certain concerns with this project still arise. For example, do all of these farmers have access to mobile phones? Do they understand how to use the phones and know how to communicate with the exporters? These questions are valid when assessing this project. Yet, despite the various flaws that may be evident in the project, it has been proven to help many farmers in Kenya and continues to grow even today!
Sources: infoDev Article, Agribusiness Blog
Case study: The Huaral Valley Agrarian Information System
This case study assesses the use of ICT tools in rural Peru to improve agricultural productivity. The area of the Huaral Valley is an extremely dry area, but agriculture is the primary economic activity there. Accordingly, in the late 1970s, the government overtook the oversight of irrigation systems to ensure better water resource management. This ICT project attempted to create an Agrarian Information System (AIS) to help the irrigation boards better manage their resources (which was difficult considering not all of the board offices had computers and internet access) and to link farmers to critical information. Before, farmers did not rely on the technologies commonly used for agriculture in developed countries, such as weather forecasts and formal information. By connecting these farmers to resources over the internet, however, they would ideally be able to improve their crop outputs, thereby alleviating some of the poverty of the area.
This project, which has been operating since 2005, has provided computers and wireless internet access for every irrigation board office throughout the region and has placed computers in 10 rural villages to serve as access points for the previously underserved communities. In this way, the project was able to narrow the knowledge gap and wear down the digital divide. The system allows the irrigation board leaders to better monitor and allocate their water resources and allows farmers to access previously
Now, information flows more freely through the region. Though the extent to which farmers’ productivity has increased as a direct result of this project has yet to be measured, the impact on the irrigation efforts is more tangible. Additionally, the project shows some best practices for ICT development projects as it focuses on sustainability and a variety of stakeholders. The buy-in from the irrigation boards and Commission has proved essential to the viability of the project. While these stakeholders are currently seeking to make the project function more similarly to a business model, their faith in the project is invaluable to its future success. Also, the project incorporated people from all sectors of society: the main
irrigation board, smaller irrigation commissions, government ministries, local and national agricultural institutions, and the community members themselves. For the future, the program leaders hope to keep expanding, offering computers and internet access to even more of the rural population. Additionally, there is currently a trial of 30 community members who have been given smartphones. The organizers hope to find a way in which these phones can contribute to the productivity and output of the local farmers.
Originally posted on Blackboard by Ashley Fox
Zimbabwe’s Vice President Joice Mujuru is encouraging the use of ICTs in rural areas after “the rural communities had been marginalised as far as ICTs are concerned”. She comments how mobile phone access is now available in almost all rural areas, thanks to three major network providers establishing bases “almost everywhere”. The goal is to bring internet access to these people, which would be extremely helpful for them to compare agricultural prices before delivering produce. It is good that she also acknowledges that the internet must be available in the different indigenous languages so people will understand them. The VP also said the government is working on a program to equip primary and secondary schools with with personal computers with e-learning software. Looks like Zimbabwe’s on the right track!
Originally posted on Blackboard by Danielle Kraus
I was excited to read about this weeks subject, because the topics relate directly to the ICT project in Tanzania that I analyzed for my second short paper. Basically the program was created to deal with poverty among rural agricultural-based communities. Many farmers in these areas had no way to access information about market prices for their crops, and were therefore being taken advantage of. The project, CROMBAU, established a internet cafe in the rural area and compiled databases full of information about the product markets. It also encouraged community development and employed children to be messengers, bringing information about crop prices to farmers who did not have access to the internet cafe. The program was really successful, and though it faced some challenges and limitations, they poverty rates in the area were decreased and the program has been used as a model in other areas.
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Originally posted on Blackboard by Jesse Seng.
Agriculture can serve as an important engine for economic growth in developing countries, yet yields in low-income countries have lagged far behind those in developed countries for decades. Jenny C. Aker argues that mobile phones may be one mechanism to increase effectiveness and efficiency for agricultural extension (delivery of information to small-scale farmers) in low-income countries. Farmers, with limited access to information sources, have not been able to take advantage of innovations in agricultural production (from seed types to information about pest control or crop rotations) and have been largely unable to increase their yields and hence incomes. An example of this approach to ICT4D in action is the Kenyan government’s National Farmers Information Service. In analyzing this approach some questions arise. Are the farmers able to call a hotline or are they only able to text? What is the cost to the farmer? Are farmers taught how to use the mobile phones and how to access the agricultural extension service? How will you measure the effectiveness of the agricultural extension program?