One of the most obvious and daunting obstacles to using ICT in agriculture are issues of sustainability and scalability. More often than not, projects that use technologies are introduced and work for a period of time, but fail to achieve results over the long-term. This section explores interventions that have used ICT in agriculture for a sustained period of time, highlighting the enabling factors and environment that has led to self-sustenance and continued interest from farmers.
Two Birds with One Stone: Grameen's Mobile Data Collection and Extension Service
The Grameen Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to provide microfincance, technology, and information to the world’s poor. For the past four years, Grameen has worked to develop innovative agriculture programs in Uganda. The Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program, supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has trained over 800 village-level representatives. These representatives provide agricultural extension services to farmers in exchange for the farmers’ time to fill out mobile-based surveys. The advisory services offered include agricultural tips, weather forecasts, information on livestock and crop diseases, a market platform that links buyers to sellers and displays commodity prices, and an input supplier directory. These services are provided through a variety of partnerships. Weather forecasts come from Uganda’s Department of Meteorology. Agricultural practice information comes from Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization and similar agencies. The input supply directory sources from the Uganda National Agro-Inputs Dealers’ Association (UNADA), and market prices come from a partnership with FIT Uganda, a private sector business consultancy.
Not only does Grameen collect information from agriculture research organizations and other experts in the field for dissemination to last-mile farmers through the CKW network, but information from farmers can be more easily collected and delivered to research, extension, and commercial organizations through Grameen’s custom-developed mobile survey applications. CKWs are trained data collectors, and the applications are GPS-enabled, resulting in more accurate and traceable information. Collected surveys are customizable and can include questions on a variety of topics including agricultural practices and livestock numbers, family health, and education status (see image to the left, courtesy of the Grameen Foundation). This enables government and other organizations to collect data far more effectively than they could if they had to develop their own survey networks. Surveys can be uploaded in real time, but are also equipped for off-grid collection, where results can be uploaded as soon as a connection is established. To date, more than 38,000 surveys have been collected.
CKWs are trained to 1) provide a link to agricultural research institutions and extension services and administer surveys, and 2) to set up off-grid electrical charging micro-enterprises using solar energy. These enterprises can earn CWKs as much as 40 USD/month, which doubles the 1.25 USD/day previously earned by 60% of CKWs. Due to access to CKWs, farmers in Eastern Uganda are receiving 17% higher maize prices compared to those without access.
The Grameen Foundation has recently forged new paths in the ICT-enabled CKW program. Available to the public, an analytical dashboard for the CKW program allows users to track CKW performance, demographics, what questions are being asked, what surveys are being responded to and how well, and the quality and impact of information. The system utilizes the GPS equipment of the CKWs to track locations of all CKWs, as well as individual workers. The dashboard and data therein creates a variety of opportunities. Tracking questions and responses about livestock disease provides authorities with early warnings about potential disease outbreaks. The dashboard includes mapping that can filter results by farmer, CKW, query keyword (i.e. a given crop), district, demographic, and affiliated organization, all with available date constraints. It can also track responses to individual surveys utilizing the same filters. Using this information, Grameen and other organizations and interest groups are better able to design and implement programs that aim to increase productivity and sustain livelihoods.
The tools, lessons, and applications developed by Grameen are being made available to other organizations and extended beyond Uganda into Kenya, Columbia, and potential for many more areas in need.
For more information on Grameen's Mobile work in agriculture, see below:
Watch a data visualization of Grameen survey results prepared by Palantir:
Watch the Grameen Foundation’s video about the impact of Community Knowledge Workers:
Read more about the Grameen Foundation’s “cloud for Africa” plan for scalable, accessible services in Africa.
For more on the role of women as CKWs, read Module 3 in the e-Sourcebook by clicking here.
Click here for a breakdown of the technology backing CKW applications.
Click here (pdf) for an in-depth analysis of the CKW pilot program, which laid the groundwork for the nation-wide CKW network.