Module 8: Farmer Organizations Work Better with ICT
Table of Contents:
- Topic Note 8.1: Finding Better Markets and Sharing Technical Information Using ICTs
- Topic Note 8.2: Dairy Cooperatives Lead the Way with Computerized Systems to Improve Accounting, Administration and Governance
- Topic Note 8.3: Giving Farmers a Voice and Sharing Information
- References and Further Reading
Farmer organizations play an important role in tackling the systemic causes of poverty, because they give farmers—men and women—a legitimate voice in shaping pro-poor rural policies. By articulating farmers’ interests to public and private institutions, farmer organizations encourage those institutions to tailor their strategies, products, and services to farmers’ needs.1 Given a supportive policy framework, farmer organizations are well able to drive balanced social and economic development (AgriCord 2010).
As well as forging institutional links and giving farmers a collective voice, farmer organizations provide services to their members. Smallholders can generate more income in a number of ways—such as by using better cultivation techniques and improved seed, reducing postharvest losses, and having better access to markets—yet as individual entrepreneurs, they may lack the knowledge or capital to change the way they operate. The collective strength of an organization can help its individual members become more efficient, if the organization’s services match its members’ needs. ICTs are integral to fulfilling both the lobbying and service functions of farmer organizations, speaking both for and to the farmer.
Farmer organizations also have a third, commercial function, as seen in agricultural cooperatives and producer groups. Commercial activities become more efficient and transparent when supported by ICTs.
“ICT” is a catch-all term for an increasing number of technologies, each offering corresponding opportunities for innovation. This module looks at a range of technologies, from the well-established and familiar technologies like radio and mobile phones to the more specialized technologies, such as computerized record-keeping systems and global positioning system (GPS). The discussion emphasizes technologies that can (or that have the potential to) reach large numbers of beneficiaries and perform reliably in the challenging context of the developing world. Different technologies offer different benefits, achieve different objectives, and have different limitations, so each is considered on its own terms.
Benefits Offered Through ICTs
When considering the value of ICTs to farmer organizations and cooperatives, it is worth bearing in mind that in remote rural areas of many developing countries, particularly in Africa, these organizations often are the only ones operating. Local government offices may be found in district headquarters, but often there is little else apart from frontline extension officers and schools.
As a hub for business information, transportation, and storage, as well as a place where people share new systems and processes, farmer organizations have enormous potential—which should not be underestimated—for networking and bringing people together with the help of ICTs.
The benefits offered by ICTs to producer organizations and agricultural cooperatives fall into three broad categories. Practical examples of ICTs in use sometimes cut across these arbitrary categories, and particular technologies may bring unexpected benefits, but the examples in this module are presented in three sections to reflect this categorization:
- Enhanced connections to members. Through the organization, farmers share market information and technical know-how, and they remain informed about the organization’s activities. For instance, topics discussed and decisions taken at board or executive committee meetings can be shared with members who, for reasons of distance or cost (direct and opportunity) cannot attend. Decision-making processes become more transparent, increasing trust between members, the board, and executive managers, and the overall functioning of the organization is improved.
- Improved accounting and administration. Farmer organizations are often responsible for handling very large amounts of money that may represent the cash income of thousands of farm families. Efficient record keeping allows an organization to serve its members better, and the transparency offered by computerization and other technologies enhances trust. Cooperatives that have invested in modern management and member information systems can improve their image to attract high-quality staff and gain members’ confidence.
- Stronger collective voice, including improved political voice. “Interactivity” as understood in developed countries with good infrastructure is still rare in many parts of the world. But individual farmers nevertheless “have their say” by phoning and texting their participation in agricultural radio broadcasts. They give feedback (and complain when necessary) about the services offered by their farmer organization and local government. Comments are likely to have more influence expressed over the airwaves than expressed in a less public forum.
Despite the potential benefits of ICTs, farmer organizations are rarely the first to adopt them, given that they usually work in difficult environments with low margins to generate income for their members. Neither managers nor members are preoccupied with the latest iPad. Where particular ICT solutions are available and necessary to guarantee better performance and benefits to members, farmer organizations can be expected to be late adopters of such technology without external support.
In general, it is governments, donors, and NGOs that have the funds to develop and test ICT solutions that may benefit farmer organizations. Most if not all of the cases illustrated in this module are public-private initiatives to “include the excluded” by promoting ICTs in remote rural areas. Successful cases provide good examples for scaling up and replicating in other countries and regions.
Table 8.1 summarizes the types of ICT covered in this module, arranged by topic note. All of them have proved useful in addressing one or more challenges faced by farmer organizations. (Click here for Table 8.1. Please use the zoom function).
It is important to remember that ICTs—whether mobile phones, computers, telecenters for Internet access, or radio broadcasts—are not ends in themselves; they are simply the means by which information can be recorded, summarized, displayed, and passed on more quickly. It is the information itself that is important. Since information (on market intelligence and agricultural techniques, for instance) changes, the task of collecting it and choosing the most relevant sources is critical. Farmer organizations might have to be helped to create partnerships that will provide information that is of most use and relevance to members and management. Any intervention dealing with ICTs must therefore consider this point.
Key Challenges and Enablers
With regard to farmer organizations, ICTs currently offer guaranteed improvements in enhanced connections to members and improved accounting and administration. Already, working examples offer lessons for future development of ICT interventions. The third topic discussed in this module—stronger collective voice—has fewer working examples, but it may benefit more from ICT interventions in the future.
Farmer organizations can function more efficiently by using ICTs to attract a wider membership and thus generate more funds and provide better services in a virtuous spiral of development. To speed the uptake of ICTs, it may be appropriate for public agencies to provide funds that can overcome the inertia typical of organizations struggling on a shoestring budget. Supporting a pilot project to demonstrate benefits can be effective. Indeed, many examples in this module are relatively small-scale interventions that succeeded in changing the way farmer organizations operate.
The challenge in most cases, however, is to sustain the use of ICTs after the period of support. Costs are associated with change, not only equipment costs but also the costs of maintenance, training, and continuing development. New technology must either generate enough extra income for an organization to cover ongoing costs, or individual users must see enough tangible benefits in order to pay for the technology. In the developing world, and particularly in agriculture, subject as it is to the external shocks of unpredictable weather and global market forces, the benefits of ICTs must be very firmly established for farmer organizations to sustain their costs.
One way of looking at the sustainability issue is to regard well-functioning farmer organizations as a public good that merits support from public funds, at least initially. Given the vital role of such organizations in helping impoverished farmers improve their living standards in areas that may be poorly reached by other interventions, this argument is powerful.
Public-private partnerships are also important, as developments in ICT come largely from the private sector. Dealing with such partnerships will be a critical issue. Private companies need to make a profit for their goods and services, but safeguards need to be built into partnership arrangements so that the farmer organizations (and ultimately their members) see long-term benefits.
Where support is offered to farmer organizations that have not yet reached a level of financial maturity that would allow them to adopt ICTs independently, it is important to design interventions that give due consideration to the issue of gender. Women need to be involved at the planning stage as well as in the management of a project to ensure their proper representation (box 8.1 lists obstacles to increasing women’s use of ICTs). Somewhat paradoxically, women, despite having lower social visibility and literacy than men, have more to gain from ICTs. Women may not be able to free themselves from their traditional time-consuming commitments to household and children, but armed with only a cheap mobile phone they can find the best prices for their crops without abandoning their domestic tasks. Women who might already be involved in the accounting function of a farmer cooperative should have the opportunity to learn computer skills when these functions become computerized. Such skills will become more valuable as computerization becomes more common, giving women more employment choices.
Box 8.1: Factors that Can Hamper Women’s Uptake of ICTs
Consideration should also be given to age asymmetries in access to ICTs, which younger people tend to adopt more readily. This asymmetry has the potential to cause friction in traditional societies where elders are respected and turned to for guidance. On the other hand, young people’s readiness to adopt new technology can be turned to advantage and used as a learning tool within communities.
Of course, there are also the persistent challenges common to developing countries: poor infrastructure, poverty, illiteracy, and the draw exerted by urban centers. Mains electricity is rare outside major towns (although solar recharging devices and kiosks are starting to appear). Mobile phones are widely used in some rural areas, but others still lack network coverage. Maintaining computer systems can be a challenge in remote rural areas. Technical staff trained to use computers tend to migrate to towns, where salaries are higher. Farmers themselves may not see the importance of spending money on ICT (bringing Internet connectivity, say) when a reliable water supply would bring more immediate and tangible benefits.
A more subtle challenge is the danger of widening the digital divide, because better-educated groups are more likely to accept and use new technology, which further distances them from poorer organizations. The coops that are likely to be successful are the ones that already have competent, educated managers and already function well as businesses (see the discussion of dairy cooperatives in Topic Note 8.2). Smaller, less well organized groups will always present more of a challenge; they require more intensive training and support services over a longer period. They might also need a significant period to become aware of the benefits of computerization before any intervention is possible.
Given these challenges, it is not surprising that the most effective technologies are relatively cheap and simple. Mobile phone ownership is increasing rapidly, and far more people own phones than have computers. Market information in the form of text messages to mobile phones can therefore reach large numbers of farmers and give them a stronger negotiating position with traders. Phones that connect users directly to the web unleash an even wider range of possibilities. India is poised to take this step, and one might predict that African countries will follow suit (“The Next Billion Geeks,” The Economist 2010).
|Source: Simone McCourtie|
Using text messages or the web requires a certain level of literacy, however, and not everyone owns a phone, so radio broadcasts have proved even more effective, especially when they are carefully considered. Popular and informative programs transmitted at appropriate times of day—such as early evening, when outdoor chores have been completed and women can listen, too—can bring about real improvements over a wide geographical area.
It is also worth noting that ICTs can be beneficial in indirect ways, by reaching farmers who are not themselves online or using any new technology through farmer-to-farmer information sharing, at which farmer organizations have already proved adept. Some have used digital multimedia equipment to produce teaching materials showing better farming or production practices. Slide shows or video footage of actual farmers demonstrating new methods, particularly if the farmers are from the local area, appear to be much more effective in getting a message across than dry information presented by an “expert” from outside. In such cases, even though the actual users of technology are few, the benefits are enjoyed by a much wider group.
The same can be said of the combination of community radio with text or voice contributions via mobile phones, where the audience as a whole is much larger than the number of participants. Regular, facilitated programs covering local issues, agricultural extension messages, and specific problems raised by farmers that can be answered by experts command a wide and receptive audience. The approach is inclusive as well, and with the interactivity made possible by SMS and phone calls, the audience can influence program content.
Taking the idea a step further, the workings of farmer organizations could be made more transparent with regular programs covering recent activities and financial information. Farmer organization leaders could take questions from listeners and viewers, improving both awareness and trust.
A final point is that even proven technology can take time to be adopted fully, and adoption rates will differ according to complex factors in the underlying development and business environment. The rate of adoption also depends on the route chosen, and so far it is not possible to say which will be more successful in the longer term. For instance, dairy cooperatives in India are already benefiting from computerization based on commercial software systems, whereas similar coops in Kenya are at an earlier stage, pursuing a different approach with open-source software developed specially for that context.
Topic Note 8.1 discusses how farmer organizations have used ICTs to help their members find better markets and share technical information, using examples from Zambia, Burkina Faso, China, and other countries.
Topic Note 8.2 looks at computerized accounting systems used by cooperatives; examples from India and Kenya show contrasting routes to developing such systems. The topic note also highlights the unexpected benefits of ICTs, using an example from a cooperative in Mali.
Topic Note 8.3 examines how ICTs can give farmer organizations and their members a stronger voice. The lack of infrastructure—electricity, mobile signal, and Internet connectivity—in rural areas has severely limited the means by which farmer organizations can receive communications from their members, but many organizations now have websites and use e-mail and online discussion forums to interact with similar organizations and the wider world. Other alternatives to communicate farmers’ views, locally and nationally, are rural radio and telecenters. The advocacy role of farmer organization can also be pursued by federations of farmer organizations linked by ICTs. The note provides examples of how farmer groups have used all of these strategies and innovative practice summaries from Niger and Thailand.
Trends and Issues
The concept of farmer organizations is based on the notion of strength in numbers, of giving small-scale farmers the chance to punch above their weight and become entrepreneurs in their own right. The challenge, though, is to reach isolated farmers with the information they need to sell their produce at the best price and to grow more and better crops. Although an organization’s headquarters can offer a business hub for members, many members live too far away to make frequent visits. Others are effectively barred from using the facilities because they speak a minority language or cannot read or write.
New communication technologies are vital for overcoming these barriers. They include technologies that help farmer organizations to maintain and expand ties with grassroots members, telecenters for mastering digital technology and using it to meet the goals of farmer organizations, mobile phone technology to provide services, and ICTs to facilitate certification and access to international markets. A persistent issue is how farmers and farmer organizations will pay for obtaining and providing technical and market information.
Technology to Maintain Close Ties with Grassroots Members
Smallholder farmers are some of the poorest people in the world, and they cannot afford to join a group that does not offer tangible benefits. Creating better links between farmer organizations and their members is crucial if the organizations themselves are to flourish. Reliable flows of information between headquarters and the grassroots should boost trust and membership.
The challenge of improving links between farmer organizations and their grassroots members can be tackled using ICTs, but in the poorest areas of developing countries where infrastructure is lacking and many farmers are illiterate, the technology must be simple and cheap. Most farmer organizations cannot afford to introduce new technologies, even when they can see the potential benefits, so they rely on public-sector support.
Despite the digital poverty in rural areas, evidence suggests that farmers, both men and women, are well able to learn to use relevant technology if they are taught in the local language and can see clear benefits from new ways of doing things. For instance, some of the nearly 2,000 women who work with a shea butter association in Burkina Faso (discussed later) have become financially independent by learning to use ICTs, including GPS and the Internet, to reach a developed-country market for certified organic shea butter. Another promising idea is for a farmer organization to communicate with members to create a database on crops and productivity. Backed by reliable historic production figures and sound projections of possible future yields, the organization would be in a better position to access credit for its members—a valuable service.
Many small-scale producers struggle to access up-to-date technical information, but the experience in Burkina Faso and elsewhere shows that farmer organizations can use new ICTs to provide advice and services tailored to members’ needs (see Innovative Practice Summary (IPS) “Burkina Faso Farmers Use ICTs to Share New Production, Processing, and Marketing Skills”). Using local languages and photos or moving images are effective ways of reaching poorly educated farmers. ICTs have revolutionized the means of disseminating information to such an audience, although a facilitator is often needed as part of the process.
Telecenters to Strengthen Farmer Organizations’ Skills and Efficiency
Some farmer organizations have set up telecenters to help their members learn about ICTs and access market information, among other objectives; see box 8.2. The centers require investments in equipment and training, which may be too high for organizations to bear without initial and continuing support. However, experience such as that of the Coprokazan cooperative in Mali suggests that telecenter services may be attractive to nonmembers as well. If they are prepared to pay to use the Internet or to print a document, for example, the facility may become self-sustaining.
|Source: Jonathan Ernst, World Bank|
Box 8.2: Telecenters Build Skills, Directly and Indirectly, in Members of Farmer Organizations
In its most basic incarnation, a telecenter is simply an individual, often a woman, sitting under an umbrella with a telephone that people can use for a small fee. More complicated solar-powered booths have been developed, such as the Cooperative Internet Booth (Coop-e-Booth) in Kenya, which has computer terminals, a terminal managed by an administrator, and wireless Internet connectivity. The booths were launched in July 2010, and the Cooperative Alliance of Kenya hopes that they will allow interested individuals and organizations to generate income and create employment.
The benefits of telecenters operated by farmer organizations—access to technical and market information from the Internet, for instance—do not have to be limited to literate farmers who live close by. The benefits can be amplified if telecenters are used to develop training materials for illiterate or far-flung members of the organization.
In Uganda, the 3,800 members of the Busia District Farmers Association have a telecenter with various facilities, including seven Internet-ready computers, a printer, a fax machine, and a generator for when the mains electricity fails (Nabwowe 2010). It was set up in 2008, with the Uganda Communications Commission contributing 80 percent of the costs and the members 20 percent. Farmers are trained to use the Internet to identify markets and liaise with them directly, and they say they can find better prices and sell their produce in bulk. They pay a small fee to use the center.
Another example of the telecenter model is the case of the arid Huaral Valley in Peru, where farmers cannot operate without access to water for irrigation.2 The water comes from lakes in neighboring highlands, and there is a long history of social organization to ensure that water is distributed fairly.
The Peruvian Center for Social Studies developed a project to establish a network of local telecenters with the help of local farmer organizations. An important aim is to provide information hubs for farmers so they can improve their practices and become more resilient to periodic water shortages that have followed diminishing rainfall. It is also important to distribute irrigation water fairly, so water use has been monitored and recorded in the information system and administered by the local board of irrigation users. Water use is now more transparent, and it is easier to monitor contributions toward maintaining and administering the irrigation systems.
A small minority of farmers can access information directly online, but the new knowledge is said to be shared with a much wider circle. Changes in the community appear to be beneficial, and a community radio station has been set up to broadcast on farming and environmental issues. Effects on long-term food security have not yet been seen, but the fact that farmers with low levels of formal education have proved able and willing to embrace new technology to solve agricultural challenges in this difficult environment is a positive outcome.
The telecenter concept shows that literate farmers readily learn to use ICTs to access technical information and market prices. The farmers benefit from being able to contact other farmer groups and link with buyers. To ensure that women benefit as much as men, however, the differences in their socioeconomic contexts need to be considered (box 8.3 shows what happens when they are not). A telecenter must be attractive to women (not perceived as a men’s club) and sited in a place women find safe and convenient to visit while carrying out other chores.
Box 8.3: Unintended Consequences of Not Including Women
Warana lies in the sugarcane belt of one of the most prosperous regions in Maharashtra, India. Kiosks were set up in 70 villages and equipped with a computer and printer, which were networked to a central administration building via wireless telephony. Looking back, project staff pinpointed the project’s weaknesses to the exclusion of women. Warana neither assessed the information needs of the community nor promoted local ownership and participation. Because Warana did not give particular attention to ICT access among women and poor people, these groups were marginalized. Women were not encouraged to become information kiosk operators, and the resulting increase in men’s digital literacy exacerbated the male-female digital divide. The poorest, landless laborers, and tribal groups did not use the kiosks, even though these groups would benefit the most from information about employment and educational opportunities.
Source: World Bank 2008.
As noted in box 8.2, the benefits of a telecenter can also reach the wider group of less literate farmers and those who live too far away to use it often. This was the case in Burkina Faso, where the training courses created by the FEPPASI telecenters have benefited thousands of members even though only a few hundred farmers were trained to use ICTs.
Despite various examples of telecenters in use, there seems to be some doubt as to whether they can be self-sustaining and whether they are being used optimally. One research example reported that a PC-based system was replaced successfully by a mobile phone-based system. Using text messages instead of computers, it was possible to transfer small but relevant amounts of data to farmers. The project (Warana Unwired) worked with a sugarcane cooperative in rural Maharashtra. In an eight-month trial involving seven villages, the mobile phone-based system replicated all of the PC-based functionality and was found to be less expensive, more convenient, and more popular with farmers than the previous system (Veeraraghavan, Yasodhar, and Toyama 2009).
Mobile Phone Technology Delivers Market Information and Other Services to Members
A major service provided by farmer organizations is to improve members’ access to market information, and the advent of mobile phones and SMS has exponentially increased their capacity to do so. Module 9, which focuses on the use of ICTs in marketing, discusses many aspects of these issues; this topic note concentrates on how farmer organizations have used ICTs to gain an advantage in marketing and information sharing.
Among farmer organizations, SMS systems are proving their worth by enabling farmers to compare prices in different markets and to take a stronger negotiating position when selling their produce. Some farmer organizations opt to join an established trading platform such as Esoko. Others have set up their own services. Large organizations such as the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) have developed message systems using commercial routes (see IPS “Zambia’s National Farmer Organization Develops SMS-based Service”). Smaller farmer groups have used free open-source software such as Mobile Information Platform or Frontline SMS, which provide options for sending bulk messages. For an example from Chile, see box 8.4 (and for more detail, see Module 3).
Box 8.4: Chile’s Coopeumo and the Mobile Information Project
Coopeumo, a Chilean farming cooperative with fewer than 400 members, uses text messages to help small-scale farmers increase productivity. This area of Chile, south of Santiago, has good soils and climate, but smallholders are at a disadvantage compared to larger enterprises because it is not easy for them to access specific market, technology, and weather information that could boost production. Smallholders are aware of computers and would like access to the Internet, but with low population densities and low incomes in the areas where they farm, it will be difficult for private service providers to offer connectivity. This “digital poverty” has been noted in Chile, where the government is keen to promote social equity, and agricultural exports are an important part of the country’s economy.
Through the Mobile Information Project (MIP), farmers now receive research findings and news (including market prices and weather forecasts) directly from the Internet on their mobile phones. Weather updates are particularly useful to farmers at critical points such as planting and harvest. The MIP software works on the cheap phones (US$ 15–20) that farmers tend to use and is effective over slow networks.
Several organizations implement MIP:
Source: Authors; Cagley 2010; Datadyne (http://datadyne.org/programs/mip/datagro).
FrontlineSMS (Banks 2009) is software that effectively turns a computer and mobile phone into a two-way, group text messaging hub that does not need Internet connectivity. Devised to enable information flow for election monitors, news agencies, and humanitarian NGOs, the system is proving adaptable to the needs of farmer groups.
In El Salvador, for instance, where farmers in general do not have access to computer-based information services but where there are more than 50 mobile phones for every 100 inhabitants, the Agricultural Technology Innovation Foundation is promoting the use of mobile phones to encourage farmers to exchange information and strengthen market links. With 600 subscribers who pay only for the information they receive, the pilot project is currently supported by the cost of calls.
In Aceh, Indonesia, FrontlineSMS is used to send information to small-scale producers. A team gathers a range of information, and the data are entered into a computer running the program. Latest prices, costs of inputs, and weather forecasts are then sent to groups of producers and others in the agricultural sector. Farmers say they like to have a base price on which to start negotiations with buyers. They also report that as they learn the range of price fluctuations for each product, they are better able to choose which crops to grow.
An even more low-tech approach is used in the First Mile Project in Tanzania. The project supports a group of “market spies” to gather market intelligence and share it with farmers (“Bahati Tweve: The Honest ‘Middleman’ Brokering Deals,” New Agriculturalist2008). This intervention is based simply on phone conversations, SMS messages, face-to-face meetings, and village notice boards, but it has helped build market chains and put farmers in a stronger position when selling their produce. After support from project funding comes to an end, the spies aim to cover their costs by charging a commission to link buyers with producers. Other possible ways to generate revenue might be to charge a small fee for advertising on information boards and for storing produce.
Mobile market information has a number of benefits. At the very least, a smallholder armed with information on current prices has a better chance of negotiating a good deal for his or her produce with passing traders. Smallholders also value and use information on the price of inputs from different sources and on the whereabouts of the nearest buying center. Although household responsibilities keep many women close to home, if they can discover the best markets for their produce via SMS, they can maximize their income.
Services for sending and receiving cash via mobile phone, such as M-PESA, which has more than 13 million users in Kenya (“Not Just Talk,” The Economist,2011), make it easier for farmer organizations to provide other services such as selling inputs and arranging more convenient payments for produce. For example, Zambia is testing an “e-voucher” project (Sibanda 2010) in which farmers who register with the scheme receive prepaid mobile phone vouchers worth about US$ 50 to purchase inputs from agrodealers3 (see Module 9). Farmer organizations may be able to develop similar arrangements with input suppliers.
Technology for International Certification and Markets
Farmer organizations are using ICTs not only to provide local and national market information to members but to increase their international reach. The lure of lucrative international markets, such as those for organic or Fair Trade products, can be a strong motivation for farmer organizations to master ICTs in the first place. Anecdotal evidence from some organizations shows that they can reach this ambitious goal even if their members have little formal schooling.
|Source: Jonathan Ernst, World Bank|
Many women belonging to the Songtaaba Yalgré Association, a shea butter trading group in Burkina Faso, never attended school but confidently use ICTs and the Internet (Soré n.d.). The group has had a French-language website since 2004 (http://www.songtaaba.net) and handles 90 percent of its sales through the Internet, sending shea butter products to Europe, Canada, and the United States.
The website describes the background of the producer group and lists the various products formulated using shea butter as well as the chemical ingredients of those products. Largely through their website, the women have strengthened their position in the marketplace. As Noelie Ndembe, the head of MIPROKA (the national shea information and promotion center),4 has said, “To be on the Net is to be seen everywhere in the world” (quoted in Soré 2008).
A particular selling point for this particular shea butter (a sought-after ingredient for beauty products) is its certification under Bio-Ecocert and Bio-NOP, which guarantee that a product is 100 percent natural and has been manufactured under conditions that respect human and environmental health. GPS technology has been essential for recording the source of the shea fruit and thus assuring distant customers that the certification is genuine.
Website development and related training in the technology were done in partnership with MIPROKA. Two village telecenters were set up, each with several computers linked to the Internet, a scanner, photocopier, and telephone. Technical training had two elements: (1) how to produce shea butter to the exacting purity and cleanliness standards demanded of an export product and (2) how to use ICTs, including GPS and computers. Other facets of the training included better ways of marketing the product, as well as environmental and energy awareness.
Moré, the local language, has been used throughout, and the trade group produces an in-house bulletin that also appears in Moré. The bulletin gives information on the group’s activities and on the production of organic shea butter.
Despite some literacy barriers, many women have learned how to use GPS equipment to map their fields and record each tree from which they harvest shea fruit. A small group was initially taught by an expert from Europe, but they can now train other village women in GPS skills. Mapped information is vital for certification. As an incentive to capture all relevant items each time, the women earn a small bonus if they do it without mistakes. Careful record keeping and good production techniques allow the women to sell their “bio” shea butter at more than twice the price of uncertified shea butter. Even the raw shea fruit is worth more if it is certified as coming from approved fields.
Although ICTs can certainly improve connections between farmer organizations and their members, farmer organizations are unlikely to be early adopters of this technology. Organizations of small-scale producers in particular are likely to need support to try new systems and learn how to make them cost-effective. It is worth remembering that farmers can be reached by channels other than ICTs; prices can be published in newspapers, broadcast on the radio, or simply chalked up on boards in markets or farm supply shops.
Messaging systems and telecenters can require a level of literacy that is often rare in remote rural areas, and the limit of 160 characters per text message can make it a challenge to provide certain kinds of content. Newer versions of software such as FrontlineSMS hope to incorporate multimedia information in audiovisual formats. Other software and hardware designers are also developing products that are more intuitive to use and employ audio and video. One benefit of using a common, open-source platform like FrontlineSMS is that users can easily share experiences, which in turn should lead to improvements.
Studies of a range of agricultural market information systems in sub-Saharan Africa suggest that disseminating information by mobile phone creates interactivity between the system and its users.5 Where users choose the information of interest to them, a wider range of information can be offered without inundating users with valueless data.
A persistent issue is that it is not clear how information systems that rely on mobile phones will pay for themselves over the long term. Experience to date offers conflicting evidence about farmers’ readiness or ability to pay for information text messages.
Before looking at specific examples of formal services, it is worth bearing in mind that mobile phone communication by itself is an effective way of sharing market prices. Several studies suggest that simply providing mobile phone coverage can affect market efficiency (see Module 9). This outcome should be noted when considering whether to support more formal SMS services (USAID 2010).
In India, early results from research attempting to quantify the impact on farm profitability of a subscriber-based, local-language information service suggest that farmers cannot afford it.6 They say this despite claiming to have negotiated better prices for their crops, spent less on inputs, and enjoyed overall better income. The package costs about US$ 1.50 per month, for which the subscriber gets 75–100 SMS messages. Each subscriber shared the information with about seven other people. Only about half of the subscribers planned to renew their package. Almost all of those who had not bought the service said that cost was the reason.
In contrast, the phone company Nokia has found that farmers in India are prepared to pay US$ 1.35 per month to subscribe to their service, Life Tools (O’Brien 2010). Nokia reports that more than 6 million people have signed up to pay for commodity data in India, China, and Indonesia and that Life Tools is about to expand to Nigeria.
In Zambia, the ZNFU admits that although there is huge demand for its SMS-based market information system (see IPS “Zambia’s National Farmer Organization Develops SMS-based Service”), the system does not yet pay for itself and cannot yet be expanded. One possible revenue-raising mechanism for ZNFU and similar schemes might involve transport companies. Recognizing that running trucks empty after making a delivery is inefficient, truck owners might be willing to pay for information to find return loads. Other revenue-raising possibilities might include charging for arbitrage or brokerage services.
The experience in Chile (box 8.4) suggests that disseminating information via simple mobile phones is a good way to reach farmers in areas where Internet facilities are unlikely to be provided in the near future. Since the pilot project closed, Coopeumo has taken on the responsibility and costs of creating and sending the SMS messages. Farmers do not pay directly—the charges are included in the membership fees they pay to the cooperative. Refinements to the system should make it easier to provide relevant content to each individual. The goal is to tailor the content automatically (a human editor would slow the service).
A concluding lesson is that farmer organizations and their partners may find it challenging to use ICTs in the absence of a supportive regulatory framework for the technology. Mobile phone networks are subject to varying degrees of bureaucracy, taxation, and government regulation in different countries, and any proposal to set up a messaging service using mobile phones must comply with prevailing rules. When ZNFU was setting up its market information system, the fact that Zambia had not finalized its ICT policy was regarded as slowing development of the ICT industry.7
In many African countries, providers of new mobile services must use intermediaries to get a short code for customers to dial, and many governments see phone companies as sources of easy tax revenue. Competition and the development of new infrastructure are often limited by restricting licenses to new operators (see Module 3). Mobile communications are thus more expensive in Africa than they need to be (“Not Just Talk,” The Economist2011).
Kenya is a notable exception. Its good regulatory environment has led to competition and reduced the cost of mobile phone tariffs (World Bank 2010). See box 8.5 for additional considerations for designing effective ICT interventions for farmers’ organizations.
Box 8.5: A Checklist of Considerations for Designing an Effective, Sustainable ICT-Based Project to Support Farmer Organizations
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Zambia’s National Farmer Organization Develops SMS-Based Service
ZNFU’s messaging system is an easy-to-use service that announces prices via SMS to mobile phones and the web.8 ZNFU introduced the system with support from the main mobile phone network provider in Zambia, several other local organizations, many farming cooperatives, the agribusiness chamber, and buyers and sellers. The mobile phone network provider organized the bulk messaging process to deliver the information to as many mobile phones as possible, and it offered several hundred half-price mobile phones to farmers. The Smallholder Enterprise and Marketing Program gave additional funding and technical support.
Starting with details of just 6 commodities in 2006, the system now deals with 14 commodities and sends 1,000 messages each month. Pamela Mulozi, the market/trade information administrator at ZNFU’s head office in Lusaka, reported “a significant change in how farmers and traders are dealing with each other” and observed that traders “are now taking the farmers much more seriously as trading partners” (Goudappel 2009).
More than 200 buyers use the system, giving farmers a better choice as to where to sell their produce. Another measure of success is the fact that food processing businesses, government ministries, and banks regularly use the system to provide broader support to the country’s agricultural sector.
Each commodity, trader, and district has a code. ZNFU supplies everyone using the system with a small information card with instructions and relevant codes and trains them how to use the system. Farmers wanting to know the price of a particular product simply type the code into a text message and send it to the specified number. The system sends back another text with the latest prices and the codes for the traders offering those prices. The farmer chooses a trader and sends the code in a second SMS to the system, which replies with the trader’s full name, phone number, business address, and directions. The farmer can then contact the trader directly.
To make the information available to farmers without mobile phones and in areas lacking network coverage, ZNFU trains at least one farmer in every district to act as a contact farmer. Contact farmers, based in district offices, publish the commodity price and trader information that they get either via SMS or from the website and give it to extension officers. Every week the extension officers display the prices and details of interested traders on posters in local information centers.
So far the system seems successful and popular with farmers. For instance, Grace, a farmer involved with the scheme, said, “The SMS system makes everything so much easier. You can check the market on your phone to find the 10 best prices in the district or even in another district if that works out better for the transport cost” (Goudappel 2009). Farmers coordinate their delivery times and organize a single location for traders to pick up goods in bulk, saving many individual farmers from traveling to the Lusaka market.
This arrangement saves money and gives farmers more time to work on the farm. Grace said, “Although we still pay for the costs of the SMS messages, we end up spending only 5,000 kwacha,” (just over US$ 1), adding, “It’s a big saving but it also reduces a lot of the risk involved with travelling to the city every time” (Goudappel 2009).
Despite this initial success, which means that ZNFU would like to extend the trading system to more farmers, any immediate expansion is limited by the lack of funding. Hamusimbi Coillard of ZNFU observed, “We still have to work out how the system will pay for itself. . . . If we can use the SMS system to link up farmers and other small traders to the trucking companies, then both sides would benefit and we would gain more subscribers to the scheme” (Goudappel 2009). If another network operator, MTN, joins the scheme, coverage will reach more communities.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Burkina Faso Farmers Use ICTs to Share New Production, Processing, and Marketing Skills
The Federation of Agricultural Producers of Sissili Province (FEPPASI)9 (http://www.feppasi.org/) in south-central Burkina Faso was founded in 1998 and has about 12,000 members, a quarter of them women.10 It began a project in 2003 called Sissili Vala Kori (“Sissili farmers’ voice”), which focused on rural information and communication. Since 2005, FEPPASI, supported by the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD), has been testing the potential of ICTs to train farmers.
FEPPASI now uses multimedia tools, such as digital photo and video cameras, to document the results of field trials and to create training materials. The FEPPASI headquarters in Léo and one of its regional offices are connected to the Internet. Both locations function as information centers where members can use the computers. GPS is used to map farms, and a family farm database has been set up. Information and documents are stored on the Synology server (http://www.synology.com).
FEPPASI initially trained a group of 20 farmers to advise other farmers in their districts, where they were trusted more than advisors from the capital city. This initial group was also trained in basic ICT skills and how to use them to create training materials that are more persuasive. Korotimi Douamba, a former evaluation officer at FEPPASI, observed:
Previously, people fell asleep during our training sessions. With the digital camera, we can show images of the development in the agricultural test fields. In our meetings with producers, these images allow us to make visual comparisons. We beam the images and discuss the causes of the successes and failures of the different fields. We also make videos of the farming techniques and show them during the training sessions.
Douamba added that it was difficult to convince farmers about crop varieties simply by telling them that their neighbors in the other village produced more per hectare, but now people can actually see the improvements. Images make it easier to explain certain topics to audiences, 80 percent of whom may be illiterate. FEPPASI’s advisors have used videos, photos, and digital presentations to train about 2,500 farmers in new production and food processing methods, marketing skills, organic fertilizers, and sustainable management of natural resources.
Workshops are shorter but more effective, and farmers surveyed through anonymous questionnaires in 2006, 2007, and 2008 mentioned many benefits: “I have found contacts online to sell almonds and shea,” said one; “I manage the production techniques to produce yellow and white maize,” said another. A farmer who now processes yams into flour, couscous, and cake increased his income through marketing: “The products are better presented through the use of labels, and I sell more.”11 An impact study carried out by INERA,12 the national agricultural research institute, revealed that, on average, agricultural production increased from 0.5 tons per hectare in 2003 to 4.5 tons in 2007.
Sissili farmers also use the Internet to develop techniques to select and improve seed from their best varieties. Producer Moumouni Niébié searched online and found a specialist organization in Benin that taught him to produce seed yam from fragmenting yam roots. FEPPASI advisors also act as intermediaries between farmers and INERA, notifying them with digital photos of disease outbreaks.
In 2009, the dial-up connections were replaced by more expensive very small aperture terminal (VSAT) connections.13 Costs are recovered by sharing the connection with other organizations nearby for a fee (20,000 CFA francs per month). This step, which has turned FEPPASI into an Internet provider, could move the organization away from its core objectives. FEPPASI has also expanded the telecenter at headquarters.
Several lessons can be drawn from this experience. Farmer-to-farmer approaches have proved successful in many parts of the world (AgriCord 2010). Farmers often are more prepared to trust information imparted by another smallholder than by an anonymous “expert,” and ICTs offer a means to extend this principle. FEPPASI needed time to incorporate the technology, build skills, and discover how ICT tools could best suit members’ interests. Networking with local ICT training partners and other organizations was also crucial, enabling FEPPASI to get technical advice and share ideas.
Although the farmer-trainers devised specific audiovisual content (based on local research and adapted to local conditions), they have no central storage system for these materials. It would be beneficial for these materials to be centrally available to colleagues within the organization or a wider audience online.
Success was not purely a result of technology. It sprang from the organization’s clear aims and understanding of how ICTs might facilitate them, taking into account the importance of local trainers, locally developed content, local support, and the freedom to change objectives according to new insights. Financial support was only one part of the support IICD provided (the project cost Ä101,000): The long-term partnership between IICD and FEPPASI, which gradually explored how ICTs could best strengthen the activities of the organization, was a more important factor. The program is sustainable in the sense that ICT is now integrated in the organization, the added value is clear, and the organization will continue to invest in ICT.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
The SOUNONG Search Engine for Farmer Organizations in China
A good example of how ICT enhances farmer organizations’ access to knowledge comes from a project in China (the Construction and Popularization of Agriculture Info-Service System), where a priority is to make modern ICTs accessible and useful for farmers. The project, introduced in Anhui Province, has three main features: an Internet portal, information assistants, and information dissemination models. It targets specialized farmers’ cooperatives, a primary force for agricultural development in China. The project is funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Hefei Institute of Physical Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.14
The Institute of Intelligent Machines developed an Internet search engine called SOUNONG to aggregate information from the Internet and provide it to farmers’ cooperatives in a meaningful manner (figure 8.1). SOUNONG coordinates with China’s governmental agricultural websites, which maintain high user rates and have more authority to promote information. This multilateral collaboration has helped raise the visibility of SOUNONG and its activities and also prevents overlap.
SOUNONG monitors over 7,000 websites per day, including nearly all of China’s agricultural data. These sites contain information on prices of wholesale farm products, prices in 9,000+ markets, and prices for 20,000 types of agricultural products. Information is also retrieved from a number of databases, including those on climate, crop species, and pest and disease diagnostics. Electronically generating a short list of agricultural information from this array of websites reduces the time spent collecting it manually. In 2009, 1,276 households were using the site—by 2010, that figure had almost doubled.
Once the website was launched, project leaders selected 38 farmer organizations to act as partners. The organizations were well established and had good management, which suggests that it may be critical for farmer groups to meet certain criteria to become involved in ICT for agricultural development.
A total of 76 information assistants, who are responsible for collecting information and disseminating it, as well as 541 farmer households, were trained to use computers to search, browse, download, and disseminate information through the Internet. As the project grew, over 1,000 members of cooperatives received ICT training (image 8.1).
|Source: Adapted from SOUNONG 2010, Institute of Intelligent Machines|
Members of farmer organizations can access information from the SOUNONG site through computers, mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and PDAs plus mobile phones. Depending on network connections, regional characteristics, and farm conditions, farmers can select the appropriate option for their local network capacities and skill level. All provide low-cost, easy access to the SOUNONG site. For members who may not have access to computers, mobile phones, or PDAs, cooperatives can also print information and recommended actions.
Surveys founds the mobile phone option to be popular because of its timeliness and convenience. The mobile phone option is consumer friendly—farmers had both “push” and “pull” options. The computer option was also popular because users could browse for and select specific information. Network coverage is not a problem in rural Anhui Province, but the Internet remains more expensive than mobile phones and requires users to become adept at identifying irrelevant or misleading information.
Success stories are common. In 2010, farmers in Taihi Jinqiao Cooperative recognized that a number of their pigs had high fevers. The information assistant released the information onto SOUNONG. Veterinary experts diagnosed fatal swine high fever syndrome and provided control methods that prevented potential losses of 1,000,000 yuan (Y) for the farmer group.
|Source: Steve Harris, World Bank.|
Taihi Jinqiao extended sales of their local chicken breeds to poultry markets like Nanchang and Wuhan by using the SOUNONG website. Smaller cooperatives producing pork have used SOUNONG to reach major markets like Shanghai.
SOUNONG attracted additional cooperatives, entrepreneurs, and farmer households and led to the development of more specialized services for farmer organizations. Websites were developed to provide information for specific producer organizations; for example, the Agriculture Committee in Anhui Province formed an Anhui Farmers’ Specified Cooperative website (http://www.ahhzs.com). The Taihi County Government gave Y 24,000 to the Jinqiao Cooperative to generate an online platform enabling more discussion and real-time information sharing between members.
The Anhui Fengyuan Agriculture Science and Technology Co. Ltd. was selected to monitor and evaluate the project and its development over time. The company continuously examines the practicality, effectiveness, degree of user satisfaction, and public welfare (the four main indicators) of the Construction and Popularization of Agriculture Info-Service System. A key lesson is that farmers require training to use the information they access appropriately. Those involved in the project note the challenges associated with introducing ideas and technologies that have major learning curves for users.
Topic Note 8.2: Dairy Cooperatives Lead the Way with Computerized Systems to Improve Accounting, Administration, and Governance
Trends and Issues
Computer systems have the potential to vastly improve the efficiency, governance, and accountability of farmer organizations. Dairy coops are considered the type of organization most likely to see clear benefits from computerized accounting systems, simply because of their numerous members and large volume of daily transactions. Even smaller coops benefit from computerizing their accounts, which leads to greater efficiency and transparency. Having financial and membership information always at hand helps management make better decisions, and using software to present financial information in graphical or diagrammatic form can make the information easier to understand.
Throughout the world, accounting in small companies is generally regarded as a “backroom” function that attracts little management interest or company investment. Management counts the cash in the till and requires no other financial information. Accounting is done only because the government requires accounts for taxation. Yet when “other people’s money” is involved in a business (like a cooperative), accounting becomes the only means to explain what happened with the money, to prove that transactions with members and clients are straightforward, and to create the trust that enables a cooperative to function.
Farmer organizations and cooperatives in the developing world are turning to computerized management systems, despite their cost and the challenges posed by infrastructure, for some or all of the following reasons:
- Better accounting and management increase efficiency, save time, and reduce mistakes. The more logical approach demanded by computerization means that procedures have to be improved, which leads to better overall administration.
- Information for control and management decisions is available instantly. Inventory control improves, and real-time information becomes available.
- Relations between members and management can be improved. Better services to members flow from more efficient administration.New and improved services to members mean that they are prepared to invest more in the society.
- The cooperative has more options for communication and information sharing. There may be opportunities to communicate beyond the organization, using e-mail, newsletters, websites, and information networks.
- Data are available to guide policy decisions.
Capacity is built within the organization as staff members learn new skills. The general lessons from these efforts are discussed next, followed by three innovative practice summaries. Two summaries describe contrasting approaches to the development of computerized accounting systems for cooperatives in India (dairy) and Kenya (dairy and coffee). The third shows how computers brought in for other purposes improved administrative efficiency in a women’s shea butter cooperative in Mali.
The evidence to date suggests that computer systems can be adopted successfully to improve accounting, administration, and governance in cooperatives for staple commodities such as milk as well as export commodities such as coffee and shea butter, in peri-urban as well as remote rural areas. People with very low levels of literacy can benefit from and learn to use the systems, if they are designed with care and deliver tangible benefits.
Even so, the danger of widening the digital divide persists. The best potential clients for computerization are successful and relatively rich organizations with business-minded management, situated near a big city. Poor coops find it challenging to purchase computers, and distant ones do not have electricity.
|Source: Ray Wiltin, World Bank.|
Computerization has clear potential to make the governance of cooperatives more efficient, transparent, and fair. Even if they do not necessarily understand the technology, cooperative members can see that the new systems work well. In dairy cooperatives, for example, computerized systems facilitate timely payments to farmers for their milk, together with clear records of all transactions (milk supplied and inputs bought). Where there is an automated milk collection system, it is operated by dairy coop personnel who are generally also farmers and members of the society. Milk is always weighed and tested, with few errors, and the data are displayed clearly on the testing equipment. The operation is quick and transparent. Farmers no longer worry that figures might be adjusted by unscrupulous staff.
Benefits to the cooperative societies are many, largely because computerized accounting is faster and more reliable. Computerized accounts are much quicker to audit and may even be displayed online for greater transparency. Coops need to employ fewer clerks, and daily accounts are available immediately at each milk collection center. Profit and loss calculations are easily done and the balance sheet is automatically updated. The various options for graphic display—using colored charts, for instance—make it easier for management and coop members to understand financial information.
In dairy systems, daily payment slips are printed for farmers and can be modified to include other pertinent information, such as reminders to inoculate cattle. When detailed milk records are kept for each farmer, patterns in production can be discerned. Seasonal variations in quantity and fat content can be predicted, which is useful for the dairy, veterinary services, and cattle feed companies alike.
The quality of infrastructure and the resources available to maintain it are an issue with all ICTs. Computers need an electricity supply, with backup generators and uninterrupted power supply equipment to cope with failures if they are common (generators will add to the overall cost of installing a computer system). Power can be provided by solar panels where the climate is suitable.
The choice of technology also depends on whether a range of computer and training experts can be found within a reasonable distance of the coop offices and are able and willing to travel to the site. If a solar-powered computer system is set up in a remote area, for example, initial training and routine maintenance will almost certainly be done by staff from elsewhere. Coop administrative personnel must be confident that any subsequent problems will be dealt with speedily. This kind of response is unlikely if support services are sparse, do not exist, or the surrounding road network is poor.
Although there are real benefits for a farmer organization to have a simple computerized member and management information system, the organization can achieve far more if it also has Internet connectivity. Dialup connections are possible where telephone land lines are available. Mobile phone coverage is expanding, and another alternative is to use a small plug-in wireless adapter to connect to the Internet. Neither of these options is as fast as a broadband connection, and both are subject to lapses in service.
Supportive government policy and willingness on the part of government organizations to join partnerships are important enablers. For example, India’s National Cooperative Development Corporation supports computer projects in the cooperative sector, including hardware, site preparation, system and application software, and training.15 It has encouraged cooperatives from the primary level to the state and national levels to install computers and evolve effective management information systems. Lower-level (district and primary) coops must have a threshold turnover of Rupees (Rs) 1 crore (roughly US$ 225,000) to qualify for assistance and must be financially sound and viable. This stipulation raises the issue touched on before—that only the more organized coops qualify for assistance, thereby widening the digital divide.
Indirect government support can come from the educational system, because without skilled young people no one will be able to develop and maintain computer systems. For example, among Kenya’s roughly 30,000 university graduates in 2008, only about 5,000 were considered suitable for employment in the ICT industry (World Bank 2010). This situation makes it all the more important for Kenya’s Cooperative College to move forward with plans to train students in the CoopWorks software.
The independent nature of open-source software allows users to tailor it to their needs, and it can be a form of insurance against power issues—no single individual or group can control it, and users may be encouraged to cooperate. But this advantage is theoretical in the many cases where farmer organizations do not yet have the capacity to develop software themselves.
For long-term sustainability, the private sector probably should be involved in computerization projects. Success may thus depend to an extent on the willingness of entrepreneurs to risk capital. In India, the inventors of milk-testing equipment were prepared to lend it out for free so that dairy cooperatives could see the benefits. They also had the foresight to predict that illiterate farmers would accept the system and use it confidently. Success might also depend on creating a critical mass of users so that a business “ecosystem” can develop. This effort would include software development, support, marketing, and other network effects.
Finally, aside from modernizing their management information tools, cooperatives need to attract good management staff if they are to compete in the marketplace. A coop must decide how much it is prepared to spend on managerial capacity. Box 8.6 lists practical guidelines to help farmer organizations use computerized administration and management systems.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
IT Tools for India’s Dairy Industry
With demand for milk in developing countries projected to double in the next 20 years, dairy cooperatives are crossing the digital divide. The need for computerized administrative systems is especially urgent in India, the world’s largest milk producer.
Dairy cooperatives typically have thousands of members. The recording system at the collection point has to cope with the huge volume of members’ daily transactions. Milk is highly perishable, especially in hot climates, and any delay in collection quickly leads to significant waste. Members often buy inputs on credit from the cooperative. These purchases have to be reconciled before members can be paid for their milk. Each member needs a statement at the time of each monthly or twice-monthly payment to show (correctly) how it has been calculated. Payments must be timely and regular, because coop members depend on receiving their money on time. In manual accounting systems, a mountain of paperwork is done before issuing each payment. Computer accounting can produce up-to-date payment calculations and member statements at the click of a mouse.
Box 8.6: Considerations for Effectively, Sustainably Computerizing Farmer Organizations and Cooperatives
The most advanced examples of computerization are to be found in the Indian dairy industry, where cooperative societies have a long history. India has more than 10 million dairy farmers, most of whom run small, marginal operations (Sharma and Yadav 2003). Although milk yields had quadrupled in the 40 years ending in 2001, time-consuming manual recording systems had changed little. Producers waited for hours before they could deliver their milk, much of which soured in the heat.
A significant change occurred in 1996, when a small, private company (Akashganga–Shree Kamdhenu Electronics Private Ltd.) developed IT-based tools to automate milk collection at local dairy cooperatives and computerize the accounting system.16 The company introduced simple technology to weigh milk, check its quality (fat content), and pay producers promptly. The basic model was an electronic weighing system, a milk analyzer, personal computer, and accounting and management software.17
The new technology found a ready market, once initial mistrust was dispelled by active marketing by the company, which offered equipment to some coops free of charge. The free installations showed neighboring cooperatives the utility of automated collection centers. Intensive training was provided, and IT systems were maintained by motorcycle-borne service engineers who could quickly attend to any faults. Only when the coop was convinced of the system’s worth did it have to pay. The application, initially built around a microprocessor but now usually involving computers, took a decade to diffuse on a large scale, but many Indian dairy cooperatives have now adopted computerized systems.
Developers of the Akashganga system claim that there is a viable market for companies that can design products suited to the needs of cooperatives in developing countries. The design of the equipment was carefully considered, not only to ensure that it was easy to use but to make the weighing equipment sufficiently robust to cope with the heat and dust of rural India. Price was an issue, as coops have to justify expenditures to members. The equipment to measure fat content was developed in India for less than one-quarter the cost of European designs.
Village cooperatives have installed more than 3,000 computers to support automated milk collection.18 Distributors are keen to computerize their operations, too, and to get e-mail connectivity for better communication with sales offices.
Currently no standard ICT solution is used throughout the industry. Software may be tailored by local vendors to a particular enterprise (the Mulkanoor Women’s Dairy Cooperative has taken this route), or dairies may choose to use packages developed by software companies such as Tata Consultancy Services.19 Member records can include not only information on milk delivered and inputs bought but information on veterinary care (dates for vaccination or artificial insemination, for instance) so that farmers can be prompted to take action.
Some dairies are now upgrading to enterprise resource planning (ERP), which encompasses the range of activities from the farmer or collection point to consumer sales (box 8.7).20 One of these is the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (whose brand name is Amul). The federation collects over 10 million liters of milk every day and is co-owned by some 2.8 million milk producers. All zonal, regional, and member dairies are connected through VSATs to make information-sharing easier. Amul is in the process of web-enabling the entire supply chain so it can capture key information at the source.
Box 8.7: What Is ERP?
There are many different systems in a large company’s “back office,” including planning, manufacturing, distribution, shipping, and accounting. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) integrates these functions into a single system designed to serve the needs of each department within the enterprise. ERP is more of a methodology than a piece of software, although it does incorporate several software applications under a single, integrated interface.
Source: Sererra (http://www.sererra.com/ERP).
The experience in India suggests that the private sector plays an important role in bringing computers to rural communities and that such activities can profit private enterprise and benefit users. Complementary support from the public sector was also valuable, including support from the National Cooperative Development Corporation (discussed earlier) and National Informatics Center. The National Informatics Center developed Lypsaa and openLypsaa software, a complete solution for dairy cooperative societies, used by more than 50 societies in Kerala. The center also developed a Linux-based portal for communication between the cooperative department and the cooperative societies.21
The key lesson is that change does not come quickly, even where all factors are conducive to development. Despite aggressive marketing by the inventors, clear benefits to users, and a supportive policy environment, it has taken a decade to automate dairy cooperatives on a large scale.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
CoopWorks Dairy and Coffee, Open-Source Software Launched in Kenya
Kenya, one of the largest milk producers in Africa, sources more than 80 percent of its milk from roughly 800,000 small-scale dairy farmers (Seré 2010). These producers “represent an emerging market opportunity for local and international agribusiness alike” (Seré 2010).
Despite this potential, the process of computerizing agricultural cooperatives and producer organizations is at an earlier stage in Kenya than in India. The impetus for computerization in Kenya has come not from private enterprise with government support, as in India, but as a joint push from FAO and donors (Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers 2008).22
Under a donor contract, the private sector developed a prototype management and member information system to improve the business efficiency and competitiveness of producer organizations and cooperatives in national, regional, and global markets. The system, known as CoopWorks, is open-source software available free of charge from http://sourceforge.net/projects/coopworks/.23
The software replicates all the accounting functions that would formerly have been done on paper, and it consists of a dozen or so modules (including member management, inventory, payroll, and others). It conforms to Kenyan government regulations and the stipulations of the International Systems Audit and Control Association, and the prototype was followed by improved versions (the latest being CoopWorks 5).
The Dairy Experience
CoopWorks was first trialed at the Tulaga dairy coop in 2006. The system kept member records, including the amount of milk delivered and any purchases made by the member. Clerical officers found they could operate more efficiently, without duplicating work, and the task of preparing members’ monthly payments was much easier. Fewer errors in this important task meant that members’ confidence in the society improved.
At the start of the trial, Tulaga had 800 active members, which increased to 1,800. Daily milk intake more than tripled, from 3,000 to 10,000 kilograms per day, and the average price paid to members increased from K Sh 10 per kilogram to K Sh 17. Coop sales also tripled in eight months. The milk customer base increased from two processors to five after many private buyers emerged.
After various revisions, CoopWorks Dairy version 2 was tested at Oloolaiser and Wamunyu dairies, where it was also well received. By 2010 at Tulaga, coop membership had reached 3,000, and milk production was 18,000 kilograms per day. Since the introduction of CoopWorks Dairy, Tulaga has used its own funds to increase the number of computers from 4 to 15 and uses all the capabilities (modules) of CoopWorks in its operations.
A group of donors and international organizations, together with the Cooperative College, the Cooperative Bank, and the Kenyan Ministry of Cooperatives, all see a need to computerize Kenya’s dairy coops on a larger scale and believe that it can be done. Electricity is available in most places, dairy coops are big enough to need quick accounting methods, and investors are ready to help. CoopAfrica has a project to involve all stakeholders, including the Cooperative Bank (providing loans) and the Cooperative College (training local service providers).
The Coffee Experience
Given the applicability of the software to other products as well as milk, a Finnish-funded AgriCord-Agriterra project developed a version of CoopWorks for coffee (Kiplagat 2010). Smallholder coffee farmers were dissatisfied with the record keeping in coffee factories, where they suspected that unscrupulous clerks easily abused the paper-based system. The Kenya Coffee Producers Association (KCPA), which implements the project, was attracted by the lower cost of free open-source software.
The new system has two components, one to keep records within the society and one to provide information via a website and SMS. The system tracks all the steps from coffee collection to processing to sales. A member management feature holds data on individual members, and the accounting module has cash book registers, ledgers, and a payroll system. Other features include asset registration, loan management, inventory for the cooperative store, and report publication.
With the old manual data entry system, the cooperatives did not know how much coffee the milling factory would produce from their beans and could not predict the financial return. The new system, however, can convert the weight of beans into an estimated value once it goes into the mill.
The software also monitors coffee deliveries based on each cooperative’s tracking number. Once the coffee is sold, the payment is received into the system and credited to the appropriate cooperative’s account. CoopWorks already produces a member statement of inputs bought on credit and the proceeds of deliveries sold to millers, which helps farmers better understand their costs and profits. KCPA is delivering coffee and input prices to members on their mobile phones via SMS and will soon link to mobile banking as well. The association has also promoted CoopWorks Coffee throughout the country (covering about 600,000 producers).
A weighing scale may be added to the system, although this option is relatively expensive (Ä1,000). Farmers are said to value automated scales, as they believe there is less scope for dishonesty behind the scenes, but their high cost has prevented most cooperatives from adopting them.24
Preliminary Conclusions from the Open-Source Experience
The experience in Kenya suggests a different route to computerization. Free open-source software can be developed, customized, and upgraded, preventing the software provider from becoming too powerful within an organization.
Using free open-source software does not mean there are no costs to computerization, however. The software is available as a free download, but a cooperative still has to buy appropriate computing hardware and find resources to train staff to use the system.25 The low costs and high adoptability of open-source software are insufficient to create critical mass and network effects if other related costs are too high.
A survey in late 2009 of 27 agricultural coops in Kenya suggested that many are aware of the potential benefits and would be keen to computerize if the process were less expensive (Flametree Systems Engineering Ltd. 2010). The two coops involved in the pilot project certainly felt the system to be a success (Nissila, Puhakainen, and Tanhua 2009).
A recent review found differences in the extent to which coops use CoopWorks’ capabilities. Even when only some modules were used, the effects of computerization were considerable, not least in creating a stronger bond between the coop and its members. The main challenge is to make users aware of the true scope of the software and the significant benefits that will accrue on top of the improvements in efficiency and transparency already experienced. Good ICT support at the local level is vital. Trainers or advisers must be proactive in demonstrating the “big picture” of what CoopWorks can do, rather than dealing only with narrow technical instruction or responding to queries from coop staff.26
Apart from highlighting capacity issues specific to Coop-Works, the experience has shown that further capacity building in modern information systems is required. To address this issue, Kenya’s Cooperative College is adopting a proactive, innovative approach by planning to cover CoopWorks software in its curriculum. Even though the short timeframe of the pilot project was insufficient to develop capacity, it could be argued that without such support for development, dairy coops in Kenya might be even slower to computerize.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
ICTs Improve Marketing and Governance for Malian Co-op
In some cases, the decision to use computers is not driven by a perceived need for better governance and administration, but better governance may be a welcome byproduct of the process. Women in southern Mali traditionally gather fruit from the shea tree (Butyrospermum parkii ) to extract the seed for processing into cooking oil and a “butter” that is an effective skin moisturizer. In 1999, by forming a cooperative society, Coprokazan (http://www.coprokazan.org),27 producers were able to get better prices for their products. All management and accounting procedures were done manually, and the society had only a few hundred members.
The move toward computerization came from a desire to produce effective training materials for coop members, raise the profile of the society, and enable its products to reach a wider market (Laureys, Marcilly, and Zongo 2010).28 Working with the Malian Association for the Promotion of Youth and the IICD, Coprokazan assessed what sort of technology would be most useful. Zantiébougou, the town where the society was based, had no mains electricity, so all equipment had to be solar powered. This requirement limited the society to three computers, together with a printer, a projector, a small video camera, and some digital photo cameras.
With these, the coop planned to create visual training materials that would give clear information to all members, including those who could not read. Photographs showing the quality of nut suitable for processing would prevent women from harvesting and transporting poor-quality produce to the collection point only to have it rejected. Filmed demonstrations of new, more efficient processing methods would improve the quality as well as the quantity of shea butter.
These benefits materialized, and Coprokazan now has its own website showcasing its products. An unplanned benefit of computerization was that it enabled Coprokazan to improve governance and administration. Coop office personnel began using the computers for routine administration, and member records are now kept electronically. Staff members also learned to use PowerPoint to produce a visual overview of yearly accounts and activities to show at the Annual General Meeting, which has increased transparency and boosted members’ confidence in the workings of the coop. This experience indicates the extent to which it can be challenging to neatly apportion the benefits of ICTs.
In the four years since ICTs were introduced, the coop’s shea butter production and income have almost tripled. With its improved administrative capacity, the coop can now deal with more members. From a base of fewer than 400 in 2006, the coop expected to have more than 1,100 members by the end of 2010. The coop plans to invest in GPS equipment as a step toward traceability and possible organic certification.
Among the more general lessons from Coprokazan’s experience was the lesson that local languages make technology more accessible. Many poorer farmers, especially women, have poor reading and writing skills, even in their own language. It is unrealistic to expect them to master ICTs in a foreign language. Computer keyboards were adapted to make it easier for Coprokazan women to type in the local language.
Multimedia tools, on the other hand, often do not require high literacy levels. Women who could barely read or write learned to use digital cameras and create image-oriented narratives that could be used for training coop members.
Another unforeseen effect of bringing solar-powered computer equipment to a small town without electricity was that the coop offices became a magnet for nonmembers. Some people reportedly traveled more than 30 kilometers to type, print, and copy documents. The training room was used by other organizations for training sessions, and local schoolchildren were attracted to the premises to do their homework, as the building is one of very few in the area to have electric light. As mentioned in Topic Note 8.1 with regard to telecenters, it may be possible to levy a small charge for nonmembers and direct this revenue toward operating costs.
Trends and Issues
In an increasingly interactive world, the idea of “having your say” is easier to put into practice. Internet-based discussion forums, blogs, and phone-in radio programs are part of the information exchange landscape. For farmers in the developing world, opportunities to be heard are few, but the situation is changing, largely as a result of the simple combination of local radio and mobile phones. (See Module 13 for more on citizen participation, exchange, and knowledge sharing).
Farmer organizations have higher visibility than individual farmers. Many have a website and Internet connectivity to communicate with similar organizations or in regional forums. If farmers can raise issues with their local organizations, there is a chance that their concerns will be noted and passed to higher levels, which suggests an important role for ICTs. Answers to technical problems raised by members need to reach farmers even in remote areas, which is currently best achieved by using broadcast media.
Given the lack of infrastructure typical of remote rural areas, it is a challenge for farmer groups to use ICTs for interactive communication. Radio and, to a lesser extent, television broadcasts reach wide audiences and can be understood by all, even those who cannot read or write, so they are currently the best ways of transferring information to individual farmers. When the makers of radio and television programs base their output on real issues raised by farmers themselves, farmers readily act on the information to improve their production methods. Farmer organizations thus have a role in seeking the views of their members on which topics should be featured in the broadcast media.
The following sections highlight the effectiveness of radio and television in reaching a broad audience, including women. They show that the interactivity enabled by phone-in and SMS contributions brings true relevance and usefulness to farmers.
ICTs Make Radio Programming Less Expensive, More Inclusive
Research in Uganda found that more than 90 percent of farmers interviewed owned a radio, but only 25 percent owned a mobile phone; none claimed access to a computer (Ferris, Engoru, and Kaganzi 2006). Radio is a popular medium that can draw a wide audience and operate in local languages. Like mobile phones and other ICTs, however, radio has issues related to access, such as who owns the radio, who chooses which programs to hear (men, women, elders), or whether programs are broadcast when listeners can actually listen. The innovation in radio is that programming is becoming more interactive, with phone-ins, live community forums, and radio diaries all finding a place in the schedules. SMS messages allow listeners to contribute cheaply and easily.
Radio is also becoming cheaper in the sense that the cost of setting up a radio station has fallen dramatically in recent years (AFRRI and FRI 2008). Recording equipment that only a decade ago would have cost thousands of dollars can now be bought for about US$ 100 or less, and computers, the Internet, and mobile phones have brought down the cost of obtaining and storing information for broadcast. Research in 2008 reported that a microstation with a broadcast range of 2.5 kilometers had been set up in Mali for just US$ 650.
The hope is that as radio becomes cheaper and more interactive, its programming can become much more locally relevant and inclusive. Efforts in this direction include Farm Radio International. This NGO partners with more than 350 radio broadcasters in almost 40 African countries to develop programming to help small-scale farmers improve their food security. Participatory Radio Campaigns, carefully planned broadcasts focusing on one farmer-selected issue at a time, feature farmers’ participation and appear to make measurable differences to farmers’ livelihoods (AFRRI and FRI 2009). (For more detail, see Module 6.)
In Kenya, the popular weekly program Mali Shambani(“wealth on the farm”) (Mbogo 2008) offers advice on various technical and financial issues. Listeners are invited to call or text the program with specific questions. Surveys suggest that 80 percent of listeners claim to have learned something new from the program, and half said they had put advice into practice. A typical hour-long program can attract up to 200 SMS messages, including contributions from neighboring Uganda and Tanzania.
Local radio stations are particularly well placed to develop programming to suit their audiences. When radio operates as a source of reliable information that works at the local level, it gives farmers an alternative to limited public agricultural extension services. In Kenya, Radio Mbaitu FM prioritizes content on fruit farming and horticulture and uses the Kikamba language to reach the farmers in its listening area. Radio Coro FM, broadcasting in Kikuyu, covers dairy farming, which is widespread in central Kenya. Radio Salaam uses Kiswahili to broadcast information on fisheries and fruit farming to coastal farmers, while Kass FM, a Kalenjin station, focuses on dairy and maize production.
In Zambia, the Research Into Use (RIU) program uses community radio as a way of promoting conservation agriculture. Programs follow different formats—prerecorded factual programs, drama programs, and phone-in or interactive programs—and are broadcast in either English or the local language.29 Listeners particularly enjoy the vernacular, drama, and interactive output.
RIU Zambia has set up radio listeners’ clubs that have trained over 1,000 people in recording skills and club coordination. Local farmers can now record their discussions, questions, and development concerns and send the recordings to their local radio station. A producer then edits the material and includes feedback from experts before the program is aired. These programs are also interactive at the point of broadcast; farmers phone in with further contributions.
Some of the radio stations are private, such as Sky FM in Monze District. The RIU program supports them to broadcast this content, and six radio dramas were sponsored by a local seed company. This suggests a route toward sustainability when RIU support comes to an end. Another possibility is shown by Namwianga Radio in Kalomo District, which is supported by the church. Community church services have apparently proved to be useful forums for smallholders to share experience with conservation agriculture.
Television Support to Agricultural Extension in India
In 2005, the Doordarshan Broadcasting Corporation of India began a project to televise live, interactive, problem-solving crop seminars as well as to set up various other initiatives to spread agricultural information.30 Agricultural seminars are set up in a village, with farmers invited to bring diseased or pest-infested crop samples or other field problems to be discussed by a panel of experts. Possible solutions are then suggested.
Each seminar is filmed and broadcast live by Doordarshan through its provincial network (55 stations, using the appropriate local language) to share the information with farmers who live too far to attend in person. Daily bulletins on the latest market prices and weather forecasts also appear on television.
The broadcaster also offers a weekly live phone-in program to give experts’ “instant solutions” to farmers’ problems. In some areas of India, this televised exchange occurs twice a week. Information about the programs is shared on the Internet—television producers upload program details onto the portal. The website also features contact details to facilitate interaction between farmers and appropriate subject matter specialists, as well as opportunities for farmers to give feedback and offer suggestions.
A Voice in the National Debate on Agriculture in Mali
An ambitious project in Sikasso Province aims to bring farmers, through their organizations, into the national agricultural policy debate. With the descriptive title “Let’s Talk under the Palaver Tree,” the project was set up by the Regional Committee for the Coordination of Rural People.31 This regional committee was set up by a group of farmer cooperatives that hoped to represent the interests of Sikasso’s farmers at the national and perhaps international level, within the West African rural network ROPPA.32 Its aim, apart from offering market and technical training, is to act as a lobby group and to strengthen its members by encouraging information sharing. The regional committee now has a website with information about the project, lists of members, and news about events.
The project has a simple structure: Seven telecenters in towns and villages throughout the province form information hubs for a communication system based on Internet and local radio. The system brings together 215 organizations with a total membership of more than a million people, of whom just over half are women. Local Committees for Coordination of Farmers’ Organizations are the “anchor points” for each of the seven telecenters.
The Internet is used for e-mail, sharing documents, and searching for specific information useful to farmers. Ten local radio stations have signed contracts to broadcast agricultural information, and local radio also advertises activities relevant to farmers, such as workshops and meetings. There is also a regular radio broadcast on legal issues related to agriculture. Legal issues are also covered on the website, but the forum section is not yet operational.
So far all the telecenters are said to function well, apart from poor Internet connectivity in three of the hubs. Eighty farmers were trained in basic ICT skills, with a further 10–20 trained at each center. Direct project users are relatively few—the heads of the local farmer organizations and some individual producers—but they in turn share information with members. Farmers themselves are encouraged to raise issues for discussion at higher levels.
Farmers “Cluster” in the Caribbean
The Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN) (http://www.caribbeanfarmers.org/) has found that farmers in the Caribbean region benefit from working in clusters that are created either geographically or thematically (Greene 2010). Farmers working in close proximity, or those who simply share an interest, set up a cluster to share technical information and experiences, plan for new market demands, and maximize their lobbying and bargaining power.
CaFAN encompasses 30 member organizations that together represent half a million farmers in 12 countries. Clusters cut across membership boundaries. Farmers use Skype, e-mail, and the CaFAN website to keep in touch. Text messages are also widely used to communicate directly with farmers, and it is hoped that production information will soon be sent by SMS.
CaFAN claims that fostering connections, sharing information, and training farmers puts farmers in a stronger position to respond to the perennial problems of the agricultural sector. They say that collective action can give better access to important resources (agricultural inputs, credit, transport, information) and can reduce financial risk. Pooling resources and collective marketing reduces the high transaction costs incurred by farmers acting alone: Operating as part of a group is simply more efficient.
The ZNFU Discussion Forum
ZNFU reports more than 10,000 hits a month to its website (http://www.znfu.org.zm/). New topics are introduced to the discussion forum as a means of encouraging farmers to participate and share their experience related to particular issues. Current threads include the state of feeder roads in rural areas, price expectations for the maize crop, and tariffs charged by Zesco (the national electricity supplier). Members are invited to make suggestions to be included in ZNFU’s submission of proposals relevant to agriculture in the national budget. The “How Do I” section for technical questions is divided by subject and includes farm and land, equipment, livestock, and employment.
Despite its welcome and advanced features, this online forum still has low participation, because most farmers do not have computers, Internet access, typing skills, or great proficiency in English. There are only a few posts and comments on the forum—some discussion categories are empty, and several of the other posts are more than six months old. At this stage, the ZNFU website appears much more useful to large-scale farmers than to the smallholders who form the majority of those working in agriculture in Zambia.
There is much to gain but much to be done in giving farmers a voice. Rural areas lag behind towns and cities in the infrastructure needed for online connectivity and access to blogs or Internet discussion forums. Many farmer organizations are situated within reach of electricity and the Internet, however, so they are able to set up websites to raise their profile and market possibilities. Their online forums offer a space for those few farmers with Internet access to share information or raise concerns to be aired more widely.
Considering the current state of infrastructure in much of the developing world, it is realistic to expect the uptake of ICTs to give farmers a stronger voice at the organizational rather than individual level. Giving smallholder farmers a stronger political voice, for example, can be done by encouraging them to join an organization or cooperative. If individual farmers can reach their representative organizations better, these organizations can effectively represent farmers at the local, regional, national, and international levels. The best way for individual farmers to be heard at present is via local radio stations.
The visual nature of television makes it particularly valuable for practical demonstrations of good agricultural practice. Overall, though, radio seems more useful than television as a discussion forum, given the ubiquity of radio ownership and access. Radio producers are now skilled in presenting information in memorable ways, and radio programs are more interactive, owing to contributions made through mobile phones. Listeners’ clubs in Zambia and Niger show that oral communication is very popular.
Technological developments can be seen simply as extensions of a very human need. These developments indicate that there is an argument for recommending that governments and donors should strengthen the capability of farmer organizations to contribute to radio programming. The credibility and transparency of farmer organizations would improve if problems and achievements were discussed openly on local radio, with members’ comments being welcomed on air. Any issue related to the organization could be raised.
|Source: Ami Vitale, World Bank.|
Independent community radio is relatively new in most African countries, however. Even a decade ago, the only programs offered were from publicly funded state radio. A study of the effectiveness of the Participatory Radio Campaigns tentatively concluded that participatory farm radio by itself, without any other intervention, has a strong impact and is a highly cost-effective strategy for helping farmers learn about and adopt new approaches to farming (AFFRI and FRI 2009).
A recent study into the economics of rural radio, a hitherto unexplored subject, points out that the costs of programming depend on the level of interactivity of the program format, the accessibility of additional resources to produce specialized programs, and the type of station involved (AFFRI and FRI 2009). Community stations tended to invest more resources in interactive programming with community involvement and less on in-studio formats. The cost of a reporter in the field (a common format for agriculture reporting) was about US$ 300 per program for a commercial station in Uganda and just over US$ 100 per program for a community station in Malawi.
Educational farm radio must compete for airtime with less expensive and popular items such as music and evangelism, but interactive programs with farmers—phone-in shows, field interviews, listening groups, and talk shows with local experts—can be popular enough to compete. Among the radio stations examined, the average cost of rural production ranged from just over US$ 100 for a phone-in show to US$ 300 to record and air a village debate. An investment of US$ 500 per week (US$ 26,000 per year) would therefore finance the production and broadcast of 3–6 hours per week of interactive farm radio programming.Radio broadcasting requires an enabling policy framework under which local radio stations can flourish without excessive regulation. Many African countries lacked such a framework until recently, so commercial and community radio stations are still relatively new. Many countries have issues related to freedom of expression. For instance, proposed amendments to the Zambian constitution included scrapping an article on freedom of speech in favor of one providing penalties for false statements. This amendment is of major concern to the many privately sponsored and civil society–sponsored local radio stations. Another example is Ethiopia, where community radio (whether run by the private sector or civil society) is not fully liberalized.
Effective radio programs depended heavily on partnerships, both with radio broadcasters, individual farmers, and agriculture experts. For example, close cooperation with the Indian Department of Agriculture has been necessary to support the Doordarshan Broadcasting Corporation’s live crop seminars. Villages are chosen in consultation with the department, and the experts who deal with the farmers’ questions come from the agriculture department of the nearest university. Where possible, the Department of Agriculture sets up an exhibition in tandem with each broadcast to offer farmers additional information about crop varieties and new technology.
For farmer organizations wishing to set up a website, with or without a discussion forum, the question of design can be fraught with difficulties. Since bandwidth is expensive—expressed as a percentage of average annual income, the cost of an Internet connection in 2003 was more than 100 percent in much of Africa and was from 10 to 50 percent in much of Asia and Latin America—it is unlikely to be increased quickly. Given that the biggest factor in user satisfaction is the speed of response, it makes sense to design websites for prevailing conditions. See box 8.8 for additional considerations in designing and implementing ICT interventions to increase farmers’ voice.
Box 8.8: Considerations for Effectively, Sustainably Enabling Farmers to Share Information and Gain a Greater Voice in the Agricultural Sector
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Community Listeners’ Clubs Empower Social Networks in Rural Niger
Since July 2009, 300 community listeners’ clubs (200 all-women, 89 all-men, and 11 mixed clubs) have been established in villages of southern Niger.33 Involving more than 6,000 women and men, together with nine community radio stations, the Listeners’ Clubs Project breaks the isolation of rural populations, especially women. It does this by offering access to information and communication and by encouraging people to join discussions on development issues. The project is led by FAO, via the Dimitra Project, and cofinanced with UN agencies and the Canadian Development Corporation. It is implemented by an NGO.
The community listeners’ clubs are groups of villagers who have been trained and organized through literacy training centers to identify and discuss their information needs and development priorities. Whenever a group finds a topic that they feel deserves attention, they contact a community radio to record club members’ views on the subject. These views are then broadcast, prompting immediate responses, opinions, and suggestions sent by mobile phone from other listeners. The clubs have already discussed a wide range of topics, including food security, agricultural inputs, plant and animal health, and policy issues such as land access and decentralization. Debating and listening to radio programs gives the participants knowledge, allows them to share their experience, and reinforces self-confidence.
The project has also improved rural populations’ knowledge of new technologies. At the outset each club was given a solar-and-crank-powered radio and mobile phones fitted with solar chargers, but the project was so popular that clubs were soon given extra mobile phones. These phones were linked up in a network known as a “fleet,” which enables cost-free communication at any time between the clubs and radio stations.
These mobile phones are now also used to pass wide-ranging information between villages—such as forthcoming social events or the price of agricultural produce and livestock—or to offer products for sale. The telephones in the fleet also serve as public telephones, allowing private calls to be made for a small charge. For women, the telephones have helped create a social network, enabling them to communicate with other women they have never met and to exchange information beyond the topics covered by the clubs.
The enthusiasm for the listeners’ clubs has exceeded all expectations. Preliminary data indicate that women have gained self-confidence, good practices have been shared, and even sensitive subjects such as HIV-AIDS have been discussed. Club members have realized that their knowledge and opinions have a value and that their voices matter.
INNOVATIVE PRACTICE SUMMARY
Through Radio and Television, Thai Bank Gives Rural Voices a Wider Audience
The Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) is a large government institution with 14,000 staff covering 800 branches and field offices throughout Thailand.34 It sees public interest in promoting agriculture, and its radio and television programs link farmers with the outside world. Farmer organizations discuss issues relevant to their members.
As well as radio programs produced from its provincial offices, BAAC broadcasts various television programs that focus on agriculture. For instance, “The Villagers’ Stage” is broadcast free every week. Aimed at farmers, farmer organizations, agricultural cooperatives, and the general public, it shows the rural way of life and presents the voice of village dwellers to the wider community. A reality program called “My Little Farm Project” appears on cable television daily. Particularly “hot” issues are covered on the “Thai Agricultural Heart Program” on free television every weekday. That program presents Thai agricultural students as they learn about farming processes, project management, and financial issues.
For general information on the use of ICT in development, see: Information and Communications for Development (IC4D). http://go.worldbank.org/DMY979SNP0. Three publications by the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Amsterdam, and International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), Nairobi, are particularly recommended:
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- 1 Many smallholder farmers have little or no disposable income and would be considered poor by any standards, but it should be remembered that there are others—landless laborers, for instance—who would not have the assets required to join such a group.
- 2 See http://www.bcoalliance.org/node/459 and Bossio (2007).
- 3 The scheme is a joint venture between the Zambian government and FAO, funded by various donors.
- 4 Maison d’Information et de Promotion du Karité.
- 5 Agricultural Market Information Systems in Africa: Renewal and Impact.” Unpublished summary of workshop held March 29–31, 2010, Montpellier, CIRAD—UMR MOISA.
- 6 Grahame Dixie, World Bank, personal communication.
- 7 Unpublished summary of the meeting of the Agricultural Thematic Group (part of the e-Brain Forum of Zambia), “e-Agricultural Marketing—What Are the Issues?” on October 27, 2006 in Lusaka.
- 8 This summary is based on Goudappel (2009) and personal communication with Pamela Mulozi, market/trade information administrator, ZNFU.
- 9 Fédération Provinciale des Professionnels Agricoles de la Sissili.
- 10 This summary is based on information from Lenoir (2009), IICD (2010), and personal communication with Miep Lenoir, IICD.
- 11 Quoted material translated by author from IICD (2010).
- 12 Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles.
- 13 Very small aperture terminals, which are two-way satellite ground terminals offering better connectivity.
- 14 Information gathered from SOUNONG 2010, Institute of Intelligent Medicines.
- 15 See http://www.ncdc.in/Activities_files/Computerisation.htm.
- 16 This summary is based on information from the Akashganga website (http://akashganga.in/WhatWeDo.htm and http://www.akashganga.in), a presentation on the Amul Dairy Project by Vipul Vyas (http://www.scribd.com/doc/16808474/Amul-Dairy-Project-by-Vipul-Vyas), the UN-Habitat Best Practices Database (2006), and personal communication with Anil Epur.
- 17 Akashganga’s current high-end system, selling for about US$ 3,300, incorporates an electronic weighing system, a milk analyzer to test milk quality, a personal computer, and accounting and management software.
- 18 See the presentation on the Amul Dairy Project by Vipul Vyas, http://www.scribd.com/doc/16808474/Amul-Dairy-Project-by-Vipul-Vyas.
- 19 Anil Epur, personal communication.
- 20 A widely used, comprehensive ICT solution (based on the Microsoft DYNAMIX ERP package) currently costs around Rs 3.5 million. It can handle all activities for a daily throughput of up to 10,000 liters of milk (Anil Epur, personal communication).
- 21 See http://news.kerala.nic.in/imgmulti.aspx?Id=E1328; http://in.linkedin.com/in/douglasdsilva; http://www.kerala.nic.in/Brochures/opensource.pdf; http://informatics.nic.in/archive/july2007.pdf.
- 22 Specifically, an FAO project funded by the Government of Finland in collaboration with Agriterra (the Netherlands) and Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers.
- 23 This summary is based on information from the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (2008); personal communication with Marcel Werner (Flametree Systems/Innovation Africa) in Kenya; the draft report of the Agriterra CoopWorks evaluation mission to Kenya (January 2011); “How Open Source Software Makes Money for Coffee Grower Cooperatives” (http://www.selectstartcafe.com/2010/08/how-open-source-softwaremakes-mon...); and “Kenya Coffee Eyes a New Golden Era” (2011)).
- 24 Draft report of Agriterra CoopWorks evaluation mission to Kenya, January 2011.
- 25 Successful free, open-source software (FOSS) initiatives are driven by large developer communities, including programmers, trainers, and advisors with commercial interests. The software will be free but related services may not be.
- 26 Draft report of Agriterra CoopWorks evaluation mission to Kenya, January 2011.
- 27 Coopérative des Productrices de beurre de Karité de Zantiébougou (Zantiébougou Shea Butter Producers’ Cooperative).
- 28 See also http://www.iicd.org/projects/mali-shea-butter-and-ict.
- 29 Research Into Use (2011).
- 30 “Mass Media Support to Agricultural Extension,” ICT for Development, http://www.comminit.com/en/node/133865/307, accessed May 2011.
- 31 See http://www.iicd.org/projects/mali-jefako-gelekan.
- 32 Réseau des Organisations Paysannes et des Producteurs Agricoles de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organisations of West Africa).
- 33 This section is based on information from FAO’s Dimitra Newsletter, issues 17, 18, and 19, available at http://www.fao.org/dimitra/dimitra-publications/newsletter/en/.
- 34 This section is based on personal communication with a representative of BAAC.
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