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Vol. VII No. 9

The quarterly magazine on ICT4D

January - March 2010

Rural farmers’s information network IICD’s experience with farmers in Mali and Burkina Faso Information for development

w w w. i 4 d o n l i n e . n e t

Revolutionising Indian agriculture agropedia

e-Agriculture in action

ISSN 0972 - 804X


Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON)

knowledge for change




Vol. VII No. 9

January - March 2010

Our Social Media presence

Features 5



The Commodity that Survived the Economic Downturn, IFAD

e-Agriculture: A community-driven movement


An Option to Sustain NGOs in ICT4D Sector, SarvodayaFusion, Sri Lanka Responding to ‘radical change’ Harsha Liyanage

Mobiles for development Roxanna Samii


Mobile Telephony in Rural Areas


Rural Nigeria, APC

The Latin American perspective Lisa M Cespedes and Franz J Martin

ICT and phones change women’s lives Analia Lanvin


Smallholder farmers and ICT-KM


IICD’s experience with farmers in Mali and Burkina Faso

22 25


Swisscontact and GTZInternational, Bangladesh

41 42

Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON)

Agropedia Revolutionising Indian agriculture Runa Sarkar, TV Prabhakar, Meeta Bagga Bhatia

What’s on In Fact eAgriculture India over the years

A Study of Prioritisation of Information Related Needs of Farmers

e-Agriculture in action Sophie Treinen


Hyderabad, India

Rural farmers’s information network Denise Senmartin and Francois Laureys

Information system for small business Martin Dietschi

Hyderabad International Convention Centre

Smallholder farmers and ICT-KM Enrica Porcari

Plugging information gaps through ICTs Sapna A Narula


4-6 August 2010, News Search ICT4D news by date in the sectors of governance, health, education, agriculture and so on. E-mail Subscribe to daily, weekly, monthly newsletters online or send request to info@ Print edition The past issues of the magazine are available online

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New! Knowledge bank from top left (clockwise) Sophie Treinen, CSDMS, Sophie Treinen and Franz J Martin

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ICT in Climate Change




ICTs in Elections


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July - September

Gender and ICTs i4d | January - March 2010

Editorial e-Agriculture: A community-driven movement

Advisory Board Dr M P Narayanan, Chairman, i4d Chin Saik Yoon Southbound Publications, Malaysia

Welcome to this special i4d issue both about and by e-agri! This issue is about e-agriculture, the broad area where ICT intersect with rural development. It is brought to you by the contributions of the e-Agriculture Community, a global community of practice united by a belief in the positive role that ICT can play in sustainable rural development and enhanced food security.

Karl Harmsen United Nations University Kenneth Keniston Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA Nagy Hanna e-Leadership Academy, University of Maryland, USA Richard Fuchs IDRC, Singapore Walter Fust Global Humanitarian Forum, Switzerland Wijayananda Jayaweera UNESCO, France EDITORIAL BOARD Akhtar Badshah, Frederick Noronha EDITORIAL TEAM Editor-in-Chief Dr Ravi Gupta Research Associate Subir Dey Sr. Graphic Designer Bishwajeet Kumar Singh

Launched in late 2007 as a follow up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the e-Agriculture Community has grown dramatically since then to its present make up today of over 6,000 members from more than 150 countries around the world. This growth has been possible only due to the support and spirit of collaboration that is found in the Community. From the international organisations that came together to launch e-Agriculture, to the newest members joining from around the world, we are proud to be part of a community that shares, challenges and collaborates in the ICT4D field. We first met Subir and the team from CSDMS as part of the e-Agriculture delegation at the GKP conference in Malaysia in December 2007. Since then we have collaborated on many occasions, from e-Agriculture’s online forums to the eAgriculture track at the annual eINDIA Conference. Now as e-Agriculture is just over two years old we are very pleased to have this opportunity to collaborate again in bringing together a wide range of experience, expertise and perspective from the e-Agriculture community to you in this issue of i4d.

Graphic Designers Om Prakash Thakur, Shyam Kishore Web Programmer Zia Salahuddin i4d G-4 Sector 39, NOIDA, UP, 201 301, India Phone +91 120 250 2181-85 Fax +91 120 250 0060 Email Web Printed at R P Printers, Noida, India i4d is a monthly publication. It is intended for those interested and involved in the use of Information and Commnication Technologies for development of underserved communities. It is hoped that it will serve to foster a growing network by keeping the community up to date on many activities in this wide and exciting field. i4d does not necessarily subscribe to the views expressed in this publication. All views expressed in this magazine are those of the contributors. i4d is not responsible or accountable for any loss incurred directly or indirectly as a result of the information provided.

Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies, 2008 Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

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Our authors have considered three key areas that the Community has been discussing over the past year: mobile technology in rural development, ICT and new ways for farmers to realise value with information, and ICT, institutions and innovation in rural development. We have nine articles to provide insight and perspective from different organisations, regions and experiences which we hope will inform, inspire and challenge. To begin, we have some fascinating overviews about the hot topic of mobile technologies in rural development. Roxanna Samii of IFAD presents the case of how the mobile phone has been the one commodity to survive the economic downturn. Then Lisa Cespedes and Franz Martin review a recent event discussing key issues around mobile telephony in Latin America and the Caribbean. This topic is rounded out by Analia Lanvin of GenARDIS on how the combination of radio and mobile phones has changed the lives of women in rural Nigeria. The second group of authors consider how ICT plays a role in adding value to the activities of farmers. First, Enrica Porcari writes about AGCommons and the CGIAR experience with location-specific intelligence for small holder farmers, followed by Francois Laureys and Denise Senmartin of IICD on farmers and rural information networks in Mali and Burkina. Then Martin Dietschi describes experience in developing information systems for small rural businesses in Bangladesh, and this theme is rounded out with Sapna Narula’s article on making up information deficits with ICT. In the third group our authors look very broadly at how ICT is being leveraged for institutions and innovations. Sophie Treinen of FAO begins with an example of an e-Agriculture leading practice called VERCON (Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network). Runa Sarkar from the Indian Institute of Management shows how existing agricultural extension systems can be leveraged through a community of practice. Wrapping this all up, Harsha discusses an interesting concept on responding to “radical change” and innovation. Michael Riggs Knowledge and Information Management Officer FAO

June 2009 |



Mobiles for development Mobile phones are a more appealing, more viable ICT tool than the low cost $100 laptop.

Roxanna Samii Manager, Web, Knowledge and Internal Communications International Fund for Agricultural Development


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that there are 4.6 billion mobile subscribers and forecasts that by end of 2010 there will be 5 billion mobile subscribers, making mobile phone the most rapidly adopted technology in history and the only sector that has not suffered from the recent economic downturn. The vast majority of these mobile users never part from their mobile phone. For those living in developed countries, the mobile phone started off as a status symbol. Today, however, the mobile phone is an object that is more of an extension of ourselves. In developing countries, the mobile phone has revolutionised the lives of millions of urban and rural poor by connecting and involving them in viable economic activities. It is undoubtedly the predominant mode of communication in developing countries, having contributed substantively to the reduction of the digital divide, something other ICTs such as computers have not yet managed to do. It is also clear that mobile phones are a more appealing, more viable tool than the low cost $100 laptop. They are the only ICT sector where developing countries are catching up with and in some cases overtaking developed countries. It provides timely, localised and relevant access to knowledge which in turn has led to reducing production and transaction costs. For example, the rural poor use mobile telephony to get commodity price information via SMS, gather market intelligence and find out the market needs so that they can make ‘targetted’ trips and save on travel and transportation costs.

Mobile phone revolution: The numbers speak for themselves The mobile phone revolution is our generation’s revolution and it has changed

our culture, economy, social and political lives. As such it has a promising future to become the first universally accessible ICT. It is a unique revolution because: • It is truly global and not limited to a specific country, region or subregion. • It has been a catalyst for unprecedented global economic and social benefits. • It is global revolution, it is becoming more and more accessible to the marginalised and less advantaged segment of population. • It is an early example of mash-up1 when this term did not even exist, as it is a perfect marriage between telephone and radio. The third and fourth generation phones are a living example of mash-up as they are an integrated platform offering content and telecom services. Some argue that new ICTs such as mobile telephony contribute to increasing the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. One could strongly argue that this is not the case. Statistics show that 4.6 billion people, almost 67% the world population,2 are mobile subscribers against 1.5 billion Internet users3. Recent estimates show that while 6.8% of people in Africa are Internet users, according to a latest report from Ovum Research, mobile subscribers in Africa have reached 448.1 million (54% of the total population)4 and are expected to reach 561 million by 2012. In Africa, many countries have completely skipped the landline and have moved directly to mobile telecommunications. This makes mobile phones the first modern telecommunications infrastructure of any kind in this continent allowing those previously excluded to take an active part in improving their livelihoods thanks to the affordable and different pricing schemes of mobile services. i4d | January - March 2010

Rural connectivity: a revolution within a revolution Seventy-five per cent of the world’s poorest people - 1.05 billion women, children and men - live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. Conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that for them mobile phone is a luxury. But we are wrong! A recent World Bank study states that “there is a myth that the rural poor are not able or not willing to pay for mobile telecommunication services”. Mobile phone’s accessibility has allowed previously marginalised groups with no access to basic services to take an active part in the economic and social spheres of their communities. This social and economic inclusion has led to the willingness of poor rural households to spend 4-8% of their income on mobile telephony. The mobile telephony revolution is contributing substantially to achieving the targets of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially MDG1 “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and more specifically to the target of “Halving, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day by 2015”. Africa would not be lagging behind on a number of MDGs, however, if back in 2000 world leaders had established an MDG similar to “Achieving universal primary education” (MDG2) for mobile telephony called “Achieving universal access” then, Africa would have met the targets with flying marks.

Mobile phone growth drivers: A unique business model A number of enabling socio-economic and political conditions such as ease of use, liberalisation of the telecom sector and prepaid services have contributed to the expansion and popularity of mobile telephony in rural areas of developing countries. Firstly, compared to a computer, a mobile phone is much easier to use and requires little or no special skills. Add to this practical detail the low penetration rates5; shorter payback period on investment both for the private and/or public sector investor and the farmer and low installation costs gives you a win-win situation. Furthermore, the liberalisation of the telecom sector supported by sound regulatory mechanisms have opened the market to competition and allured the private sector to invest in developing countries. This in turn has spearheaded an increased competition among different operators. In some African countries the consumers can choose between two or more mobile operators (each offering competive rates). The liberalisation schemes, hand-in-hand with relatively economical handsets and options such as pre-paid services, have led to an exponential growth in the mobile sector making mobile telephony more accessible to the marginalised rural population. Pre-paid services were embraced with open arms both in developed and developing countries. In Africa pre-paid subscriptions account for 95% of total mobile subscriptions. The pre-paid or “pay as you use” business model is attractive for poor rural people because of the numerous advantages it offers. Unlike the fixed-line model, this model does not require any formal registration and there is no waiting list. Furthermore, the user does not need to submit financial and physical data and January - March 2010 |

he/she can control costs, especially when savings and incomes are low. And most importantly there is no need to present a credit history, as the pre-paid service reaches out to the ‘unbankable’. The 2007 World Resource Institute (WRI) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) study - “The Next 4 Billion” – provides interesting insight on ICT expenditure as percentage of household expenditure. It shows that ‘low-income’ does not mean ‘no income’ and highlights how expenditure on ICTs and mobile telephony while varying from one country to another are consistently increasing.

Innovative use of mobile telephony brings economic prosperity to the rural poor. Studies such as The Global Information Technology Report 2008-2009 commissioned by the World Economic Forum to INSEAD provide thorough evidence of how “mobile telephony has proven instrumental in raising prosperity and reducing poverty in developing countries, where it has boomed in recent years—thanks also to a number of facilitating factors, including an infrastructure fairly easy to deploy, a market generally open to new entrants, and the decreasing costs of mobile handsets and communication per minute, among others.”5 This report makes the case that “mobile telecommunications has indeed had a positive disruptive impact on life in many developing economies, especially in rural areas.”6 A 2005 London Business School study also found that “for every additional 10 mobile phones per 100 people, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) rises 0.5 percent”. For the 1.05 billion rural poor people living on US$1.25 or less, the mobile phone is far from being a flashy gadget but represents a viable way for improving their lives. For them mobile telephony has turned out to be a catalyst for economic growth by enabling small entrepreneurs to have direct access to market intelligence, by providing employment opportunities in the tertiary and service sectors, creating opportunities for public and private sector to invest and modernise infrastructure. Mobile telephony is providing poor rural people with a point of contact allowing them to take part in the economic system and enter in the job market. It has allowed small businesses previously excluded - to participate in the economic system. For producers, access to reliable market information is a key ingredient to increase incomes. In the past they relied on governments to provide market information. Today agricultural markets are far from being well organised and transaction chains are long, while the volumes of goods are often small and of varied quality, and prices are highly unstable. For example, the fishers of the Tamarin community under the IFAD-funded Rural Diversification Programme on the island of Mauritius do not have direct access to the fish market and as a result are excluded from the market. However, they use their mobile phones to inform buyers of their daily catch and to take orders. This way they do not overfish and are sure that they will sell their daily catch. This has led not only to economic efficiencies but also to protecting the fish stock which in turn has a positive impact on the lagoon’s ecosystem. At the same time, the fishers use their mobile phone to keep in touch with their families, something that previously they could not do, and to get weather updates.



Photo Credit:

Fu r t h e r m o re , s m a l l p r o d u c e r s trading in rural areas in Africa, face enormous challenges such as lack of access to reliable and up-to-date market information, lack of transportation infrastructure and competition. Without market information, small producers are vulnerable to unscrupulous traders and middle-men giving them prices at belowmarket rates. This may lead the producers to be reluctant to diversify into different products for fear of not finding a profitable market for their output. The relatively affordable air-time of mobile phones has made transfer and exchange of knowledge easy and affordable. For example, in many parts of the world, mobile phones are used to disseminate a wide variety of information ranging from market information to weather forecasts. This information dissemination happens either through structured services and subscriptions such as ESOKO and Zambia SMS Market Information Service or through unstructured and informal use of mobile phone. Information dissemination is also happening by blending the formal and informal services as is the case of First Mile project in Tanzania. These services provide a wide variety of SMS services ranging from commodity price to harvest tips, information on disease outbreaks, weather reports, transport and trading offers. As a result poor rural people can use their mobile phone both to directly communicate with buyers and also to access commodity prices via SMS. World economists may be busy understanding the full impact of the current financial crisis, but they are equally struggling to calculate the macroeconomic impact of mobile revolution. New employment opportunities: Mobile phones have also spearheaded a host of new and innovative income generating activities, such as small businesses to recharge batteries, sellers of prepaid cards, renting out phones and/or airtime for 2 euro cents per call and other services such as reading and sending SMS message. In Africa and other parts of the world, occasional labourers put up ads in a village centre with a mobile number to offer services, or when they register at unemployment centre they provide their mobile number to get job alerts via SMS. The job alerts can be both through

subscription or free of charge. Mobile phones have led to minimising travel costs allowing people to move when there is a concrete economic opportunity. Cellular banking - the bank of the ‘unbankables: According to the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), approximately 1.5 billion mobile users in developing countries have little or limited access to formal financial services. Furthermore, since there is limited formal banking infrastructure in developing countries, there are fewer options to transfer money and access banking services. It did not take too long for poor rural people to figure out that the mobile phone could be used for a host of other things than just talking. Services such as M-Pesa, a mobile money service offered by Safaricom in Kenya; offers savings services, domestic money transfers and other types of services. More and more the mobile phone is used as a bank to provide financial services to millions of poor rural people who send money home and to deliver micro-credit loans to poor where there are no banking facilities. Mobile phones are now providing ‘cellular banking’ to the ‘unbankable’ clients. CGAP argues that mobile phone has the potential to provide a low-cost alternative to banking via Internet or ATM or point-of-sale. Their experiments show that setting up pointof-sale with cell phone can lead to cutting cost by 50%. Microcredit and microfinance institutions have enough evidence to unleashing the potential of cellular banking such and start creating ‘branchless banking channels using mobile phones’. Enhanced medical care: Mobile phones are also being used to provide medical services such using SMS to remind patients of medical appointments,

children’s vaccination or to take their medication to remote villages. Mobile phone is also being used to disseminate information about sexually transmitted diseases and to monitor patients. Social cohesiveness and sense of community: What we see in rural areas of developing countries is a sense of community. It is common for one person or a group of people within a community owning a handset to rent it out to other community members along with reading and writing text message services. From a social networking perspective mobile phones have had a positive psychological impact on families, as connectivity has allowed families and the diaspora to keep in touch.

How can ICTs help poor rural people? ICTs can help poor rural people if the focus is on people and their needs and not on the technology. They can be vital for reducing rural poverty and can improve rural livelihoods only if they are appropriate, sensible and meet the requirements of the rural poor so that as a tool they can increase their bargaining and purchasing power. ICTs and more specifically mobile telephony can continue to contribute to MDG1 targets if we use participatory approaches, as outlined in the examples below, to find out and understand the needs and challenges of the rural poor, if national poverty reduction strategies systematically include adoption of appropriate ICTs, if there is a commitment to build the capacity of communities and local organisation to lead and own the process of appropriation and if there is blending of old and new technology to create a three-tier system of public, private and community. i4d | January - March 2010

The uptake of technology can only be successful if it is demanddriven and responds to the needs of beneficiaries. Farmers and poor rural people need to take part in identifying and defining their needs and, together with donors and other stakeholders, develop mechanisms to exploit and unleash the power of mobile phones.

The last big push to make mobile phones universally accessible The world has embarked on the mobile journey and it can only go forward! By now policy makers should have enough evidence that of all ICTs, mobile phone has the best potential to stimulate growth in developing countries and that investing in mobile services brings about economic and social development. By the same token, phone manufacturers and service providers have enough evidence that the poorest people have turned out to be one of their biggest markets. A great case in point is the recent Vodafone initiative which was unveiled recently. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Vodafone was going to sell $15 phone – “priced for people in potentially isolated and impoverished areas who may not otherwise be able to afford mobile devices” in Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Qatar, South Africa, Tanzania and Turkey.7 Development agencies equally have acquired enough evidence that mobile telephony has not only helped bridge the digital divide, but is also a catalyst to eradicate rural poverty, and to improve livelihoods of the marginalised and poor segment of the population. • to truly make mobile telephony the first universal access ICT there is a need to; • put in place sound ICT policy in collaboration with government, civil society, private sector actors and the consumers;

invest more in mobile infrastructures and services in rural and disadvantaged areas, strengthen the capacity of rural entrepreneurs and farmers’ organisations to better exploit the potential of mobile phones; • deliver relevant and timely content and further develop peer-to-peer information systems to reduce both airtime and handset price; • put in place better and enabling regulations to allow mobile services to thrive and expand; • and last, but not least, to get the full picture and really appreciate the power and potential of this revolution, there is also a need for the mobile sector to capture what official statistics are unable to capture, namely the ‘informal use’ of mobile phones – that is, those sharing a subscription within a community. Given the conducive environment, it should not take too long before private-public sectors join forces and start producing the $1 handset and reduce airtime cost by using new technology such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). And yes, this can be done through a joint private-public and community partnership. „ References: 1. 2.

According to Wikipedia, mash-up is a derivative work consisting of two pieces of media conjoined together. 6,829.4 billion: UNFPA, State of the World Population, 2009

3. 4. Mobile phone penetration rate is a term used to describe the number of active mobile phone numbers (usually as a percentage) within a specific population.

5. 6. 7.

The Global Information Technology Report 2008-2009: Executive summary ibid source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashab le+%28Mashable%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

Recent ICRIER report focuses Socio-Economic Impact of Mobile Phones on Indian Agriculture The Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), an autonomous, policy-oriented, notfor-profit, economic policy think tank, recently published a report on the Socio-Economic Impact of Mobile Phones on Indian Agriculture. According to the report’s authors, Surabhi Mittal, Sanjay Gandhi, and Gaurav Tripathi, information asymmetry acts as one of the major constraints on the growth of agricultural productivity in India. The more rapid growth of mobile telephony as compared to fixed line telephony and the recent introduction of mobile-enabled information services provide a means to overcome existing information asymmetry. Furthermore, the report indicates that mobile phones also help to bridge the gap between the availability and delivery of agricultural inputs and agriculture infrastructure. The paper investigates a series of questions that explore this topic: What kinds of information do farmers value the most to improve agricultural productivity? Do mobile phones and mobile-enabled agricultural services have an impact on January - March 2010 |

agriculture? What are the factors that impede the realisation of the full productivity enhancing potential of mobile phones? The study found evidence that mobiles are being used in ways which contribute to productivity enhancement. As mobile penetration continues to increase among farming communities and information services continue to adapt and proliferate, the scope exists for a much greater rural productivity impact in the future. However, to leverage the full potential of information dissemination enabled by mobile telephony will require significant improvements in supporting infrastructure and capacity building amongst farmers to enable them to use the information they access effectively. Please refer to the following URL for details: http://icrier. org/publication/working_papers_246.html



The Latin American perspective Mobile phones offer individuals in rural populations the ability to access and interact with information services and databases.

Lisa M Cespedes Social Media and Communications Consultant, e-Agriculture Team, Food and Agriculture Organisation

Franz J Martin Information and Knowledge Management Officer, Knowledge and Capacity for Development, Food and Agriculture Organisation


Consider the numerous ways in which mobile telephony facilitates every day endeavours in addition to offering phone calls and text messaging. The technologies and applications vary from the developed areas to the developing regions, however, people in the most remote and marginalised places of the world are also benefiting greatly from the opportunities that the technology offers to improve their social and economic conditions. There are 179 million people using mobile phones in Latin America; 82% of those users browse the Internet, 73% send text messages, and 55% are transferring data in different ways1. As a result of the expansion of mobile infrastructure and relatively affordable prices, the use of mobile telephony increasingly takes part of the everyday life of many rural families. As an example, in countries such as Peru, only 0.01% of rural households have access to the Internet while 36.5% have a mobile phone. In Chile, the penetration of mobile telephony is 94.7%. In reference to agricultural development, the positive impact of mobile telephony becomes evident through the generation of new or increased revenue for the producers and farmers, as a result of the increased communication with suppliers, buyers, producers, and stakeholders. There are various initiatives by civil society organisations and private companies that provide access to market information, offer guidance, notifications, and technical assistance, along with a wide depository of valuable data. Currently, there are various organisations and projects in rural areas using SMS to disseminate information to the population, such as agriculture and crops information, weather updates, news and market prices, natural disaster information and so on. Mobile phones offer individuals in rural

populations the ability to access and interact with information services and databases. For example, farmers could easily inquire or receive the updated price of a product by sending a text message to a specific number. Despite the lack of hard evidence to demonstrate the positive impact of mobile telephony in rural development, various anecdotes imply the viability of this technology to enhance productivity, to reduce poverty, and to improve social conditions in general. For instance, mobile telephony: • delivers prompt information that helps understand and analyse market prices, facilitating trade and informed business decisions; • reduces transaction time, travels, and costs by shortening distances, which allows for a more effective use of time; • strengthens communications which promote social networks and communities’ progress in health, safety, employment, recreation, and other areas; • increases levels of community participation, facilitating an informed decision making process, particularly, greater partaking from rural women.

Current challenges Despite the increasing developments and innovations, mobile telephony for rural development continues to face certain challenges: • Sound evidence: References of the benefits and impact of mobile telephony in rural areas are generally anecdotal. i4d | January - March 2010

Studies and analysis are mostly empirical and these do not provide substantial data to facilitate their analysis and evaluation. • Development of policies to expand rural coverage: In many Latin American countries, the model of telephone coverage has been based on profitability, giving access priority to the urban areas which are more densely populated and with increased economic activity. Thus, the most marginalised rural areas tend to have lower telephone density per capita. In some Latin American countries, investment in mobile telephony in rural areas has gradually begun to improve access and coverage; nevertheless, it continues to be limited, hence it is necessary to promote public policies supporting consistent access and wide coverage. • Sustainability of mobile information service: Mobile services initiatives that are targeting agricultural information to small-scale farming should provide financial sustainability from its initial investment. • Capacity building: The development of mobile information services for agriculture must respond and adapt to the needs of farmers and their rural communities, while also taking into account the individuals’ skills to operate the technology, its services and their applications in the field. • Payment mechanisms: It is necessary to establish a payment mechanism for the services available to farmers which would also be easier to adopt by service providers. • Mobile phones’ limitations: In some rural areas, access to conventional electricity sources can be very limited, which can limit its effective use in the field, along with the incompatibility between charging devices with mobile phones. Nonetheless, alternative energy sources to resolve this limitation exist, for instance, solar/photovoltaic energy, and rechargeable batteries using dynamos among others. In addition, small screens and certain relatively complex interfaces in some mobile phones may also be a limitation to facilitate its use and to display or collect data from the phone in the field. Individuals from across Latin America who participated in the international virtual forum in Spanish ‘Mobile Telephony in Rural Areas’, hosted by in April 2009, agreed on the need to stimulate the development of coherent public policies in order to enhance broad access and telephony

coverage in the most underprivileged rural areas, and to encourage continuous investment. Participants also agreed that it is vital to continue to share similar experiences among countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as to evaluate and contrast those experiences with other regions (eg. Asia or Africa). Moreover, the discussions highlighted the need to integrate alternative approaches to gather and analyse data in reference to the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in rural areas to increase access to sound evidence. It was noticed that current official statistics in many countries do not offer a breakdown between rural and urban mobile telephony and many times the borders between rural and urban areas are diffused and difficult to gather for mobile subscribers.„

Exploit ICT potential, Tanzania urged Tanzania has the potential to become the East African information and communication technology (ICT) hub if its infrastructure is used effectively. ICT stakeholders have called on all players to grab the opportunities to reach the goal. Such opportunities include the Seacom submarine cable and the government’s ICT infrastructure national backbone. They were speaking at a two-day meeting on ICT in Dar es Salaam. January - March 2010 |

“If other countries can make it why not us?” said Wia Group CEO Erick Munda. A Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority consultant, Prof Taha Usi, advised the government to review its primary, secondary and tertiary educations syllabi to accommodate ICT studies. The forum has come at a time when the country is about to shift from analogue to digital transmission.



ICT and phones change women’s lives Overcoming the socio-cultural boundaries imposed on women, this project put women on the forefront of the group seeking knowledge and information through ICTs.

Women farmers in the rural areas of Nigeria are responsible for a major percentage of all the food produced in the country but their contributions are often overlooked and their voices ignored in community decision-making”, writes Seember Nyager in the first blog post 1 of the recently finalised project Majelissar Mata Manoma: A meeting place for women farmers connecting with radio and mobile phones. The project was carried out by the African Radio Drama Association (ARDA2, Nyager’s organisation) during 2009, and was supported by the Gender, Agriculture and Development in Information Society (GenARDIS) small grant funds. GenARDIS3 has been supporting rural initiatives that seek to empower women through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the African-Caribbean-Pacific regions since 2002. GenARDIS is run by the Association of Progressive Communications on behalf of a number of innovative development organisations and in its latest round (20082010), has supported fifteen initiatives in as many countries.

other, the workload for young girls and women is disproportionately heavier than that of their male counterparts. It includes farming, food processing as well as caring of children and the elderly. A typical Gbayi woman’s daily activities start at 5.00 in the morning and end at 11.00 at night. A man’s day starts at 7:00 with breakfast a woman has cooked and then farm work until an early evening return, dinner and relaxation with friends and bed time. These inequalities are also reflected when it comes to access of information. According to the project baseline analysis, women rely mostly on their husbands and the church when it comes to agricultural information. Men, on the other hand, also turn to friends, colleagues and the radio. Culturally, they have better opportunities for exposure to new ideas and adaptating information through both formal and informal interactions at social gatherings or daily meeting places.

Getting community buy-in In order to address this information gap ARDA adopted a holistic approach – taking up “new” and “old” media (mobile

Everyday, women face more challenges than men

Analía Lavin Association for Progressive Communications


The women of the Gbagyi ethnic group from Nigeria’s impoverished northcentral region face numerous challenges. On the one hand, there are problems related to agriculture, such as lack of fertiliser, improved seeds, tractors and other equipment. On the i4d | January - March 2010

phones and radio respectively), involving everyone active in the community including local leaders and government officials and using theatre (to make explicit a number of cultural and gender questions that could have hindered the work – for instance through theatre, women were encouraged to participate and men to understand the importance of such participation).

A listeners’ club for women was set up. Once a week women met to listen to a locally-produced radio programme that dealt with issues that they (the women) had previously identified as important. They could send in questions via mobile phones or record them to be aired the following week and an expert was available to give advice. Women at the listening club, learning how to use a cell phone Some listeners raised concerns about the use of farm inputs such as improved seed varieties, set up) was a former train station post and only 50 kilometers herbicides and pesticides for storage. The usual practice was to outside Kaduna towards the Nigerian capital, land-lines are not go to the village market and buy whatever was offered there. available. The wireless signals of only one out of Nigeria’s seven One listener called the show and told the audience how he lost a mobile phone service providers reach Gwagwada. Most people bumper harvest after an incorrect application of fertilizer. Zakaria, find themselves having to climb the nearby hill-tops to get a an agro-chemical expert, advised farmers to be very careful when signal. “Companies boast about expanding their coverage,” says using chemicals on the farm, which needs detailed directions from ARDA. “But the poorer rural locations are not in their plans due agricultural experts. Other participant, Hannatu Yusuf, shared low to commercial and poor infrastructure.” cost strategies for preserving beans in storage explaining how dried pepper and other spices had worked for her. Telephone numbers A change in the position of the women in of experts were read out on the air and they received calls from the community listeners, especially from women from the listeners’ club. Nyageris are now proud to say that gender relations towards A radio show on ICTs and why women seem to be left behind farming information actually changed after the intervention. “Men in the use of information devices took up the issue. Many people confessed their appreciation for women who they now believe own mobile phones and most owners are men (two women in have access to concrete farming information because they are in a group of 25 had a phone of their own). Not only are women touch with agriculture specialists who they came to know about culturally biased to look at technology with a certain reservation, via the radio programme. Men are now more confident to ask they are also more prone to spend their own money on food or advice concerning farming from women because they are more school fees than men are. One woman listener recounted how her knowledgeable than they were in the past”, Nyager said. husband refused to let her have a mobile phone for fear it would Another direct consequence was the setting up of an adult make her “promiscous”. In the show women were encouraged to literacy school. Many women were illiterate and unable to send come together and collectively buy phones. . text messages (by far the cheapest means of communication) and The listeners’ club was given a phone and women were trained wanted to change the situation. They persuaded the church to on how to use it. The main aim was to provide them with a means form a literacy school for them and they are being taught to read of actively seeking information: farming tips from other farmers, and write in Hausa. Recognising from the onset the value of achieving strength government representatives, agricultural extension workers, colleagues from other markets and of course, the radio station. It in numbers, the female members of the listeners club expressed was also used to generate income for the club by placing a charge an interest in evolving into a vocational, development group or a farmers’ co-operative. ARDA staff helped assemble the on received and dialed calls, which brought mixed results. information and set guidelines for formalising the group and the Poor telecommunications infrastructure footwork required to deal with red tape. With their assistance In part, the mixed results are due to serious infrastructure issues. the group has registered with the local government as the Agbada Though Gwagwada (the village where the listener’s club was Association. January - March 2010 |


Photo Credit: ARDA

The listeners’ club

Photo Credit: ARDA

T h e w o m e n h a ve s h ow n t h e i r commitment by forfeiting their weekly meeting refreshment allowance and using it to pay for the registration of their association and open a bank account as the first step to leveraging investments to their enterprises. Thanks to the association many women managed to get a certificate from the local government, which enables them to have access to more farming information free of charge from the state-run agricultural development programme. Information and Communications Technologies were successfully integrated into women farmer’s lives by taking into account women’s needs and concerns from the very beginning. Technology was combined with theatre and music and after some initial reluctance women could manipulate and feel confident using different devices. Women from the listeners club filmed themselves and gained confidence through the use of technology.

Technology for fun “During the club meetings, the project staff always asked permission to video record sessions and take photographs with a digital camera. Soon the younger members started showing interest in the recordings and immediate photo feedbacks, so they were given an opportunity to handle both cameras and to record themselves”, says ARDA. Almost all the women got some hands-on experience of filming. The demystification of filming and taking photographs was a confidence booster and continues to ensure a light-hearted, fun and playful experience for these women during the meetings. GenARDIS is currently supporting other fourteen initiatives that are empowering rural women through ICTs in Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. GenARDIS is coordinated by the Association for Progressive

Communications (APC) and supported by theTechnical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), The International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Development (HIVOS) and the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD). „ References: 1. 2. 3.

Acknowledgement APC wants to thank Data Phido and Seember Nyager, of ARDA, for their enthusiasm, commitment and generosity when sharing their experiecnes and learnings.

Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity – Special Report This report, published by GSMA and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, is the first detailed global study of its kind, and attempts to understand the nature of women mobile subscribers in low and middle-income countries such as Kenya and India, and highlights the barriers facing women’s adoption of mobile technologies. It also shows that, by extending the benefits of mobile phone ownership to more women, a host of social and economic goals can be advanced. The


report reveals for the first time the extent of the gender gap in mobile usage in many low and middle-income countries. It shows that a woman in a low or middle-income country is 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. Closing this gender gap would bring the benefits of mobile phones to an additional 300 million women, empowering and enabling them to stay better connected with family and friends, improving their safety, and helping them obtain paid work, in line with the third

UN Millennium Development Goal on gender equality. The mobile phone as documented in the report is an effective productivity and development tool which creates education, health, employment, banking and business opportunities. From the GSMA website, i4d | January - March 2010


Smallholder farmers and ICT-KM ICTs can help smallholder farmers maximise the return on agricultural inputs, provided timely and relevant information is made available to them.

Research organisations like the CGIAR cannot be satisfied just knowing they have produced high quality science. It is essential that the outputs of their research are communicated and put to use in the village, on the ground, in the lab, or across the negotiating table. This is where the ICT-KM Programme of the CGIAR plays a role in helping to get vital research results out to the people who need it the most. The Programme recognises that scientific research organisations are becoming more and more information intensive, multi-disciplinary and partnership-based, requiring up-to-date communications infrastructure and knowledge sharing practices. As such, the Programme helps the CGIAR develop and sustain a culture of active information and knowledge sharing involving timely yet cost-effective multi-directional communications, the know-how to collaborate, and the tools to support multi-disciplinary and multicultural teams.

Smallholder farmers and ICTs

Enrica Porcari Leader, ICT-KM Programme Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

January - March 2010 |

To better serve the CGIAR, the Programme also keeps an eye on emerging ICT developments. Certain ICT trends are currently influencing the way in which research is carried out, and how the results of research are shared and communicated all along the dissemination chain for the benefit of researchers, extension workers, and smallholder farmers, among others. Like any business owner, smallholder farmers want to get the most out of their resources. ICTs can help them maximise the return on inputs such as land, fertilizer, livestock feed, water, pesticides, labour, etc. ICTs can also warn farmers about potential risks from pests, adverse weather and climatic changes, and alert

them to the best places to market their produce. Unfortunately, many smallholder farmers in developing countries have little or no access to the ICT applications that could help them increase their outputs and sell their produce at a reasonable price. Lack of information about the technology available coupled with limited financial resources make it almost impossible for many farmers to escape from their existing poverty levels without interventions from organisations like the CGIAR.

Scanning the ICT Environment A scan of the agricultural research landscape shows that many smallholder farmers (as well as researchers, extension workers, etc.) can benefit from current ICTs that can be utilised to: • Collect agricultural and environmental data from existing sources for re-use by other applications or to conduct studies. • Process large datasets in such a way as to improve crop production, livestock breeding, farming techniques, marketing analysis, etc. • Gather and manipulate geospatial information to help farmers determine, for example, the best time to plant and harvest their crops. Such information can also be used to map poverty and hunger in different areas. • Organise data and information so that experts can contribute to it. • Embed technology into farm equipment and processes for greater efficiencies. • Connect communities such as farmers and researchers, for the purpose of communication, publication, education and the dissemination of knowledge. (Ballantyne, Maru and Porcari, 2009)


What the ICT-KM Programme is doing The Programme uses several different approaches, some of them outlined below, within its network to harness the innovations in ICTs to further the way it works. The AGCommons (Agricultural Geospatial Commons) Programme identifies and develops data, tools and services that deliver relevant, timely and affordable locationspecific information to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and those working on their behalf. (http:// The CGIAR Virtual Library provides instant access to research on agriculture, hunger, poverty and the environment, thereby removing barriers to information and making publicly available information more accessible to researchers in the CGIAR and partners in developing countries. ( The Triple-A Framework seeks to help CGIAR Centres/ Programmes and their scientists decide on the level of Availability, Accessibility and Applicability (AAA) they want for their research outputs, and also the pathways with which to turn these outputs into International Public Goods, thereby ensuring that the results of CGIAR research gets into the hands of the people who really need it. ( CGMap is an innovative online application that consolidates research project data from across the CGIAR Centres and makes it available via an easy-to-use interface, thereby providing a ‘map’ that allows easy navigation through information on research and research-related activities that the Centres and Challenge Programmes plan to carry out. A map of ongoing research projects, which answers the question “Who is doing what and where?”, is also being compiled with direct input from scientists. ( CGXchange 2.0 enables users to connect, share and collaborate online; it embraces a powerful set of easy-to-use, online collaboration tools, including, among others, the Google Apps Education Edition. ( Knowledge Sharing: Since its inception, the ICT-KM Programme has striven to embed a culture of knowledge sharing in CGIAR events and has successfully mainstreamed knowledge sharing principles and tools in CGIAR Centres and Programmes. (

The need Agriculture is inextricably tied to the physical environment and the unpredictability of nature. Factors such as climate, soil and water availability play more of a defining role in agriculture than in any other economic sector. And nowhere is this more evident than in Africa. A farm’s location greatly affects its chance of success and productivity. However, local farmers do not have access to location-specific (geospatial) information about their farms. If smallholder farmers are to be consistently successful, from one season to another, and from one year to another, they need to have access to essential location-specific information. They need early information systems to mitigate the effects of extreme climatic events; they need to know which crops are best suited to their land, how to minimise the threats posed by pest and diseases, and where to go to sell their products. Consistent returns on their investments will guarantee food in their stomach, education for their children, and a life of dignity that many take for granted. The opportunity Geospatial information is critical to good decision-making throughout the agriculture sector and not just for the smallholder farmers. Input suppliers, researchers, extension agencies and policy makers can also benefit from timely information that can help increase the efficiency, accuracy and productivity of work flows; lead to improved collaboration; aid in budgeting and cost avoidance; and help create a robust information base. The answer

AGCommons: A focus on location intelligence As a newly-established, Africa-based Service Bureau managed by One of the most recent initiatives of the ICT-KM Programme to have shown immediate results on the ground (with its QuickWin projects) is the AGCommons Programme mentioned above. AGCommons came about as the result of a real and urgent need to help smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.


the ICT-KM Programme, AGCommons will provide geospatial information technology services to extend the reach and impact of existing agricultural initiatives working to improve the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. With real-time, location-specific (geospatial) information, i4d | January - March 2010

farmers will be able to plan and decide more effectively which crops or livestock will perform best on their farms, anticipate and manage disease outbreaks and rainfall shortfalls, as well as decide when to harvest and in which markets to sell their produce. As well as extending geospatial information to smallholder farmers, AGCommons will also enable the same farmers to communicate their knowledge on various farming aspects along with location specific data back to the organisations working on their behalf. These services will be provided through a ‘commons’ approach, to create the greatest possible good for the largest number of people, and will include data development and acquisition, visualisation and cartography, and sophisticated spatial modeling specific to the agriculture development sector. AGCommons will establish working relationships with existing service providers and work within the community to build capacities currently in short supply locally. AGCommons will provide accurate, consistent agricultural databases enhanced with critical demographic and location-specific information capabilities to institutions at the lowest possible cost, by leveraging data available through grant agencies and by taking advantage of economies of scale resulting from the aggregation and availability of data or metadata in a single location. „

References : •

Peter Ballantyne, Ajit Maru, and Enrica Porcari, 2009. Information and Communication Technologies – Opportunities to Mobilise Agricultural Science for Development,

A few on-the-ground examples: AGCommons Quick-Win projects Seeing is Believing West African smallholder farmers are witnessing unpredictable changes in their land. Some are noticing that their soil is not as fertile as it used to be, and in some places, where there was once soil, there are now barren patches – useless for planting anything but uncertainty and fear for their future livelihoods. When farming traditions come to you as easy as breathing, and when you know no other way of working the land, it is difficult to know what to do when yesterday’s wisdom no longer holds true. Many farmers are giving up; abandoning land that has been in their families for generations and heading to the cities in search of work. Smallholder farmers need to know that something can be done to help them make the most of their changing landscapes. This is where the Seeing Is Believing – West Africa (SIBWA) Project, one of AGCommons’ five Quick Win Projects, can help make a difference. SIBWA has the technology and the expertise to provide smallholders farmers with simple maps that use very high resolution imagery (VHRI) to show them not just what’s on their land, but also, to a certain extent, what lies beneath it. Farmers can now find out which fields will produce the highest crop yields and which piece of land can benefit from fertilizers. January - March 2010 |

Banana disease monitoring It is important to monitor banana plant diseases to determine the course of action to be taken (e.g. targeted educational campaigns to increase awareness, increased agriculture extension activities, increased banana disease R and D) based on the level of disease incidence/severity and the level of farmer knowledge of disease control within a particular location. However, the effective monitoring of banana diseases requires Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) trained in proper disease identification methodologies, data collection protocol (utilising mobile surveys, digitals cameras and Global Positioning units), and with the necessary communication skills to ensure targeted farmers understand the ramifications of the diagnosed disease, the importance of continual disease monitoring, the best practices for disease control, and the channels to obtain more agriculture information. Under the AGCommons CKW Project, CKWs were trained in various data collection and information delivery techniques using mobile phone applications targeting smallholder farmers. CKWs rigorously tested four applications that focused on conducting digital surveys for the World Food Programme; delivering weather, market and agriculture information obtained through SMS; and providing farmers with direct access to agriculture information through a dedicated agriculture call centre.



Rural farmer’s information networks Access to information enhances farmers’ negotiation power and income as has been demonstrated in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Denise Senmartin Knowledge Sharing Officer, (Thematic Networks, International Programmes) International Institute for Communication and Development

Access to information enhances farmers’ negotiation power and income. This has been demonstrated by initiatives in Mali and Burkina Faso, where farmers groups are working to find ways to improve their livelihood opportunities by allowing greater access to information for increasing production, developing new partnerships and enhancing commercialisation. For them, accessing updated and proper information is essential and vital. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) expand the possibilities in this field, providing new tools and facilitating the process of setting up and strengthening agriculture information networks in rural areas. ICTs are used in agriculture for various activities, from market price information and product visibility, to traceability and certification, production and processing techniques. In the case of Mali, with a rural population of about 75%, and of Burkina Faso with 85%, harnessing the potential of ICT has become an important aspect of farmers’ associations work. Based on the experience of working with farmer associations in these countries for several years, this article addresses some of the main aspects that characterise the rural farmer’s information networks, the challenges they face, and the possible aspects to take into account to move forward.

The making of rural farmer information networks

Francois Laureys Manager, (Country Programmes, Mali and Burkina Faso),International Institute for Communication and Development


The Regional Committee for Coordination of Rural People (CRCR) was founded in 1996 with the main objective of representing and defending the interests of producers in Mali’s Sikasso area by taking their concerns into account in rural development policies at regional, national and international levels. CRCR is

composed by seven Local Committees for Coordination of Farmers’ Organisations (CLCOP) from the Sikasso area, counting 215 organisations (of which 115 are women’s organisations). In Burkina Faso, the Federation of Professional Agricultural Producers of Sissili (FEPPASI) was founded in 1998 in the Sissili province to increase producers’ organisational capacities and improve their agricultural production and consequently, their income. This network has its headquarters in Léo (the province’s administrative centre), includes five local unions and more than five thousand cereal, fruit and vegetable producers. Both initiatives have something in common: they are working to strengthen the position of farmers in the market, as well as engaging in the policy processes that directly affect them. Both have been looking into the right mechanisms and tools that can help them achieve their objectives. Based on concrete demands coming out of local round table processes, since 2005, IICD has been supporting the introduction of ICT in the organisations’ work with the objective of improving agricultural information channels. Both projects included from the start, capacity building, local content development and equipment components, as well as organisational change management support. Trainings, development of educational and support materials, as well as equipment installation have been carried out with support from IICD staff working with local partners. In the case of Mali, CRCR started a project called Jèkafo Gèlèkan, meaning “let’s talk under the palaver tree.” The project is using computers and the Internet to improve information streams to and from the CLCOPs, and local radio to disseminate specific information on a large i4d | January - March 2010

scale. By using ICT, rural dwellers – both producers and processors – can learn about opportunities for improving their economic situation. Besides their advocacy and lobbying activities, CRCR also strengthens its members by offering training on marketing and production techniques and by encouraging them to share practical information and their experiences in farming. A regular broadcast is produced on issues related to the Agriculture legislation (Loi d’Orientation Agricole or ‘LOA’) and potential implications of changes in this legislation. All local radios in the Sikasso province are involved in this communication system. FEPPASI in Burkina Faso set up the Sissili Vala Kori project to improve communication and information exchange between the farmers’ federation and its members. To achieve this, two small telecentres were set up in the villages of Bieha and FEPPASI members sharing the news bulletin Boura and equipped with computers. At the end of 2006, 150 members Both experiences mention how the use of ICT as means of of FEPPASI and 5 leaders were trained in the basic principles communication (in particular the Internet and mobile phones) of cooperative work using multimedia materials. By 2009, have reduced costs in travel. They can also access digital versions according to the Federation’s President Moussa Joseph Dagano, of training materials, instead of having to resort to printed, hardover 8,000 farmers had been trained in production and food- copy versions. Also members mention that with ICT, they can processing techniques, using video, photos and presentations. find more information on the agricultural production chain, on The organisation also started to build a regional and international the selection of seeds and fertilizers, as well as to make contact with clients for his products in other regions. network through the FEPPASI website. For reasons of trust and confidence, the integration of information centres in farmer organisations, like in the case of a Impact of ICT adoption in the information CLCOP has been more successful than trying to attract farmers to networks and lessons learned According to the results of monitoring and evaluation surveys a commercial telecentre or a community-based information centre and focus groups carried out yearly, members of CRCR point out (CBIC). This is now being taken into account when considering that the use of ICT has highly improved exchange of information, the platforms to be used by the rural farmer’s information both between the Local Committees for Coordination of Farmers’ networks. Results of questionnaires among farmers in Sissili revealed Organisations and its members and with the different partners at regional and national levels. They now can register and find that more than 75 percent of the respondents indicated that as a information, save and print documents at each CLCOP, and type result of the project they were more aware of ICT possibilities for and distribute data. e-mail facilitates information and documents the agricultural sector. In the Sikasso, results reveal an awareness level of 60 percent and empowerment level of 73 percent. exchange with regional and national partners. According to FEPPASI, the development of general ICT skills Empowerment indicates what people have done as result of their to search for and distribute information, as well as to create their awareness. Both rural farmer’s information networks have greatly own digital resources with pictures, has considerably reduced the length of trainings and enhanced the impact. An impact study benefited from mainstreaming ICT in their activities in terms conducted in 2007 by INERA, a Burkinabe farmers’ research of communication, knowledge transfer and commercialization. institute, revealed that farmers who received training have been Farmers can now boost their crop yields and income by having able to double and even triple their production levels. On average, quick access to information on market prices and production agricultural production of maize was increased from 0.5 tonnes per and food processing techniques. The networks are looking into hectare in 2003 to 4.5 tons in 2007. In the case of Jèkafo Gèlèkan, expanding their access and usage of these technologies to reach 40.3% of users indicated to have seen an economic impact of the more farmers and expand their role in the marketplace. project on their lives. January - March 2010 |


Challenges for rural farmer information networks and proposed solutions The issue of long-term sustainability remains a main challenge to be tackled by the involved farmer’s organisations. In the case of FEPPASI, by helping farmers to move from subsistence farming to commercial farming, they have been able to start requesting fees. Progressively, farmers are becoming more able and willing to pay fees for their training, partially responding to the sustainability problem. In Sikasso, the CLCOP were working on the promotion of useful materials to be sold at the centre, and solutions like taxing on overall sales are being studied. Developing services that have a direct influence on revenue increase, such as linking farmers to markets, may, in the long term be a more viable option for economic sustainability. Both in Mali and Burkina Faso there is a general lack of capacity. Budgeting and providing for continuous training of centres’ managers in the ‘train the trainer’ model has proved a successful one. To achieve success good and trustworthy enabling partners should be identified for continuing training at community level. Energy, maintenance of the ICT equipment and connectivity remains a challenge. Shared energy and connectivity models are one solution to address this challenge; another model are hybrid solutions that consider several access options in the community, for connectivity would be through dial-up, mobile, DSL and satellite. In the case of FEPPASI, their dial-up connection was replaced by VSAT in 2009 and decided to share bandwidth with other organisations by charging a fee, becoming a service provider. While this helps in their sustainability and connectivity, measures need to be taken for the initiative to find balance serving both roles as service provider and association. Another challenge is the concentration of equipment’s use by the literate and male population. One of the reasons is that women speak the local languages and are not fluent in French.

More content is being developed in local languages to address this problem but much more needs to be done. It has been suggested to provide a keyboard in the local language, adapt training to their practical level, and produce more materials based on testimonials and images. Another suggestion is aimed at involving youth in the processes as they have the interest and potential to learn fast and help their families in accessing the information they need. A related aspect that comes out of interviews is that not all information reaches local farmers since they are dependent on those with higher education to pass the information that has been received via the internet. This makes clear how important it is to make information available by various means, from face-to-face interaction, notice boards and printed materials, to multimedia materials on CD/DVD, local radio and mobile phones. In the case of the mobile phone, however, the costs for the local farmers should be considered, as it is mentioned in some cases the new burden they can pose in a family. A challenge exposed by CRCR’s President, Bakary Diarra, in a Peer Assist session in 2009, was the lack of visibility for its base organisations and how to organise themselves to become more visible at the local level. The peer advice was to devise a wide-ranging communication strategy to give base organisations better visibility and to lobby with local authorities to obtain recognition for base organisations and involve them in events of an agricultural nature. FEPASSI’s President, Moussa Joseph Dagano, expressed they are facing two content management challenges: firstly, how to enter data regularly and easily into the database given the large number of producers; secondly, how to contribute to database mapping. The peer advice proposed solutions were to provide database’s access to group leaders and training to enter the data, supply they with laptop computers and modems, and restrict data collection to three phases (beginning and end of the campaign, and survey per farm category). For the second challenge, he was advised to train group leaders in mapping software and make an assessment of the investment against added value. He was also advised to consolidate skills before beginning the mapping phase and develop an information management strategy. Both networks face the challenge of consolidating and archiving all data and training materials. It is therefore important for them to develop a strategy for collecting and managing information, and to encourage and guide trainers and extension workers in the processing and sharing of content.

Final thoughts

FEPPASI animateur and members at test field


The rural farmer information networks in Mali and Burkina Faso have gone through similar processes and face similar challenges. ICTs provide possibilities to enhance the way these networks address these challenges, as well as new avenues to develop farmers’ capacities i4d | January - March 2010

and knowledge to work for better farming and therefore, better livelihood opportunities. As Bakary Diarra mentions: “In five years time I hope that the improved communication between our members and the higher authorities will make a real difference to the farmers and that their living conditions will have improved considerably. I also hope that many more people will become computer-literate and that the local branches of CRCR at the community level will know how to best use of the new communication tools and take responsibility for informing their farmer cooperatives and other local branches of the CRCR.” Moussa Joseph Dagano also says: “ICT are the basis for farmers development. We need to continue.” Both farmers believe in how ICT are part of a concrete strategy to promote local capacity development and ownership, and develop meaningful interactions and associative capacities of the participants involved. They believe and their members concur, that by continuing in this path the information networks they lead do have a future. „

Member of Jefako Gelekan project explains how the information system works

References: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

CRCR official website: Jefako Gelekan project description: FEPPASI official website: FEPPASI project description: ICTUpdate Issue 52, Farmers teaching farmers: Internship report: “An internship in Sikasso, Mali, on the progress and success of the project Jèkafo Gèlèkan. Research into the impact of the ICT infrastructure on the organization of the CRCR and its network.” Monitoring an Evaluation Reports 2006-2009, IICD

Acknowledgement Collaborated with input for this article Ms. Bénédicte Marcilly ( and Ms. Miep Lenoir ( Knowledge Sharing Officer Country Programme Mali and Burkina Faso respectively at the International Institute for Communication and Development.

International Institute for Communication and Development With the right information, people in developing countries can considerably improve their livelihoods and quality of life. Better access to information and communication technology (ICT) is particularly vital in enabling them to achieve their goals. This is why the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) helps create practical and sustainable solutions that connect people and enable them to benefit from ICT. For maximum impact we work closely with partners from the public, private and notfor profit sectors. IICD is active in Africa and Latin-America where we bring about technical and social innovation that create and enhance development opportunities in education, good governance, health, livelihoods (mainly agriculture), and the environment. We strive for a strong gender balance in all our activities and have made this an integral part of our approach which combines capacity development, knowledge sharing, January - March 2010 |

lobbying and advocacy. Our overall aim is to help our local partners – teachers, farmers, health workers, local government officials and civil servants – to successfully formulate and implement their own ICT-supported development policies and programmes. So far, 136 projects have been supported by IICD, out of which 40% are now continuing independently and 11% have been closed. These projects and programmes reach a total of 828,000 direct end-users and 6,2 million indirect end-users, the majority of whom live in rural areas. IICD was established by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1996, and is located in The Hague in the Netherlands. Our core funders include the Dutch DirectorateGeneral for Development Cooperation (DGIS) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). We also work closely together with the Dutch not-for-profit organisations Cordaid, Hivos and PSO. For more information, please visit



Information system for small business Katalyst supports pro-poor growth in a wide range of value chains through facilitation of market mechanisms in Bangladesh.

Martin Dietschi Knowledge Manager IC Swisscontact, Z端rich


Swisscontact, the Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation, is promoting business driven sustainable development through technical and vocational education and training, enterprise promotion and environment protection. Over its 50 years of existence, the foundation has accumulated a vast experience in developing financial and non-financial services for small producers in over 30 developing and transition countries. Swisscontact was one of the pioneers in developing sustainable markets for business development services. With the emergence of new information and communication technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones, new opportunities arose to reach also small producers in areas remote from the economic centres. Swisscontact promoted such services in several countries. In Peru and Honduras, SC developed an SMS service with agricultural information. For a small subscription fee, farmer receive text messages with a mix of information (prices, weather, inputs, fertilizers, farming techniques etc.) that helps them obtain better prices at markets and improves their productivity. These services were supplemented by information via Internet. The services were provided by local operators and the fees paid by farmers made them financially sustainable in the long term. In Tanzania, Swisscontact has used radio to disseminate farming and small business information in a similar way. Radio was also used as a tool to influence political leaders. For this purpose, phone-in shows and live interviews were conducted with local businesspeople. In Indonesia hotlines were installed by local governments to receive complaints and suggestions for improvements via mobile phone, e-mail and letters with a guaranteed response.

In Bangladesh, Swisscontact together with GTZ-International Ser vices implements the programme Katalyst with the aim of supporting pro-poor growth in a wide range of value chains through facilitation of market mechanisms. Among them was the establishment of ICT-based information provision for small farmers presented in this article.

The problem In many areas like rural Bangladesh, small farmers are limited by insufficient capacities of existing information services e.g. the governmental extension services, which leads to the current situation of sub-par farming techniques and limited access to markets. Farmers and small entrepreneurs have a wide variety of needs around production of agricultural goods, but also personal needs (health, education, communication, administrative procedures etc.) for themselves and their families. The current availability and form of information at times make it very difficult for small farmers to access it.

The solutions Previous experiences of Katalyst confirmed that low-cost/high volume services can be meaningful for small producers and at the same time a profitable business if provided by suitable commercial service providers. Modern information platforms offer a wide range of services: information, egovernment, cheap communications over long distances and more. If the demanded services can be provided by a sufficiently large communication network to achieve the necessary massive outreach, small farmers in rural areas get an appropriate service. In most developing countries like Bangladesh mobile telephone companies can provide this access. i4d | January - March 2010

In Bangladesh two successful solutions emerged which are described in the following: • Rural Information Centres using the Internet as a source of information, providing locally adapted information by a local entrepreneur in direct contact with his/her clients. These are called Community Information Centres (CIC) • Helpline via mobile phone answering questions on agriculture, setting up an enterprise, financial services etc.)

The development process Through its work with small producers, Katalyst became aware of the needs for information in particular of farmers. An indepth analysis identified the needed content to be provided. The development of possible solutions resulted in a pilot project to confirm the viability of rural information centres to channel the information provided on specialised web pages. Three information centres were set up in cooperation with two small providers who invested in hardware and staff; Katalyst, working with a content provider, helped develop the information and gave technical support and training. The pilot project was evaluated after a year of operation. During the same time, Grameen Phone, the largest mobile operator in Bangladesh was also exploring the viability of expanding its data and shared access presence in the rural areas. Katalyst held a series of discussion with Grameenphone and both agreed to form a partnership, whereby around 550

Ensuring profitability Farmer Faruk saves his crops: CIC case Mohammed Faruk is a 35 year old seasoned farmer from Kapasia, Gazipur living with his mother, elder brother and his family. He mostly grows rice but also does vegetable and jute. Recently his jute crop were turning black in the middle and dying off. The potatoes he was cultivation were also suffering from the same symptoms. He was very worried that his whole crop could get destroyed. At that point in time Faruk got in touch with Prince, a Community Information Centre owner in his locality. Although the solution to the problem was not available immediately in the centre, Prince helped Faruk get the answer by posting a query to relevant agriculture specialist. As advised by the specialist the next day, he used a pesticide for his jute crop and fertilizer for the potato. Using this information he was able to save almost half of his crops amounting to BDT 35,000. With this income, Faruk has taken a life insurance plan and in the future plans to buy more land to farm. Katalyst is working with Grameen Phone to establish such community information centres across the country whereby rural farmer and community can get access to agriculture information and basic services.

Shahin’s fruitful call to the helpline: A Banglalink case

Pictire 1: Grameen: Increase subscriber base, also with rural poor. This is Katalyst’s target group.

community information centres were launched across the country. Under the scheme, small individual operators invest in the necessary infrastructure and enter a contract with Grameen Phone. The latter contributes in terms of connectivity, service offer, capacity building and promotion. Katalyst support has helped Grameenphone develop appropriate offers for farmers, modules for the operators and promote the centres to farmers.. Grameen conducted a test run with a small number of CIC and upon success extended this to several hundred CIC throughout the country. This success demonstrated how it is viable to target farmers with information and basic services. This interest to target farmer with information service was also picked up by Banglalink, the second largest mobile phone operator working with Katalyst, launched its own services aimed at farmers: a helpline for agriculture.Again, the business model was developed in cooperation with Katalyst and implemented in a call centre by Banglalink. After the success of the first helpline, a second one was created as a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs founding a business. This second service answers questions related to access to finance, start up a business, such as legal issues, taxes and more. January - March 2010 |

Shahin Alam, a young and energetic youth from Savar, owns a small piece of land of around 10 to 15 decimals where he planted about 15 papaya trees and 25 guava trees. He has been gardening for 5 years, however a few months ago the papaya trees started to get weak and feeble: his yield fell significantly. Seeing this he went for help to other neighbours and agricultural shops. But none of the advices provided were fruitful. Finally when he saw Banglalink advertisements on television and billboard and SMS, he thought of giving it a try. He called 7676 and asked for the cure for papaya fungus. He used the medicine suggested by the service and not only did his trees become healthier but his profit through selling the papayas also increased. He was able to sell them for BDT 500-700 per month, whereas in the past, he was able to sell the fruits only at BDT 200-300 from the ailing trees. He uses the profit earned mainly for his 7 member household consumption and in future he is thinking of expanding his fruit garden and may also start a poultry farm on large scale.

Achieved Results Since the launch of these centres, a certain percentage have closed down for various reasons. A diagnostic study revealed that among others geographic location, entrepreneurial skills and others were factors behind such closure of CICs. For those that are running, centres reached profitability around 15 months after beginning operation. The investment per centre was about USD 1,500. The surviving CIC serve an average of about 9 clients per day, 21% of them requiring agricultural information. They generate


a daily income of 3-4 USD per day for each centre operator (in a country where over 80% of the population live on less than 2 USD per day). This accumulates to an estimated 1.5 million information transactions per year and an estimated income of 700,000 USD created. An impact study resulted in the estimate that through the information services around 17,000 jobs have been created in farms and small businesses and the income of farmers has been safeguarded or increased. The Agriculture Helpline established in December 2008, currently registers over 98,000 calls per month, up from 75,000 at its inception. 56% clients are farmers and over 93% found the service useful. The overwhelming success of the helpline was also recognized internationally when, in 2009 it won several awards including GSMA Asia for the Best Mobile Enterprise Application Product or Service and the Manthan Award South Asia 2009 in e-Enterprise and Livelihood category.

Conclusions There are several requirements that need to be fulfilled for such a service to be successful: • Information centres needs to provide a range of demand led services which helps in promoting its sustainability • Careful analysis of the situation and market constraints • Previous experience on needs of farmers • Risk of start-up to be shared between business investor and external source (e.g. donor-funded project) • Availability of mobile phone network (sufficient bandwidth for CIC) • Population density => sufficient number of potential clients

=> economy of scale Large provider with a business interest, overlap of donor and business interest: • A business interest is connected to a competitive environment, where providers are looking for services differentiating them from their competitors. • CIC: Local entrepreneur with a certain level of computer literacy • CIC: Clients with access to ‘interpreter’ of written information • CIC: Service mix adapted to demand (not only agricultural information) • Provision of content adapted to clients (comprehensibility) => investment • Location of the CIC is one of the key factors that contributes to the sustainability of the centre Mobile phone networks facilitate access to information and communication for rural people. A variety of access technologies (Internet, call centres, links to mass media) allows to set-up high volume/low cost services, benefitting the providers as well as the poor clients. There is a high potential for making such markets work for the poor in many countries. „ •

Acknowledgement This article has been written with contributions from Shahroz Jalil, Director, Services Group, Katalyst, and Manish Pandey, Regional Director, South Asia, Swisscontact. Further information:,

ADB to support on climate change Asian Development Bank (ADB) has stepped ahead to assist Nepal on those looming challenges. ADB that recently came up with country partnership strategy (CPS) for 2010-2012 has for the first time incorporated climate change and environmental sustainability as one of its pillars of operations in Nepal. The bank attributes Nepal as one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters and exposed to adversities of climate change for the shift in this priority. “Climate change has exposed country´s agricultural and hydro-resources to serious risks. In dry seasons, the country suffers from water scarcity and there is also a risk of glacier lakes exploding,” says Barry J Hitchcock, country director of ADB Nepal. The new pledge from one of the leading multilateral donors has come


at a time when natural disasters from floods and landslides during monsoon have become a common phenomenon. Excessive pumping out of ground water too has depleted underground water level, posing particular threats to water management and agriculture. ADB has said that it would also continue its assistance on socio-economic and governance fronts. Broad-based inclusive economic growth, inclusive social development and governance reform programs as its other three core areas of operations. For the CPS, which ADB has unveiled aligning its priority with the government´s 3-year Interim Plan, it has increased its assistance to $ 671.40 million. “Going by the CPS, Nepal can effectively receive assistance of about $261.50 million a year from ADB over the span of next

three years,” said Hitchcock. “And if the government performed well, the volume will further go up,” he added. Apart from the regular sources, ADB is also mulling over mobilizing additional resources through co-finances, public-private partnership and non-sovereign loans. Under its investment plan for 2010, ADB has formulated 21 projects and programmes which include community irrigation, crop diversification and commercialization, rural finance sector development, finance and capital market development, Kathmandu sustainable urban transportation, second urban integrated environmental reform and West Seti Hydropower Project. i4d | January - March 2010

Plugging information gaps through ICTs ICTs offer great potential for economic growth and social empowerment of farmers by linking agricultural supply chains to national and global markets.

Sapna A Narula Assistant Professor, Department of Policy Studies Faculty of Policy and Planning TERI University, New Delhi, India

January - March 2010 |

ICTs offer a promising potential for social and economic empowerment of rural people in India especially those involved in agriculture (Narula, 2010). However, the opportunities in this field are not limited to agriculture, but are extended to health, education and e-governance as well. Most of the ICT models including both private sector as well as public sector have been launched with agricultural applications as their prime focus. These models are providing a range of services to fulfill the information deficit our farmers are facing in agricultural production, input-supply, agricultural extension, market information/ intelligence and price discovery(Narula and Sharma, 2008; Narula, 2009). Inspite of all these initiatives, it has been felt that there is a huge gap existing between what is being offered and what is being demanded.(Cecchini and Raina, 2004; Chetley, 2006; Parmar, 2007; Narula, 2008, Narula, 2009b, Saith and Vijaybhaskar, 2008). The information modules which are too generalised irrespective of the region, crop, farmer, agro-climatic zone can not really fulfill the strategic objectives of these ICT interventions. (Jain et al, 2008; Parmar et al, 2007). Hence, a strong need has been felt to explore important issues pertaining to this gap such as assessing the information-supply gap, finding out the impact assessment of information modules, design and development of client-centric initiatives and enhancing adoption and use of ICT services by target beneficiaries. This article is a part of a larger study conducted in district of Udham Singh Nagar of Uttarakhand, India pertaining to the use of ICTs by farmers. In this article, an effort has been made to address issues related to the prioritisation of informational needs of the farmers in the district and the possession level of ICTs among the target group so as to further explore the

potential of ICTs such as computers, the Internet and mobile phones among the rural folk/farmers. The study The study has been carried out in the district of Udham Singh Nagar (U.S. Nagar), Uttarakhand state of India. The agriculture in Uttarakhand is characterised by small and marginal farmers owning small and scattered landholdings, scanty marketing infrastructure and lack of market information and intelligence. Hence, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) offer great potential for economic growth and social empowerment of Uttarakhand farmers by linking the agricultural supply chains to national as well as world markets. Information Technology has immense potential in enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of agriculture extension programmes, agricultural trade and dissemination of best agricultural practices (Narula,2009a). This area offers great potential in terms of exports as well as domestic trade of commodities such as paddy, mango and litchi. Also, there is dire need to study the information related needs of the farmers i.e., in which area, at what time and about what aspect of agriculture and other areas they need information. Keeping this in mind, the study was planned with the objectives: 1.) To find the possession level of various ICTs i.e. computers, Internet as well as mobile phones among selected farmers 2.) To identify and prioritise the information needs of the farmers with respect to agricultural aspects 3.) To identify the main sources of information for farmers and further suggest an ICT-based model for agricultural supply chain management. First, an effort was made to identify a set of information pertaining to agriculture


through a pilot survey of farmers in the district. The pilot survey of the farmers was done during the kisaan mela at GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar which revealed the major requirements of their information needs and hence provided the inputs to design the structured questionnaire for the study. Primary data has been collected from 300 paddy and vegetable farmers of districts U.S. Nagar with the help of a structured questionnaire.

Table 2: Penetration level of ICTs among respondents

Findings The findings reveal some important facts about the informational needs of rural people in U.S. Nagar.

for assessment of informational needs of farmers on the basis of cropping operations in India has already been suggested (Narula, 2008) (Table 3).

Table 1: Socio-economic profile of respondents Category 1 Percentage

Table 3: Informational Needs of Farmers

Age 15-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56 and above Education Illiterate Primary High School Graduate Post graduate Language Hindi English Punjabi Others Annual Income (INR) Upto 1 Lakh 1-3 Lakh 3-10 Lakh 10 and Above Landholding size 1 to 5 Acre 5 to 10 Acre 10 to 20 Acre 20 Acre and above

19.15 22.70 26.95 16.31 14.89 10.63 35.13 46.80 14.25 3.19 95.31 16.40 17.18 2.34 20.49 31.14 40.16 8.19 27.34 44.53 18.75 9.37

Means of Communication Possession of Mobile phones Possession of Computers Internet subscribers Internet Awareness Owners of both Computers and Mobile Phones

Pre-sowing • Information on agri inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides • Credit • Weather • Soil testing

Pre-harvest • Good agricultural practices, • Pest management • Time and techniques of harvesting • Packaging

Percentage Respondents 82 5.1 3.2 1.0 4.8

Post-harvest • Post harvest management • Storage • Grading and standardisation • Logistics • Market Information

Market Information • Alternative market channels • Commodity prices • Mandi information • Consumer behaviour

The information, which farmers need about agriculture mainly belong to four categories i.e. agri-inputs, market and supply chain, production and Government related. The selected farmers were asked about their needs regarding various categories of information mentioned in Table 3. Within each category, they were again asked to rank the various subsets of informational needs from extremely important to not important at all. Farmers were of the view that information related to agri-inputs was the most important followed by that related to production, market and supply chain and government respectively. Around 40 percent farmers reported information on agri-inputs to be an extremely important informational need and another 30 percent reported this to be an important need (Table 4). Out of the agri-input needs, seeds, pesticides and fertilizers were the most important inputs which farmers need information for, whereas tractors and agricultural implement needs were considered as important. Around 60 percent of the farmers counted Table 4: Prioritisation of Different Categories of Needs by Farmers

An enquiry into their possession level of mobiles and computers revealed that 82 percent of respondents possessed mobiles, whereas only 5.1 percent of respondents possessed computers at home or at workplace. Only 3.2 percent of respondents subscribed to the Internet, whereas only one percent had knowledge about use of the Internet. 4.8 percent of respondents owned both computers and mobile phones. (Table 2) The study mainly focused on finding out what kind of information is needed and valued by farmers. The information needs of the community has been categorised and segregated on the basis of its importance. For example, crucial information that is required by a farmer for making decisions about his/her crop has been designated as extremely important and so on. A framework


i4d | January - March 2010

information on new brands as important (Table 5). For the information on agri-input, farmers were mainly eager to know about products/brand names of quality seeds, pesticides, correct dosage and time of application and sowing, reliable brands and their availability. Among the market and information related needs, information on commodity prices was found to be the most important followed by agricultural markets and procurement avenues which were rated equally important. Logistics and transport related needs were found to be less important (Table 6). Among the production related needs, around 80 percent of farmers related these as extremely important followed by pest management and sowing practices. Animal husbandry needs were found to be important among 50 percent of farmers, whereas around 20 percent farmers reported them to be most important. The information which was found to be least important was related to farm operations. However, it was observed that weather and climate information is the most important followed by animal husbandry,

Table 7: Ranking of Market and Supply Chain Related Needs

Table 5: Importance of Agri-input Related Needs of Farmers

pest management and sowing practices and farm operations. Among the market and supply chain needs, 40 percent of the respondents reported commodity prices as extremely important while another 35 percent rated it as important need. Farmers were of the view that during the harvest season, they did not have information about prices of commodities in far-off mandis (agricultural markets) Information on agricultural markets and Table 8: Ranking of Government Information Related Needs by Farmers

Table 6: Importance of Agri-input Related Needs of Farmers

new procurement avenue was also found to be important for the farmers. Information on logistics and transport has been found to be moderately important. Information on Government schemes launched for farmers was found to be a high priority need and was rated extremely important by 30 percent farmers, whereas 30 percent reported it as an important need. Information about their local agriculture officers was also asked for as important information requirement. January - March 2010 |


Table 9: Ranking of Information Related Needs ( All categories)

Farmers were also asked about the sources from where they can get information on various aspects. The source of information and the information which is obtained through these sources has been compiled in Table 10. Conclusion and Policy Implications The study concludes that there is a high penetration level of mobile phones among the selected farmers in the district, whereas computer ownership is quite low. A high level of penetration of mobiles reveal a great potential to deliver information through mobiles. It has also been concluded that the farmers of the region Table 10: Sources of Information for Farmers Sl.No. Information source Use Mandi rates, new products, local news, queries 1. Newspaper related to agriculture, advertisements, job-related news, government’s subsidies, contract rates 2. Magazines (related Package of practices of different crops, cost-benefit analysis of different crops, new movies, monthly to agriculture) news, articles. Knowledge about particular crop, like cash crop 3. Pamphlets and a specific disease control, new product/brand launch, new dealer/distributor Expert’s advice, new technologies and hybrid seeds, 4. KVKs/Research disease control measures, weather related advice, input related advice, crop practices Krishak darshan (TV programme) for giving 5. Stations information, upgraded package of practices of agriculture, news, new techniques, fashion trends, market watch Weather information, Government schemes, news, 6. Television disease and pest control Seed sowing, harvesting, input use time and quan7. Radio tity, new technologies, new agricultural machinery including Tractor brands Hybrid seeds, new products such as pesticides/fer8. Fellow Farmers tilizers, new agricultural machinery/implements, improved practices of farming, irrigation related upgradation New products/brands/pest management/ Usage of 9. Farmer Fairs Agri-input dealers pesticides, fertilizers and seed sowing


consider information on agri-inputs and weather and climate as extremely important, whereas information on markets, commodity prices, pest management and animal husbandry and government schemes are counted as important information. The results are useful for managers and policymakers for design and delivery of a needs-based product/service mix based on the needs of farmers. The prioritisation also helps in knowing what information is valued by farmers and for what services he will be willing to pay. It is recommended that managers as well as policymakers design their ICT interventions based on the priorities of farmers. In case of paid services, this type of approach is helpful in designing differential pricing for farmers based on the importance of information. The study is limited in aspect as it has tried to address only one issue i.e. assessing informational needs of farmers. The small sample size in the study also remains one of its limitation. However, this study could further be replicated in other geographical regions with a larger sample size. Further, there are a few questions which remain to be explored eg. What is the demand-supply gap in information delivery? What are the regional differences in demand of information services by farmers? What are the different sources of information for farmers? What has been the impact of ICTs on the social lives of farmers? Who are the target groups and what information services do they need? How can these target groups be best served? „ References: •

Cecchini,S. and Raina,M.(2004).Electronic Government and the rural poor: the Case of Gyandoot, Information Technologies and International Development.2(2),65-75. Chetley,A. (2006) Improving health, connecting people:The Role of ICts in Health Sector of developing countries ( A Farmework paper),Infodev, World Bank,Washington D.C. Narula,S.A. and Chopra, S.(2010) Identifying Stakeholders’ Needs and Constraints Adoption of ICT Services in Rural Areas: The Case of India , forthcoming for Social Responsibility Journal ( Emerald Publishers) Narula, S.A.; Singh,S.P.;Chawla, K.L.and Sikka,B.K. (2009) Empowering Farmers Through Mobile Net Services: A Case of IFFCO-Airtel Alliance in India presented at International Conference on Agribusiness and Rural Development organized by BHU and Tennesse State University at Varanasi, Dec. ,2009 Narula, S.A. (2009a): Empowering Farmers through ICT enabled Agricultural Supply Chains in Uttarakhand , presented at Fourth Uttarakhand Science and Technology Congress held at G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar. November 11-12, 2009 Narula, S.A. (2009b): Usage and Potential of ICT among Farmers: The Missing Link, Key Note Presentation, eIndia 2009 (India’s largest ICT Event): i4d | January - March 2010

• • •

eAgriculture, Hyderabad Inetrnational Convention Centre, Hyderabad, August 25-27,2009 Narula, S.A. and Sharma, A. (2009) Empowering Rural India through ICT Innovations : A Case of Grasso in West Bengal in Advances in Technology and Innovation in Marketing; (Ed. Rajat Gera), McMillan Publishers (India), New Delhi, pp.416-421 Narula, S.A. (2009c) ICT enabled Food Supply Chains, I4D (July-September, 2009),Vol. VII, No.7, pp 29-31. Narula, S.A. (2009d) Social Networking……….. For Farmers, I4D, Feb 2009, pp 32-34 Narula S. A., (2008a) Leveraging ICT to Link Farmers to Markets: A Case of Indian E-Business Models Paper presented in International Conference on Technology and Innovation in Marketing held at IMT, Ghaziabad during 18-19 April, 2008 Narula, S.A., Sharma, N. (2008) Implementing ICTs in Agribusiness I4D,

September, 20-22 available at www. pdf Narula S. A., (2008b) “Leveraging ICT to Link Farmers to Markets: A Case of Indian E-Business Models” in Rajat Gera ( Ed.) “Technology and Innovation in Marketing”, Allied Publishers, new Delhi Narula S.A., (2008c) ICT and Agribusiness: A Suggestive Model based on Mckinsey 7S Framework paper presented in International Forum eIndia, 2008 held at Pragati maidan, New Delhi,2008. Parmar, V.,Keyson,D.andBont,C. (2007).IFIP International Fedration for Information Processing,Shaping Social Beliefs: A Community sensitive health Infoormation System for Rural India In A. Venkatesh,T.Gonzalves,A. Monk and K.Buckner (Eds.) Home Informatics and telematics:ICt for Next Billion (133-143), Boston, springer Parmar,V.( 2009).A Multidisciplinar Approach to ICT Development: information Technology and Development, 89-96

IBM hopes to make mobile devices more accessible IBM is embarking on a research project to design mobile gadgets that are easier to use for people who have disabilities or aren’t fully literate. As part of the project, announced Wednesday, Big Blue will collaborate with India’s National Institute of Design and the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology. The goal is to develop a common interface for mobile devices that will make them easier to use. As digital information becomes more vital, IBM said, it believes the Internet needs to be more accessible to a wider range of people, including those who are illiterate, blind, deaf, and elderly, and those in developing countries. “ T h ro u g h t h i s c o l l a b o r a t i ve research initiative, we will uncover real information accessibility requirements and issues that the elderly and people in developing economies are facing today,” Chieko Asakawa, an IBM Fellow and chief technology officer of IBM’s accessibility research, said in a statement. “By focusing on mobile devices, which have a tremendous potential to empower them, we believe the findings will help us offer affordable services to a large population, who are still deprived of access to key information sources.” Any software created by IBM Research and the universities will be January - March 2010 |

released as open source, freely available for governments and businesses to use, said IBM. Big Blue’s partnership is part of its Open Collaborative Research program, which teams up the company with universities to develop new and

open technologies. The Tokyo center is the first university-based research institute in Japan to join the program,

while the National Institute of Design is the second university in India to do so. IBM researchers in Tokyo and a team from the research center there will focus on making mobile technology easier for Japan’s growing elderly population. In India, IBM Research and the design institute will look at ways to help that country’s non- and semi-literate population find information through mobile devices. “By bringing IBM’s deep knowledge in mobile web and [the Indian institute’s] interface design and ethnological expertise, this initiative is aimed to develop inclusive technologies and help the underprivileged improve their lives,” Dr. Jignesh Khakhar of the National Institute of Design said in a statement. The new research project is just the latest effort by IBM to try to bring technology to people who could be considered outside the mainstream. The company has been recognized in India for its “Spoken Web” technology, which lets people who are illiterate or have vision problems access the Internet by voice.



e-Agriculture in action VERCON is about the personal determination and commitment of partner institutions to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and administrative traditions to improve or establish a national agricultural knowledge and information system.

Sophie Treinen Information and Knowledge Management Officer, Knowledge and Capacity for Development, Food and Agriculture Organisation


In the last ten years, FAO has supported national initiatives related to rural information and communication based on new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in seven countries, spread across four regions (Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America). Conceptual models, methodologies and tools have been developed for strengthening linkages among rural institutions and individuals using Internet-based ICTs, such as the Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON). Such initiatives involve different types of stakeholders: agricultural researchers and extension agents, small-farmers or nongovernmental organisations, private or public agricultural service suppliers and the media, such as rural radio.

VERCON aims and challenges Strong linkages between agricultural research and extension are essential for research to successfully contribute to agricultural and rural development. Similarly, access to information and knowledge on appropriate agricultural technologies is fundamental to improve

small farmers’ competitiveness and contribute to food security and sustainable development. The challenge of VERCON-like projects is to improve access to agricultural information and enhance communication, knowledge-sharing and lesson learning among and within the human, institutional and social components of agricultural production systems. This is done using collaboration and innovative methods of communication such as Internet-based ICTs and addressing the needs and priorities of the farmer communities as a major concern. VERCON’s innovative nature (Fig. 1) is its capability to achieve effective linkages by connecting geographically dispersed people and enhance two-way communication, managing large volumes of data, and rapidly collecting, processing and disseminating information in a variety of forms.

The human and technological components of VERCON Too often, technology-based rural information and communication systems

Fig 1. VERCON advantages i4d | January - March 2010

put the emphasis on the technology rather than the human dimension. If an information system is not enriched with content or not used, it has no value. Technology alone is not a panacea, and rural communication and information systems are doomed to failure unless there is active information management and knowledge exchange, with appropriate support to all communication aspects. The human component and the technological components need to be combined appropriately. Two general aspects are worth mentioning. On one hand the human element, the more complex aspect of any initiative, is crucial because the needs of the people should be at the heart of any system. The system should be convenient for their use. On the other hand, digital technologies provide potential for innovative approaches that make production, storage, and exchange of information easier, faster, and more accessible to geographically dispersed populations. Furthermore, these new digital technologies are exciting, intriguing, captivating, and full of potential. The interest and excitement they generate can be harnessed to bring together people with different roles and functions to explore ways to collaborate, share and improve agricultural systems. The technologies encourage such collaboration and sharing by providing new means to support and enhance such processes. Also the new technologies can be combined with more traditional technologies and communication methods such as print media, rural radio, face-to-face dialogue, and many other approaches common to agricultural extension and communication for development.

Building a VERCON From the formulation to the evaluation phase, building a VERCON is fundamentally about the personal determination and commitment of partner institutions who seek to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and administrative traditions in order to improve or establish a national agricultural knowledge and information system. There is no magic “VERCON-in-a-box� software package, and there is no one-size-fits-all VERCON solution for every developing country. The improved communication network is the result of extensive multi-stakeholder collaboration for planning, implementing, managing and evaluating practical processes and tools to improve communication linkages and information sharing. Building a VERCON also involves finding creative and practical ways to harness new information and new ICTs, particularly the Internet and personal computers. However, finding effective and practical ways to harness the technologies is not to be accomplished by information management professionals or software experts alone. Researchers and extension agents must find the spaces and mechanisms to assess, plan, implement and evaluate together what the network is offering while taking into account feedback from their rural counterparts. January - March 2010 |

Figure 2: Success factors

Success factors As in many programmes and projects a clear vision and strategy should be agreed on from the beginning. The members of the existing agricultural system should share the goals for enhancing that system. The shared vision, strategy and related goals and policies need to be at the centre of the system to make it work. Advocacy and promotion are useful to guarantee support to the network. In addition to these, other success factors have been identified in six interrelated categories: people, technology, institutions, partnership, content and finance. As outlined in Figure 2, several key aspects need to be addressed for each category. People: There should be sufficient human resources with appropriate skills to carry out the requested tasks, and they should be committed to the project. The time people will spend on VERCON should be integrated in their daily work. There should be opportunities to develop the capacities of all stakeholders, as all of them should feel comfortable with changes proposed by the system. Technology: Ensuring access to the system to all users is not a challenge, but a must. A capacity assessment will identify the limitations in terms of connectivity, infrastructure and equipment. The leading team should adopt a realistic approach to technology according to the actors’ needs. The system should be built in collaboration with the users and be finalized after having received


their feedback. The selection of appropriate tools should be done with them. If they are not comfortable with the system, they will not use it. Finance: As several institutions are usually involved in a VERCON, the cost of building the network should be shared and respected. The budget should take into account the cost of equipment, travel, repackaging of content, maintenance, organisation of meetings at apex and decentralised levels, etc. Funds can come from various sources: internal, external and partnerships. Institutions: VERCON is part of a process of institutional strengthening, in terms of management, commitment, sharing culture, incentives and service quality. Ownership among the partners and within the institutions involved is key. The recognition of the intellectual property and the issue of individual contributions (such as pictures) should also be addressed. Partnership: A diversity of partners is involved in a VERCON. Building partnership requires considerable efforts. This is why it is important to adapt a winwin approach and start with a team building exercise. Openness and transparency will reduce the risks of conflicts. Content: Without content there is no system. Whether digitized or not, a good information management system should be put in place, including the adoption of standards and peer review to guarantee the quality of content. Tools and methods of information management should be used to make search and retrieval of documents easy for the users. Content should be adapted to the local context and different users, in terms of language (national and local languages, level of complexity, illustrations, etc.). The same content can exist in several formats (written document, audio, video, image, etc.).

Lessons learned After several years of implementation of

VERCON projects, the following main lessons have been identified: 1 . En a b l i n g e n v i ro n m e n t a n d connectivity An ICT policy which recognizes the value of connectivity in the country and the importance of telecommunications infrastructure is necessary before starting implementing a VERCON system. Connectivity, including in the rural areas, is essential to guarantee the network works. If these basic requirements cannot be met, it might be better to postpone the implementation of a VERCON until the situation improves. 2. Institutionalisation of VERCON networks A VERCON network should not be seen as a project, but as a new way of working within the institution. It needs to be embedded at the institutional level. Institutionalisation implies making sure that VERCON is fully part of the procedures and ways of working, in staff work plans and budgets, as well as monitoring the network and assessing results obtained and impact. Sustainability will not be possible if VERCON management and benefits are not fully recognised and the network institutionalised. Champions within the institution and at all levels are assets guaranteeing the success of a VERCON. 3. Network facilitation Facilitation is needed to promote exchange and information flows between the system’s stakeholders. A pro-active coordination team and/or unit is thus essential to motivate, facilitate, promote, and encourage information exchange and communication among the VERCON actors. Face-to-face meetings to capitalise and stimulate exchange and new ways of working are also crucial. A dynamic human network is a fundamental aspect of VERCON. A VERCON cannot rely on only one or two motivated individuals, in particular in countries with high staff mobility. Accountability will be improved if roles and responsibilities of the various

actors are defined in a memorandum of understanding. 4. A sharing and exchange culture At institutional and individual levels, the actors involved in a VERCON system put together their resources and share them with other stakeholders. Sharing is a win-win solution. However, it is often a real challenge because of the inclination to work in ‘closed’ environments. A knowledge sharing culture should be promoted and facilitated, through a specific strategy that might include capacity building in collaborative methods, tools in communication for development, exchange mechanisms, working in small network groups, etc. A favorable environment and culture conducive to sharing is a necessity. This implies the commitment of senior management, collaborative planning, knowledge sharing, cross-functional teams and critical review of current systems. 5. People not only technology The human and the technological components should be combined appropriately. Not only should the technology be user-friendly and accessible, but it also should serve the users’ needs. Networks such as VERCON work with people. People need trust to work together and share their information and knowledge. Trust, useful information and knowledge, with appropriate support from good communication, will make the network work. The system will have an added-value only if it is relevant to the needs of particular user groups.

Learning more about VERCON The VERCON website ( will be launched by the end of April. You will find information on the experiences of VERCON in Armenia, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Egypt, Uganda and other similar projects in Nigeria and Columbia. For most of these countries case studies are available. For those interested to start a VERCON, guidelines are available. „

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i4d | January - March 2010

Revolutionising Indian Agriculture An ICT initiative for agriculture in India and its potential impact on the livelihoods of farmers and agricultural extension workers

Runa Sarkar Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India

agropedia is an agriculture knowledge repository of universal meta models and localised content for a variety of users with appropriate interfaces built in collaborative mode in multiple languages. In other words, it aspires to be a one stop shop for any knowledge, pedagogic or practical related to Indian agriculture - an audiovisual encyclopaedia, to enhance, educate and transform the process of digital content creation and organisation completely. It aims to develop a comprehensive digital content framework, platform, and tools in support of agricultural extension and outreach. agropedia aspires to manage and organise the widespread knowledge in the Indian agricultural domain through building up an agricultural e-community and strengthening the networks among the different members of that community. It recognises that a large portion of agricultural knowledge is tacit and practice driven, and aims to harness this information using social networking and web 2.0 concepts. This is a platform where everyone, ranging

from scientists, researchers, teachers, students, extension workers, farmers, to traders and businessmen, can interact with each other. The structure of agropedia can be best described using a knowledge map, as depicted in figure 1. The map describes what agropedia is meant to be, using simple relationships. It also shows the target users of agropedia and its sponsors, collaborators and partners. Using state of the art practices and techniques of the semantic web, agropedia is a platform where both specialists in the agriculture research and education domain and any others interested in agriculture can make lasting contributions to the vast knowledge base. The specialists have a choice to contribute towards the gyan dhara (certified content) or participate in the interaction space to contribute to janagyan (emergent knowledge). All other registered users are co-creators of janagyan (emergent knowledge) through their participation in interaction spaces like agrowiki, agroblog, agroforum and agrochat. Thus, the users of agropedia are the architects of the

T V Prabhakar Indian Institute Of Technology,Kanpur, India

Meeta Bagga Bhatia Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India

January - March 2010 |

Figure 1: A Simplified Knowledge Model of agropedia


knowledge, which is the lifeblood of agropedia, and they do this through an easy to use, entertaining and intellectually stimulating web interface. agropedia had been developed by NAIP-KM team of IIT Kanpur in consultation with a consortium of partners for ‘Redesigning the farmer extension agricultural research/education continuum in India with ICT mediated Knowledge Management’ under the aegis of the World Bank funded National Agricultural Innovation Programme of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. The intent is to develop highly integrated knowledge management approaches between agricultural research, education and extension services.

Objectives • •

To develop an agricultural repository and to build a Digital Ecosystem in the domain for proper knowledge circulation To prepare a bridge between explicit knowledge holders (like

Figure 2: The Three Dimensions of agropedia

domain, link different concepts in agriculture through simple relationships. These models enable agropedia to produce a better

Figure 3: Part of the Knowledge Model for chickpea ( ?q=content/knowledge-models)

agricultural reserachers, scientist, experts) and tacit knowledge holders (like farmers and other field workers) To deploy extension services for agricultural development

How is agropedia different? agropedia is a read/write web, which is semantically enabled with social networking for Indian agriculture. It strives to create an encyclopaedic knowledge base to meet both the need of farmers as well as scientists in an easy to use format. It is currently built on a platform that has Web3.0 functionality, where the users can not only read documents and information on the site but can also contribute by commenting on existing information, sharing documents or pictures, blogging, etc. The three dimensions along which agropedia is structured is captured in Figure 4.

The Knowledge Models The semantic technology in agropedia is implemented using ‘Knowledge Models’ which forms the basis of cataloging. Knowledge models, developed by domain experts or professionals who are acknowledged experts in their specific agricultural


Figure 4: Sample Extension Content from agropedia i4d | January - March 2010

search result set as all the documents, images and videos come with appropriate live tags attached which make them visible and searchable. For example: If a user searches for ‘Downy Mildew of vegetable pea’ (a type of fungal disease) and the system does not find a result matching the keywords, the system will also search all the semantically related keywords to return a result set which has content on Powdery Mildew (another type of fungal disease for vegetable pea). Figure 3 depicts part of a knowledge model for chickpea. Team agropedia is in the process of universalising these knowledge models in different National/International languages, having incorporated standards such as the agrovoc, developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With the aid of agricultural experts agropedia has developed the following models: • A generic map, acting as top level foundation crop ontology. • Specific maps on ten (Chickpea, Groundnut, Litchi, Pigeon pea, Rice, Sorghum, Sugarcane, Vegetable pea, Wheat, Safflower) crops. There is a section to discuss issues about knowledge models ( for enabling a scientist to suggest how to improvise the knowledge models according to region/climate. If a user wants to create his/her own knowledge model for a specific topic related to agriculture, assistance for that is also provided (http://agropedia.

Social Networking agropedia realises that for better use of scarce resources, effective use of communication systems to provide the right information

Figure 6: Multilingual functionality for agropedia January - March 2010 |

Figure 5: Deployment Alternatives for agropedia

at the right time while not losing track of episodic knowledge, embedded in the system from many years, is essential. Traditional or innovative practices followed in the field of agriculture comprise the emergent knowledge section of agropedia. This ‘interaction space’, to motivate and enable a healthy exchange of ideas is how agropedia contributes to Social Networking. The objectives of social networking include using networks to capture tacit knowledge as well as vet existing encyclopaedic content, and to provide a mechanism to link agricultural professionals within India and globally. agropedia, thus, is trying to create a kind of a ‘facebook’ for agriculture so that experts from different regions of the country are easily able to communicate with each other, something not prevalent under the hierarchal and rather rigid formal communication structures of the current Indian agricultural research system. Moreover, it is hoped that if agriculture can be viewed as a ‘cool’ profession, it would attract bright and eager young minds to study and practice agriculture. Social Networking is all about different types of users of agropedia, which are: • Anonymous users Not registered with agropedia. Permitted only to search content in agropedia. • Authentic users Registered with agropedia. Permitted to contribute to content base of agropedia, earch it, interact with other users through chat rooms, question answer forums and blogs • Editors/Administrator Content in agropedia under extension material passes through a workflow, i.e., it is published by the editor after being verified. In metaphorical terms, social networking and crowd sourcing is used to accumulate books for a Book Rack (the platform called ‘agropedia’), which is indexed and catalogued semantically using the knowledge model. The complete agricultural repository is then available for all to access. The interaction space of agropedia has the agrowiki (http://, agroblog (, agroforum (http:// and agrochat (http://agropedia. Using these tools we are able to


harness the collective intelligence or Janagyan of practitioners, interested individuals and students. Registered users can express their ideas and opinions and see them published on the web instantly. A vibrant and healthy exchange in the interaction space will result in the creation of a high quality dynamic knowledge repository on one hand, and a strong networked knowledge community in the domain of agriculture on the other.

Content Content in agropedia are divided into two categories namely: Extension and Interaction. The content under the extension section is provided by the agricultural universities and are hence, “certified content” or Gyandhara. The links of Figure 7: The openagri initiative by agropedia Library (, Crop Calendar ( comprise a large portion of the agropedia knowledge repository crop-calendar) and Dos and Don’ts (http://agropedia.iitk. to address the less fortunate people who have not been exposed provide an exhaustive overview to education and are not literate. Besides, shruti (hearing) is an of all peer reviewed, tried, tested and certified information on integral learning mechanism for Indian culture, with traditional agriculture. The library contains a variety of document-like- knowledge passed on between generations using shruti, which is information-objects on different aspects of agriculture. Certified why agropedia is in the building process of accepting and providing users (currently the agricultural partners in the NAIP project) can audiovisual content to create an audiovisual repository. The lack of connectivity among researchers in the Indian add new content, including photographs, or add comments on the existing content, which is published after due vetting. The agricultural research system has led to a new initiative by team crop calendar and dos and don’ts relate to agricultural practices agropedia called openagri. openagri ( on specific crops. Comments on this information can be added openaccess), a focused research space, is a content management by registered users. Figure 4 provides a snapshot of some content platform for hosting agriculture documents such as journal articles, from agropedia. conference papers, books, book chapters, proceedings, preprints, multimedia content etc. The openagri application, built on the agropedia platform, allows automatically assigning of keywords Challenges and Initiatives Although agropedia is a simple and efficient ICT tool, restricted called agrotags ( use of ICT in India poses a severe challenge. There are many State html) to enable semantic searching and retrieval (Figure 7). Agricultural Universities which do not have a website of their own, or have labs where the ratio of student to a computer is as high Conclusion as 30:1. Electricity and network connections are uncertain. To It has been a rewarding, though uphill task to build and deploy negotiate such typical circumstances agropedia has come up with agropedia. An ongoing process since 2008, agropedia has grown some of its stand-alone deployment options like a WikiReader, from strength to strength since the formal launch of its knowledge an Appliance and deployment on mobile phones (Figure 5). The models in January 2009. Today it boasts of over 1800 registered wikireader is a simple 3 button operated device which gives a users, with over a thousand document like information objects physical form to the agrowiki content of agropedia. Appliances among certified content, and almost the same number (wiki are small handy devices designed in such a way that it can act as pages, blogs etc) of documents from voluntary users. openagri, agropedia standalone server and can connect many systems to which was launched only recently, already boasts of almost 500 it, for places with low or no Internet connectivity like the Krishi documents. Google analytics reports that the agropedia site gets Vigyan Kendras or Village Knowledge Centres. Mobile phones an average of over 1150 hits a day of which over 350 are unique. being the most approachable way to reach our target users, It is heartening to note that agropedia is now accessed by over agropedia is also in the process of deploying agropedia through 140 countries all over the world each month. mobile phones. This is excellent progress, but agropedia has yet to fulfil Tackling illiteracy and a multitude of local languages also poses its original objective of bringing agricultural information and a serious challenge. In order to address these issues, the agropedia processes to the doorstep of every farmer and revolutionise platform has been developed to support multilingual functionality agriculture much like the green revolution revolutionised (Figure 6). While this has helped us connect to users from various agriculture through technology. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru once regions nationally, it has had an unintended benefit of making said “everything else can wait but not agriculture” so agropedia agropedia accessible all over the world, as our knowledge models aims to bridge the widening gap between rural India and urban are now available in French as well and it is technically easy to India by providing the right piece of information at the right time. reproduce it in different languages. Pictures, audio and video Team agropedia still has a long way to go. „


i4d | January - March 2010


Responding to ‘radical change’ Unlike in other development sectors such as human rights, poverty alleviation etc. in the sector of ICT4D, continuous innovation is a requisite to survive in the sector.

Innovation in the ICT4D sector ICT for Development (ICT4D) sector involves developing and packaging Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), to address digitaldivide issues of rural poor communities in developing countries. Telecentres, for instance, are technology outfits located in rural locations with a purpose of providing access to rural disadvantaged communities. The technologies adapted in these initiatives are originally designed by the organisations in the Western countries, targeting livelihood conveniences of the developed markets. Thus, innovation applies to tweaking such technologies and packaging them to match the developing country context where illiteracy, poverty and poor infrastructure dictate the terms. Though innovation is a term familiar with the corporate organisations and state institutions (e.g. research institutes), literature emphasises (Tidd and Bessant, 2009), that in not-for-profit organisations, innovation may aim to compete against challenges they aim to address (e.g. rural farmer market access), unlike in the commercial organisation context, where innovation is aimed for competitive advantage. For instance telecentre, as an innovation in this sector, primarily had

been designed to help poor communities to interact with information technologies, thereby to help access to information, improve skills and education. Sarvodaya-Fusion had spent over 3 years to conceptualize and pilot test the first ever telecentre in Sri Lanka during 1997 – 2000. That had involved recognising appropriate form of computers, design appropriate facilities to accommodate equipment in low-infrastructure environments, management models and services to integrate poor who had never seen a computer. Since then, Fusion has been developing multiple products and services within the ICT4D sector as illustrated in table 1.

Triggers for change Unlike in other development sectors such as human rights, poverty alleviation etc. in the sector of ICT4D, continuous innovation is a requisite to survive in the sector. Especially as ICT sector is moving from ‘incremental innovation’ that involves gradual step by step innovation to ‘radical innovation’ that change the whole ecosystem radically and rapidly. The telecentre sector was founded in the 1990s on the computer and Internet technologies, and multiple models have since evolved following the characteristics

Table 1: Illustration to explain the type of Fusion’s innovations, goals and target group.

Harsha Liyanage Managing Director, Sarvodaya – Fusion, Sri Lanka

January - March 2010 |

1997 - 2000 Design, develop, introduce telecentres as a pioneering model 2004 Design and develop subsidy vouchers for telecentres 2005 - 2008 Design and implementation of Agri-clinics 2005 - 2008 Conceptualize and implement telecentre family network 2007 - 2009 Design and development of ICT Education services (books and national exams) 2008 - 2009 Design and prototyping – FarmerNet (mobile + telecentres)

Provision of computer access to rural communities Promote community participation at telecentres Provide information services to rural farmers Networking telecentres to empower telecentre operators ICT education for rural children through telecentres Expanding market access to rural farmers


of ‘incremental innovation’ described by Bessant and Tidd (2009). As of today, such incremental focus has been shifted from initial technological (hardware) model to new sustainability and content delivery aspects. For example, Agri-clinics in Sri Lanka were designed to serve poor rural farmers to access pest and disease related information (Figure 1). It is a content delivery model, where innovation was applied to recognise the modalities to de-construct the complex research knowledge from the institutional repositories and reconstruct simple information packages that could be understood by the poor farmers in a rural context, and apply to solve pest and disease problem to improve their cultivations. In this instance, innovation was required at three stages; 1. Define the appropriate information access models between state run research institutions (e.g. Department of Agriculture) and NGOs (e.g. Fusion) 2. Design the information processing models by designing and implementing specialised Information Processing Unit that translate the jargon-heavy research knowledge into jargonfree simple language, 3. Develop delivery mechanisms – that involved processing information into VCD (Video Compact Discs), e-Books, pamphlets etc. and channel them through telecentres and human interfaces to rural community. The entire model was an incremental improvement done around the existing telecentre, (not replacing it) thus incremental innovation.

Radical change Since 2001, mobile phone has become a ‘radical innovation’ (Bessant and Tidd, 2009), that is rewriting the rules of engagement in the ICT4D sector. The technology has the tendency of replacing the hardware (computers) and software applications, from its traditional forms of PCs and Laptops that are in operation at telecentres. As it does in the major high-end markets (e.g. iPhone and web apps, emerging iPad), mobile phone technologies tend to replace the computer applications in the bottom of the pyramid as well. M-Pesa, the mobile phone application (innovated by Vodafone) that enables money transfer using mobile phones, had become a ground-breaking initiative capturing grassroots communities of Africa (that had recorded 7 million subscribers in Kenya alone over 2 years) (Camner, 2009). Furthermore, that has created a competitive environment where corporate sector organisations (e.g. Vodafone) have started to penetrate the bottom of the pyramid market where charity sector used to dominate. Developments such as Nokia’s Life Tools indicate other corporate sector organisations follow suit.


Responding to Radical change? Can the ICT4D sector NGOs avoid responding to this change? Perhaps many NGOs would not recognise this question. Because, unlike corporate sector players, NGOs by nature, do not pay much effort to recognise ‘latent needs’ of the target community. For instance, lack of access to communication (land lines then) had never been identified by NGO sector as a community need, which remained latent even to the very same community who had become paid subscribers to the mobile phone offerings by the corporate sector. Today, bottom of the pyramid communities, many of whom live below $2 per day, still own or access mobile phones. Emerging technologies, competitor actions, new ideas, and external environment are the key drivers of innovation (O’Sullivan and Dooley, 2009). Fusion had identified three of them as triggers of innovation in its operational context; 1. Mobile phone penetration; 92% of the bottom of the pyramid communities use mobile phones in Sri Lanka, and they are harnessing rural community empowerment (Sinha, 2005; Williams and Torma, 2006). 2. Many organisations (state, corporate and NGOs) acquire the skills of telecentre operations and becoming competitors in a small landscape. 3. Macro environment (political, economic, social landscape) is moving in favour of mobile applications. FarmerNet – prototype development of Fusion (see box) was inspired by such triggers. And Fusion invested reasonable amount of resources (people and funds) over a two year period to develop the concept and prototype it.

Multi-stakeholder partnership and innovation Innovation requires resources; competent human resources, financial resources, institutional capabilities (access to knowledge material) etc. Only in a rare occasion all these can be found in a single organisation. Doz and Hamel (1998), highlights the importance of institutional alliances for sustained innovation. The motives for such strategic alliances may include, a). building i4d | January - March 2010

critical mass through co-operation, b). reach new markets by leveraging co-specialised resources, c). gain new competencies through organisational learning. In NGO terms institutional alliances implies multi-stakeholder partnerships. Most NGOs have skills and experience of multistakeholder engagements. Yet, turning such skills into innovation needs critical judgement; who are the partners to pick? What characteristics would qualify them to become partners? At what stage should they be involved? For FarmerNet, Fusion had partnered with SEEDS – Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development Services - microfinance arm of Sarvodaya, Sabre Technologies (corporate) and ICT Agency (ICTA - state agency). ICTA had provided initial finances (grants) while Sabre had provided software development services. SEEDS have involved from conceptualization process to product launch. Historically, SEEDS has limited experiences of implementing ICT centres at their district offices. In the FarmerNet project, their interest was founded on two aspects; a) to acquire deeper understanding about the mobile phone sector engagements, b) to examine partnership potentials with Fusion, for longer term mutual-benefit. Tidd and Bessant (2009) highlight in joint ventures and alliances, one organisation’s peripheral technologies are other organisation’s core acitivites. In case of Fusion, social-enterprising is a peripheral activity, which is the core-competence of SEEDS. In turn, ICT4D is a peripheral activity of SEEDS, which is corecompetence of Fusion. Such an alliance cuts down transaction costs, reduces risks and uncertainities of outcomes. More importantly, SEEDS has a uniquely loyal market base of about 9,00,000 (micro-finance) beneficiaries distributed over 3,000 villages all across the country, and additional staff network that helps as a service distribution channel for FarmerNet. This partnership alliance resulted the FarmerNet which is a prototype, yet at the testing stage with selected set of rural farmer communities in central Sri Lanka.

Are we serving the interest of the rural farmer? Or helping to serve our common institutional interests? These are the questions repetitively posed at Fusion, in their innovative engagement. Stakeholders of Sarvodaya are the village community. The village leaders compose the governing structure of Sarvodaya. While, the shareholders of a corporate question the profit that had been generated, Sarvodaya shareholders – the rural poor – raise the question, what is the impact this has made to change the lives of the poor. Sarvodaya-Fusion strives to understand it and deliver it. But making it a tangible benefit remains a challenge. „ References: • •

• • •

Bessant, J., and Tidd, J. (2009). Innovation and entrepreneurship. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. Camner, G., Sjöblom, E., and Pulver, C. (2009, September). What makes a Successful Mobile Money Implementation? Retrieved November 15, 2009, from Mobile Money for the Unbanked: m-pesa_case_study.pdf Doz, Y., and Hamel, G. (1998). Alliance advantage;The art of creating value through partnering. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. O’Sullivan, D., and Dooley, L. (2009). Applying innovation. London: Sage. Sinha, C. (2005). A mobile phone in developing countries is a source of economic growth potential,social networking, and heightened political awareness. Effect of Mobile Telephony on Empowering Rural Communities in Developing Countries, . International Research Foundation for Development (IRFD) Conference on Digital Divide. Tidd, J., and Bessant, J. (2009). Managing innovation. Integrating technological, market and organisational change. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. . Williams, H., and Torma, M. (2006). Mobile transactions enhance the outreach of financial services, reduce information asymmetries and provide low cost financial products. Retrieved November 15, 2009, from GSM Development Fund: fund_top20_print.pdf

FarmerNet ( – the concept FarmerNet, launched by Sarvodaya-Fusion in mid 2009, is a mobile phone based online trading platform that specifically targets the micro-finance beneficiary rural farmers in Sri Lanka. Built upon two years of heuristic learning and careful studies of existing mobile applications (for rural development), FarmerNet enables rural farmers as well as traders (buyers – small and large alike) to upload their selling and buying information either by using mobile SMS text messages or by online access via a telecentre (web site; Users have to register on the system as a buyer (trader) or a seller (farmer), and the system generates a user profile and password. After log ging in to the system the user may upload their information using an SMS message constructed through a sequence of 8 codes. The ‘Spot Trading Facility’ of FarmerNet, which is a unique innovative feature, automatically searches for matching buyers January - March 2010 |

and sellers based on 6 criteria including type, grade and price. Matched partners are mutually informed by automatically generated SMS, enabling them to carry out trading on their own. This creates a mobile - online market place, where rural farmer and buyer can meet online or through mobile phone access. The premise of the initiative is to create an efficient marketplace, using information technology to reduce transaction costs. The model leverages the existing ICT infrastructure (mobile phones, telecentres and the Internet) to bypass the physical infrastructure barriers (road access and transport). And it rests upon the assumption that market information transfer, with more controlling power to the user (farmer and trader), may be powerful enough to shift the existing trading architecture of the market place.




What’s on Africa 4-5 August 2010 6th International Conference on Sustainable Development Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria

Australia 20-23 September 2010 World Computer Congress 2010 Brisbane, Queensland

Europe 16-18 June 2010 IAMO Forum 2010: Institutions in Transition - Challenges for New Modes of Governance Halle, Germany

6-8 July 2010 The Second International Conference on ‘Networked Digital Technologies’ Prague Czech Republic

15-17 July 2010 8th International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Health Samos Island Greece

1-3 September 2010 Climate Change: Health and Ecology Uppsala, Sweden

27-29 September 2010 ICT 2010 Brussels Belgium

13-16 December 2010 ICTD2010 London United Kingdom

India 9-11 April 2010 Managing Agri-Food Supply Chain Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

20-22 August 2010 The Second International Conference on Wireless & Mobile Networks (WiMoN-2010) Chennai Tamil Nadu

Malaysia 1-2 June 2010 National Conference on Knowledge Integration in ICT Putrajaya, Selangor

20-22 November 2010 3rd International Conference of UNESCO Chair Higher Education for Sustainable Development Penang

Thailand 23- 25 April 2010 2010 International Conference on Environmental Science and Technology (ICEST 2010) Bangkok

Turkey 28-30 April 2010 NMIC 2010 - 2nd International Conference on New Media and Interactivity Istanbul

10-14 May 2010 3rd International Conference on Innovations in Learning for the Future 2010 Istanbul

29-31 July 2010 International Conference on e-Health Services and Technologies (ICEHST) Athens, Greece

knowledge for change

United Arab Emirates 22-26 May 2010 16th GCC eGovernment and eServices Forum Dubai

30 August-3 September 2010 International Conference on Information Technology in Bio- and Medical Informatics Bilbao, Spain

United States January - March 2010 |

4 - 6 August 2010 Hyderabad, India

3-5 November 2010 16th Annual Sloan Consortium International Conference on Online Learning Orlando Florida



eAgriculture India over the years Agriculture Development Policy Agriculture Marketing: From Farm to Firm to Fork Digital Inclusion for Fostering Rural Prosperity and Grassroots Development ICTs for Education, Research, and Sectoral Growth Agriculture Finance and Risk Management ICTs : A golden promise for Agriculture

Policy Dimension: Initiatives in e-Agriculture Best Practices in e-Agriculture Making e-Agriculture Work through Public Private Partnership in Asia Role of ICT in Livestock and Fishery Sector Role of Communities of Practice (CoP) and Networks in e-Agriculture Making Knowledge Truly Accessible to all Agricultural Price Discovery Mechanism and Supply Chain Management: Role of ICTs Financial Inclusion

eAgriculture Policy - perspective to practice Education, Research and Extension ICT and Backward-Forward linkages in agri-input chain eAgriculture - a budding reality eAgriculture - enabling agriculture e-Agriculture in the context of Climate Change Role of ICT in Forging Linkages between Food (Agriculture) and Nutrition


i4d | January - March 2010


i4d | January - March 2010

i4d magazine's special issue on e-Agriculture  
i4d magazine's special issue on e-Agriculture  

i4d encompasses the role and relevance of ICT in various development sectors such as Rural Development, Gender, Governance, Micro-finance, E...