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Question 2 (opens 27 Nov.) What critical challenges persist in our field, and what is needed to overcome these challenges...

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e-Agriculture's picture
Last seen: 1 year 1 day ago
Joined: 12/08/2010 - 13:04
Question 2 (opens 27 Nov.) What critical challenges persist in our field, and what is needed to overcome these challenges...

Question 2 (opens 27 Nov.) What critical challenges persist in our field, and what is needed to overcome these challenges within the next five years?

Consider the different dimensions of this broad topic and identify specific categories/types of challenges. Areas to discuss may include development outcomes and "impact", business models, financing, partnerships, the roles of different organizations, gender, capacity development, enabling environments, socio-cultural issues, content and language, technology, and more.

John Tull's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 25/09/2012 - 12:38
Field of Dreams?

I'll start by saying I'm not sure what our 'field' actually is!
We use terms like 'ICT4Ag' or 'mAg' or 'eAg' -- but that could lead us to focus too much on the ICT rather than the domain of human activity that is most important, removing barriers to poverty alleviation, food security, employment stimulation, etc. After all, we don't focus nearly so much on 'ICT4Entertainment' or 'ICT4Sport' -- apart from device and apps industry members. 

If there was a single critical challenge I'd point to in discussing how we can use ICT most effectively as part of tackling the problem of choice, I'd point to the issue of business models. While it's always dangerous to make any sweeping generalisations, I suggest the underlying issues that affect how and under what conditions we currently try to address the problems of agriculture by using ICT tools include these four:

1. No-one wants to pay for Extension:  farmers need knowledge, farmers want knowledge -- and everyone pretty much wants someone else to pay for its creation, dissemination and basic application.

2. Islands of technology don't make a solution:  I don't think we are being 'open' enough in developing frameworks for initiatives to find common cause, useful interfaces or integration points, etc so that good ideas start to get "joined up" into something more useful to the people we want to support.  

3. Linking to national systems is critically important but seldom done:  in the parallel world of Health services, one East Africa country recently called a moratorium on any new mHealth projects (the country had over 30 of them scattered across the landscape): few if any were 'at scale', and the Ministry could not absorb the constant requests for information, collaboration, evaluation, etc.
I suggest mAgriculture is not much different.

4. If we're not (really) measuring it, we're not really managing for results: the commercial sector is becoming more and more intent on defining and agreeing some common metrics for sustainability in key value chains, enabled by convening organisations like Sustainable Food Lab (as one example - http://www.sustainablefoodlab.org/); yet a common refrain from donors, value chain partners and technical partners is that 'ICT4Ag' projects suffer from a plethora of under-defined or incompatible metrics, making comparison and covergence difficult.   

I would very much like to hear your thoughts on how we can develop a set of business model principles, standards, 'interfaces' and metrics that can allow a better ecosystem of innovations and competing ideas to flourish while actually getting on with delivering value at scale.

-- John



sboyera's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 19/11/2011 - 08:32


very great post, and very well summarized. Allthe points you are making are indeed essentials.
I would like to react on the first one, about content. I started to mention it in a previous post, but I'm not entirely convinced by the need of content as such. 
In the few places I worked, I've experienced that people (agri stakeholders) are vrey ready to pay for extension services if it helps them resolving their issues. This seems obvious, but not that easy. It means that people are far more interested in getting answer to their questions, rather than getting general tips. This is very general, and it is usually relatively hard to give answer to people in a Q&A mode, but in my experience, there is a demand for such service, provided that a trust link exists between the provider of services and the farmers.
Then starting from this, I believe that building content could also be bottom-up instead of top-down: you can start without content, but experts, and based on the requests, the knowledge base grows, requirign less expert advice over time. Moreover, the knowledge is then very localized, and is also a gold source for tracking evolution based on the type of questions. It is the model that e.g. lifeline india (http://lifelines-india.net/agriculture/ ) has put up. 
I would be happy to get opinions on such approaches?


mmmayzelle's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 22:59
demand-driven content


I really like your description of building content based on user demand.  You are absolutely correct that we all prefer to have answers to our specific questions rather perusing regularly scheduled tips that may or may not be relevant to us.  And I particularly enjoy your description of how user queries result in a knowledge base that requires progressively less expert input over time.  Our e-Afghan Ag website (eafghanag.ucdavis.edu) strives to be just such a knowledge bank of demand driven, user-relevant information.

Michael Riggs's picture
Last seen: 3 years 2 weeks ago
Joined: 15/09/2010 - 11:17
content is good, but are we succeeding?

Stephane and Megan and others, 

OK, we agree that demand driven content is a good thing. But where is the content coming from? And do we have examples of processes/systems that show the potential to reach a large number of people at managable cost?

There are quite a few cases of organizations (public and private) that struggle with this. What are we missing?

sboyera's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 19/11/2011 - 08:32
user generated content

Hi Michael,

There are three key points in your post:

About content, all my points is that, in my experience in e.g. India or Mali, there are "experts" (would it be NGOs or research institution or innovative farmers) that are able to help. It is not imho possible to extract the essence of this and "build content".  Instead, those experts are great to answer farmers questions, and thus capturing the questions and answer is how you build a knowledge (aka FAQ). SO it is not really "demand-driven content' but closer to user generated content. As an illustration, I've worked with Lifeline India I mentioned in my previous post, and in that case after 4years of operation, 85% of the requests have already an answer in the knowledge base. 

About scalability and sustainability this is clearly a major issue. See a post I wrote a 2 years ago about it (http://www.webfoundation.org/2011/10/review-of-the-new-vodafoneoxfamaccenture-report-on-mobile-for-agriculture/ ).  There are a few examples particularly in India about similar initiatives that are successfull in terms of scale, being able to reach a huge number of people. However, the financial sustainability is problematic with current set of technologies (traditional call centers) as explain in the link above. But there promising options that need to be explored further. I'm convinced that recent progress in e.g. voice technologies made such approaches promising in terms of sustainability, as soon as it will be possible to enable people to find the answer they need in the knowledge base. 
The beauty of such approahces are two folds:
1- the initial investment can be very low: you just have to setup a service and involve a group of experts that can be remunerated per request, but you don't have to make major initial investment to source content. Moreover, this is a very scalable option that could fit an ngo that is supporting a small community, and that would have to invest only a few k to setup such a system. 
2- as mentioned in few posts, you can imagine that such a Q&A service is not restricted to one topic only, but could be kind of generic one-stop-shop option where you can ask health, legal or agri questions. That are answered by different team of experts.


mmmayzelle's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 22:59
FAQ content and voice systems


I really like the concept that you've presented here.  Could you expand a bit on the nature of the role of the experts in the projects in your experience?  You mention they are renumerated per request.  How are they accomodated as the knowledge base of FAQs build and their input becomes less necessary?  What is the process for accessing the knowledge base (user access, or is there an intermediary that receives and responds to queries?)? Does the expert add to the knowledge base or someone else as new queries come in?  How does the system ensure that the expert responses are of quality?  etc.

Regarding a small point in your post, I've found the COST of voice services to be a consistent barrier in using IVR rather than SMS.  Confounded by the fact that many users are challenged by SMS due to literacy limitations.  What is your experience with this?

sboyera's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 19/11/2011 - 08:32
faq & voice

Hi Meg,

In my experience, experts, because it is not their primary job, and it is also usually their own job to disseminate their expertise, are not really impacted by the decrease of demands. In the two cases i experienced, in fact experts were more happy to have less answers to provide.
About, accessing knowledge base: in the best world, users should be able to access directly the knowledge base. However, this is still a major technology research topic (how to guide effectively a user without ict experience to find the right information, either through text or voice, without discouraging him). In our experience, we extracted faqs (most requested information) per type of users and geographic areas and the system was proposing this upfront. For all other questions, the user ask his/her question. Then a knowledge worker asynchronously search the knowledge base and either associate the answer or send the question to expert (it does the association expert/question based on tpics/language). The expert then answers and the connection is made. When the user call back he does not know if the answer was retrieve from the knowledge base or answer by the expert, he just retrieve the answer to his question. In our case, teh expert adds directly to the knowledge base, and there is no quality check over expert input.
The expert answers using his prefered communicaition channel: it could be email, web, ivr or sms (even if sms is usually inadequate to capture the answer). He receives an alert when a new question has come for him (through again the channel he prefers).
(you might be interested in a piece of research on this: http://public.webfoundation.org/2012/02/VBAT_Pilot_Report_Public.docx )

Now about voice, here again you may be interested in a more deep answer at http://stephb.org/2013/03/demystifying-voice-technologies-for-development/ 
To be honnest, in my experience in about 8 countries, the cost of IVR has never been a challenge.
Well this needs to refined. What is essential is the return on investment. If the service behind has a direct value for the user, he will place the call. 2 very specific examples: the helpline i was mentioning, where people  were paying for the call plus a service fee. A second example is a business matching service  same model (phone cost+service fees), and no problem, if there is a direct revenue. in the case of business matching, we realized that our model (collecting offer and disseminating them by radio) was very successfull for some products and very unsuccessful for some others because of different challenges in the value chain. so obviously you see those who see a direct benefit calling,a nd the other not calling.
In another domain, i worked with radio stations setting up an ivr system for personnal communique. Broadcasting personal messages is a huge business for community radio, that can go up ot 20 or 30% of their revenue. we worked with 5 radio in mali. 4 failures 1 success. here again it was only the business model: people could call and let a message, but in hte case of 4 failures, the radio will not broadcast them, because they need to be paid for that, and just doing the travel to pay, was not worth it for most people, and for those close to the stations it was cheaper to go to the station. So nobody was calling and the cost of call was mentioned, while it was the service behind not carefully designed. In the case of the success, the radio was already structured with 50 local correspondents in different villages. So people were visiting the correspondent paying them the cost of the broadcast and then they were calling the system to drop the message. Here total success: not only people can have access to a service they didn't have before (or it was far less easier) but there was a great side effect: now it is their own voice that is broadcasted, and being heard on the radio was a great thing. In such case again, the perceived gain compared to the costs of the call was perceived as a great deal by users.
In very few words, i've experienced lots of success and at least the same amount of failure with IVR, and the cost is sometimes identified as the failure factor, while it is not the case, and it is the overall busienss model or the value of the service that is problematic.
(but there are also lots of other possible factors for IVR to fail miserably, see the post I mentioned above)


mmmayzelle's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 22:59
undefined communication channels

John, you've summarized this topic beautifully.  Below some comments that I hope will spark continued discussion on how we could develop business models that support the scenario you describe.

Regarding metrics: ICT devices are very well suited to collecting user data.  Perhaps the users themselves could be engaged in measuring results.  One possibility could be giving permission for the device to collect information regarding how the content is accessed (most visited topics, which functions employed, etc etc).  Another possibility would be to provide user with opportunity to evaluate the intervention and offer feedback thru the device.  Does anyone have other thoughts on how the device itself could help collect meaningful data?

Regarding islands of technology, this ties back into some of our discussion on Question 1 and seems more than anything to be rooted in the approach and "open-mindedness" of the implementors.  As I suggested in Question 1 discussion, the best solutions are repurposing what is already there.  Does anyone have any examples of a project that "connected" underserved stakeholders to existing services rather than attempting to create an isolated island of service?

Regarding extension: Answering this question may well revolutionize farming in developed and developing nations alike.  How can creation and dissemination of extension knowledge be made marketable?  In developed nations it seems the best response has been that it is not marketable, but it is necessary and it is needed by everyone.  Hence, taxpayers and national foundations support such endeavors.  So, what is the alternative in nations where governmental funding does not adequately support a functioning extension network?  Can this issue be efficiently resolved non-governmentally?

Regarding national systems: oftentimes critical mass is what makes a project become part of the "national system" ex: Facebook, Twitter.  So what's the difference between a project that "goes viral" and one that never catches on?  Metrics may help answer this, but one suggestion I have is that the most successful projects enable multi-way discussion among peers and social groups that would otherwise be unable to connect ( thus leading to knowledge sharing) rather than simply spitting out prescribed bits of information to an isolated user.  Think Wikipedia versus Websters.  As Steph explains, the presence of "experts" and a variety of other types of stakeholders increases the potential quantity and quality of information to be shared.  But the point is--an open, undefined communication channel often holds the greatest potential for impactful information exchange.  Does anyone have other concrete examples along this line?


sboyera's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 19/11/2011 - 08:32
trust is critical

Hi Megan, all

I just wanted to react on one small element of your post.
you wrote:
"Does anyone have any examples of a project that "connected" underserved stakeholders to existing services rather than attempting to create an isolated island of service?"

From my experience, this is touching a very sensitive point related to trust. There is a big difference between information and knowledge. I mean here that you can send informatin to people, but then it is up to them to decide whether this information is knowledge that helps them or not. In my experience, this is where trust is essential. Farmers would e.g. change their palnting technics only if they trust the person telling them that this will be effective, and also if they can witness it. Just to say that just focusing on conencting people to existing services is not necessarily the way to success. I've experienced this on a particular project related to business matching (people posting sell/buy request): setting up a business matching service is technically doable, but i realized the hard way that it is not only a question of connecting buyers and sellers, it is about ensuring that both buyers and sellers are trusting the system in terms quality, reliability of information etc. This aspect was the most important part, and it is very similar to the ype of relationship farmers have with their cooperatives.
So from my perspective the key question is how to have global services but keep/establish a trust link?


mmmayzelle's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 22:59
re: trust is critical

Steph, you hit an incredibly important point here, and I believe another of the major obstacles that remains to be overcome in our field.  Your comment got me thinking about a) what makes me as a consumer trust a service provider and b) how those characteristics can be transferred into a setting where transparency, customer service, TRUST, etc.  have not traditionally been part of the business relationship model.  

Consumers generally trust systems that have a series of checks that consistently result in quality.  The nature of those "checks" will depend entirely on the nature of the project itself, but in terms of using ICT, one of the inherent qualities of devices is that they are ruthlessly objective.  This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage in terms of trust depending on the nature of the service offered, and therefore something the implementor should remain very concious of in designing the system.

On the "advantage" end of that, a large part of my own trust--and I presume others from similar business cultures--in the service provider comes from the fact that so much of the exchange of services occurs via computers.  Thus, even if there is a "rotten egg" employing the system, the computer system disallows any nonstandard practice.  Such device-controlled interactions can help build the trust of the consumer. E.g. mobile banking.  

On the other end, especially in more traditional cultures, face-to-face contact and "seeing is believing", as you mention, are absolutely key to adoption of new practices.  Thus in these cases the device as representative of the service is actually an obstacle to building trust in the system.  In such instances I would suggest that the ICT service is better targeted at an "expert" or "representative" in the community  (such as a gov't ag agent), rather than the end benefactor (such as a farmer).  E.g. ag extension services.

sboyera's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 19/11/2011 - 08:32
targeting farmres vs intermediate structure

Hi Meg,

very interesting discussion indeed.
First of all, I feel that people are not mixing the device with the people at the other end of the channel. In another words, If people trust an NGO, an dhte ngo is building a mobile service, trust will be here. If it is e.g. a mobile operator which is a brand more than someone, it is more difficult. This explains, imho, why lots of ICT startups are failign short in terms of usage. mostly because farmers are not trusting them.

Then, I'm convinced since quite a long time, that it is far more efficient to rely on existing trust links rather than trying to create new ones. For instance, I'm convinced that it is a mistake for service providers to target farmers. I'm sure (and my own approach/business model) that it is easier to target intermediate structures, would it be ngos or cooperatives, and equip them with services for their consitutencies/members/targets. then these intermediate organizations are in charge of services to their members. This imho leverage existing structure and trust links.


mmmayzelle's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 22:59
empower existing structures and link

Steph, the idea of empowering intermediaries to better serve the user is a great example of what I was envisioning when I referenced connecting people to existing services or "repurposing" systems which are already there.  Thanks for such a well articulated point.

nanadarko2011's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 27/11/2013 - 08:11
ICT and Rural Development

Hello everyone,

I want to start my comment to this post by expressing my appreciation for this opportunity. I count myself among the fortunate youths around the world who are supporting agriculture through ICT.

Now to the point or question raised about challenges in our field. "PROBLEM EXIST EVERYWHERE". I have witness mine and am pretty sure YOU also have yours. I can talk about all the areas mentioned, from technology to gender through to socio-culltural issues and patnerships,capacity development not leaving out financing. Am saying this because all these issues gel very well together to compound our issues presently. 

As a social media reporter and a former assistant administrator for a Freedom Fone owned by RIte 90.1 FM a commercial radio station whose focus has and still remains on aggriculture and social issues here in my home couuntry, I have come to realise how profitable ICT can be in solving environmental, health, cultural, agricultural, socio-eceonomic issues (the list may go on and on). BUT there are problems.

This is a major problem for my organization. It cost so much to maintain and manage the system I consider to be one of the most effective means of supporting both rural and urban smallholder farmers. All efforts made to secure support has proved futile. The beneficiaries are yearning for the continuious use of the system but there are set-backs that make the smooth running of this almost impossible.

Will discuss the others later.

Michael Riggs's picture
Last seen: 3 years 2 weeks ago
Joined: 15/09/2010 - 11:17
lack of financing

Eric, thank you for this comment and for homing in on a specific issue. Financing. 

Could you tell us more about why you think realistic financing is not available? 

Are there any possible solutions to this?

LeeHBabcock's picture
Last seen: 6 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 19/11/2013 - 19:48
Farmer vs. Smallholder Farming Family

This is a tremendously exciting space and those of us in this e-forum and in this ICT4AG/m-Ag/e-Ag community are at the forefront of something big.  We should remember, though, that this space is a very recent phenomena.  As CTA and CGAP and others continue thinking about the future it seems we might be moving into the next generation (2.0) of this space.  It seems that what might be emerging as part of 2.0 is a redefinition of the unit from the farmer to the smallholder farming family.  This has resonance with John Tull's point about business modeling and Stephen Boyera's point about bottom up, locally relevant content.  So far we as a community (by virtue of our interest in ag) have focused on agriculture.  From a user centric design perspective our farmers have households with multiple streams of income (e.g. agriculture, remittances, off-farm labor, handicrafts, etc.) and need for multiple streams of household expenditures (e.g. ag inputs, health, education, utilities, food, etc.).  Meanwhile, the power of the technology is that platforms can easily be designed with multiple functionalities to accomodate the full range of mobile payments and bottom up, locally relevant content needs of smallholder farming families.  If we match the commercial sector's need for volume with the farming family's need for a more powerful value proposition, in need of more youth like Nana Darko, we might see more scale in this space.  

If we accept this premise that we should redefine the unit from the farmer to the smallholder farming family, then it seems a critical challenge for us is to match the power of our brains to the power of the technology and broaden our thinking about how to empower the farmer's family?  If so, then what acronymn would we use to replace the awkward ICT4AG/m-Ag/e-Ag?  

zahra's picture
Last seen: 3 years 9 months ago
Joined: 28/06/2013 - 16:17

Been a farmer myself and a volunteer as a empowerment coordinator for a women's groups based in kenya.The agriculture sector is dominated by small scale farmers of whom majority are women.The land they farm on is owned by their husbands who are responsible for decision making and the planning of farming activities while women have little authority and have to seek their husband's permission before they commit family resources or make decisions.
Majority of women farmers in the rural areas have joined women's groups which act as a venue for them to voice their concerns,deal with their problems and increase their confidence.They also promote income-generating activities for women as a vital source of household food security.
Majority of these groups are women specific looking at women as victims and ignoring their relations with men.
To close gender gaps in the agriculture sector,these women group should provide a platform for men to be involved.Both women and men should be viewed as the agents and beneficiaries of change.In an african society where land is owned and controlled by men,the involvement of men in these forum will be essential for them to understand women's right in ownership of land.They will also come to appreciate women input in the agriculture sector.

Michael Riggs's picture
Last seen: 3 years 2 weeks ago
Joined: 15/09/2010 - 11:17
recognizing women

Thank you Zahra for highlighting the important role of women here. Are there specific ways in which ICT initiatives have failed to properly address women and their needs?

Question 3, which opens on Monday, will look further into issues about access and appropriate targeting of ICT services.

Juan Forero's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 12/09/2013 - 18:14
More on challenges...

Thanks everyone!
So far we have covered a range of challenges from financing and extension of services to sustainability and gender gaps.  Let's dig into these issues even deeper...perhaps there are some overlapping root problems that can be addressed with singular solutions.  
Some issues for futher discussion: partnerships (PPPs, government partners for sustainability)...can this also be part of the solution in terms of sustainability, longevity and connectivity?  It would be great to hear both the pros and cons to partnering for impact in this field.  As well, what of issues in technology and capacity development?
Again, thanks to everyone for your continued involvement and participation!

gerardsylvester's picture
Last seen: 2 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 21/10/2010 - 10:47
Effective Partnerships play a key role

Yes, the key to successful initiatives lies in making effective partnerships. Take the instance of Public-Private partnership, and mobile agricultural information systems (MAIS) in particular - while the private sector has a completely different objective (business model) of scaling up fast, the public sector likes to trend carefully for obvious reasons. These creates a unhealthy partnership, one that cannot be sustained in the long run.

IMHO, the key challenges lies in

* Clear Policies need to be formulated by governments and the public sector that define the principles for their involvement in the development of any ICT4D initiative, this should take into account of national communication policy or ICT policy. This would necessities the collaboration between agriculture and telecommunication sectors of the governments. This is something that FAO and ITU are working together on.

* Partnership with the private sector has proven to be an established mechanism for the public sector to develop ICT4Ag (or D) sustainably. The roles and responsibilities for the private and public sector has to be clearly defined in each case. In most cases however, the content is provided by one and the delivery mechanism is handled by the other

* Trustworthiness and reliability (as mentioned earlier by Stephane) is of paramount importance to people whose livelihoods depends on actions influenced by what they receive through the imitative. Validity and accuracy of the technical information/content and advice provided have to be thoroughly vetted before being disseminated. This also includes quality control.

* Accountability for quality (correctness and accuracy) should be formally recocognized by the respective partners.

* Multi-modal delivery platforms/methods should be targeted.

kiringai's picture
Last seen: 8 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 07/12/2009 - 13:35
Challenges that persist in the realm of ICT4Ag

Allow me to salute all for the very helpful inputs starting with John's first input and flowing so well to address the issues knowledge, finance and infrastructure/models.

I mentioned the ICT solution that we did for the Tea sector in Kenya. It soon became the solution for the dairy sector and has been the product from where many other innovators have stemmed from. We may have had the problem of extension but with the solution being owned by a smallholder farmer organization, a cooperative that was keen in collectively marketing the produce; it had to address the issues of extension so that production can increase to meet market demands. The production and productivity of farmers rose buoyed by the market demand for fresh milk and with it the revenues too rose. Paying for extension became part of the production chain and the extensionists services were charged by the producer cooperative from the farmers based on the number of visits they made to support a particular farmer. The employer of the extension worker was the farmer rather than the cooperative but the more effective they were, the more farmers called for their services. We believe we have addressed extension that way. Of course mobiles facilitate reaching of an effective extension worker as they can be called wherever they may be on duty to the next location and backed with a motor bike, they are able to traverse rural terrains with ease. The programme of support/extension was popularized through radio FM stations in local vernacular with call-ins for farmers to tell their problem and those that have effectively been supported telling their story.

The capture of the challenges that effective extension workers have addressed and how they have addressed the challenges is not quite captured, and hence the knowledge generation has been poor, much as it may be desirable to document and have it on a digital platform to help those others that may need to create employment in the extension line. The existence of an online platform for sharing of experiences too has been lacking and the training of the extension people on such a platform is still expected to come in our next phase of working with farmers. To that extent, content on extension needs to be gathered more specifically and in focused way. The farmer field schools that generate a lot of knowledge as they may be patronized by input producers and manufacturers also fails to be captured in a way that can be shared across the board.

What therefore has emerged is that we need a universal or what we call 'open' platform for sharing knowledge by stakeholders so that it keeps growing and which can become the reference point for those in radio calls to become extensionists.

The Question: Can foundations that fund agricultural ICTs come with their heavy pockets to fund a cloud driven platform that can address this, not owned by a research initiative that wants credit for itself?

Arising from the foregoing is the challenge of effort duplicity. AS John did indicate in the health sector, duplication is a challenge. Copying of technologies and branding the solution differently is another. We had one 'very innovative' initiative/organization copying our hardware, taking it to Greece for fabrication then coming back to sell it to clients even when they did not have the infrastructure to support the hardware. The consequences are borne by the farmer when their technology fails.

With so much ubiquity in the availability of the internet through mobile and portable devices, there definitely should be a platform of for universal access of knowledge rather and processes rather than the duplicity....who will be the first development financier/actor to bell the cat?

Mobile solutions seem to be identified as the drivers of what is commonly referred to as innovation. The user end is saturated with apps that are not synchronized and whose logic is not grounded on operational knowledge. There is need for the innovators to get a dose of knowledge from the grassroots actors. This unfortunately cannot be copied and has to be done collaboratively. Who will create a forum of knowledge sharing so that tech savvy youths and the practitioners can see themselves as value chain actors who have space for non-competition but cooperation in a win-win perspective?

Once the market drives demand and pays for the produce to be delivered to them in a given order/form, then the other layers of the chain will respond. Our solutions/apps are too supply-driven for the farmer. A bottom up model in the knowledge and process generation that links with the market to guide it is what imho will help us.

dwakhata's picture
Last seen: 3 years 5 months ago
Joined: 28/11/2013 - 12:24

The following  is based on my experience in the field(Mbale District-Uganda)

Challenges of integrating gender

1.      Cultural prejudice that continue to be used by men to control women
2.      Insecurity of some men when their wives’ voices are frequently aired on the radio (either as star  or radio farmers) and when given phones to use.
3.      Lack of capacity by  the actors to identify and integrate gender in all stages of work
4.      African women seem to fear their husbands rather than respecting them so it was not easy                    conduct interviews to  get their perspectives,or train them on the use of technology in presences of their husbands.
5.      Sometimes, male representatives and or service providers on the radio or other technology in dessemination of information get excited (sometimes use ‘inappropriate’ words) when females call in and this seems to annoy and discourage their husbands from allowing their    wives to call in.

Recommendations for better integration of gender

  1. Tease out gender issues at planning stages
  2. Identify strategies to address gender issues e.g. the gender proposals for under beans 
  3. Affirmative action in favor of women for example in selecting beneficiaries, interviewees, enterprises  and technologies
  4. Provide instant incentives tagged to women’s participation. For example the presenter can promise to give a few kilograms of seed/T-shirt/cap for every woman who will call during the radio program. This incentive mechanism can be facilitated by partnering with seed/input companies/schools/banks/microfinance other institutions.
  5. Listener clubs for different categories of people (Youth, men, women, PWDs and mixed ones)
  6. Sensitize radio producers and presenters on gender
  7. Capturing testimonies from women and airing them. Better if these testimonies from women who have succeeded in collaborating with her husband e.g. her husband  allows her more access to funds 

mmmayzelle's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 22:59
gender as a cross-cutting issue

dwakhata,  Thanks for highlighting some of the many challenges women face as they attempt to benefit and participate in the services made available to them through ICT.  

The vocabulary you employ (cultural prejudice, insecurity, fear, excited, inappropriate...) suggest that the discrimination women face is not isolated to ICT initiatives, but rather is very much ingrained in the surrounding culture.  Of course, that is not to say that our projects cannot help chip away at such cultural divides.

Interventions such as incentives for female participants and gender-based listener's clubs may make things easier for women in the short term, but in the long run they are still separating genders and suggesting that women are somehow different or merit different attention than men (this applies in some situations--such as health issues--but not, I believe, in professional arenas such as agriculture).  

The best solutions are those that promote equal treatment of both genders.  Examples include the consideration of gender issues in the planning stages and, most importantly, sensitization of people in power (in your example, the radio producers and presenter) that you rightly mention.  Another avenue is the engagement of "crusader" women in the spotlight of the project (in your example, as producers or presenters) who are willing to perhaps face some discrimination and hardship in the name of demonstrating that their gender is no different when it comes to business/agriculture/etc.  As we all know, putting a face and a personality on a "faceless" issue (such as gender discrimiantion) is the most effective way to change individuals' perceptions.  

Thanks for bringing up this hugely important point.

rachel sibande's picture
Last seen: 3 years 8 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 13:12
Gender and ICTs in Agricultural Development

Dear all,
Dwakatha, I want to share the Malawian experience in this space of Gender and ICTs in the agricultaral arena and the lessons that we have learned.
1. When we started off deployment of Esoko,  a web to sms platform through which smallholders were receiveing market prices and extension messages; we had not thouroyghly conducted an assessment on gender and its dynamics as relates to the targeted audience i.e. rural smallholders. As we closed the initial phase it was clear this was an oversight and had to be done. Hence I recommend that such assessments on access to eqipment such as cellphones,radios and other gadgets to be used for information service delivery , mapping of gender roles e.t.c should be done prior to deployment to design initiatives that will start addressing these gaps.
2. When we did the assessment through focus group discussions, one on one interviews, database checks and observations; it was clear that:
 - Over 65% of the agricultural workforce doing the work in the fields for food crops from land preparation through postharvest handling were women. Men were more involved in marketing.
 - Most women did not have access to cellphones yet information was sent through phone. 86% of male smallholders were registered to receive market and extension information via SMS on their cellphones while women smallholders only made 14% of those registered. The gender disparity is pretty wide in terms of access to te cellphones. From focus group discussions, it was interesting to note that men did not share some of the infromation on extension with their female counterparts regardless of the fact that it was the womn that did most of the farm work hence needed the information more. Men were not willig to let their wives have ceelphones for reasons ranging from that of  women being vulnerable to communicate with other man friends to others saying they just didnt think it was necessary for a woman to have a phone anyway.

We resolved to do the following inorder to start addressing these gaps:_
1. Encourage families i.e. husband and wife to attend trainings as an item, not as individual farmers.
2. During trainings emphasise the importance of sharing information
3. Bring in smallholder family role models to share their success stories with fellow farmers. Smllholders that share information and can link this to increased production and quality or even the ability to bargain for better prices and to make informed decisions with income.

Just thought I woupd share some of the experiences we have had and how we are dealing with issues and to gauge how others have dealt with similar instances elsewhere.


kiringai's picture
Last seen: 8 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 07/12/2009 - 13:35
How we have promoted TRUST in Agriculture through ICTs...

In promoting collective action in smallholder agriculture as well as  governance and transparency and in any value chain, TRUST becomes the foundation on which value chain engagement thrives.

When producers are assured that there is transparency in the market information they are receiving from the marketplace, their impetus to production is enhanced. When buyers know that the farmers are not cheating on the quality of the produce, their confidence in buying hence promoting productive engagement is enhanced.

The use of standards in agriculture has been the biggest challenge in the food chain and integrating ICT in a sector that has challenges itself becomes an even bigger challenge. The organization that I founded to address smallholder engagement with the marketplace came on the background of this challenge. Standards of quality are known and documented well in the various ISO provisions. Those associated with the production layer of the value chain can only use one standard..weights and measures.

The use of digital weighing that collects data from a digital load cell, capturing it in the scale's primary memory for future download to a database or streaming through GSM technology to a database with the eventual transparent processing of the data for aggregation to satisfy a buyer ensures a transparent payment.

This intervention is what we provided and continue to develop to create trust and confidence in the agricultural value chain. With no leakages of incomes and weights to the buyers, we have witnessed the infusion of transparency which has created engagement into agriculture for a large number of value chain actors at all the layers of the chain. More on the technology is available in my ICT4Ag company www.octagon.co.ke.

The capacity building of the farmers is critical which is why we had to create the Value Addition and Cottage Industry Development in Africa (VACID Africa) to create a pull to technology consumption. Because farmers never existed in forms that can procure technology, we have had to go through the lengthy route of creating collectives as the vehicle of collective procurement of value chain inputs including our own technology which is delivered at market prices. Smallholder farmers pay at the same price as Unilever and they are better clients in the same. The creation of farmer owned organizations with shared ICT benefits has further promoted trust as the ICT resources are managed by the local community or their children. Since the aggregation of produce promotes income generation in better negotiated terms, farmer owned agribusinesses have been possible and their ability to hire professional managers eliminates the concern that would otherwise arise.

In a nutshell, the TRUST element and comes by ensuring tamper proof technologies in what farmers produce and convincing them, in their own language that there is no chance of loss of produce or their sweat effort.

We have seen more ICTs and m-apps coming to the market out of the base solution that we provide. We need to pad more solutions around this foundation that we have created. It is driving many businesses, it can drive ICT4Ag research but the community ICT integration which we do through the telecentre modeling is the critical driver.

It is necessary to point out that TRUST is an element of the passage of time. Anyone seeking to achievev trust must be patient.


Alvarez Garrido Rafael's picture
Last seen: 10 months 1 week ago
Joined: 19/03/2012 - 07:50
 Hi Mr KiringaiFrom our

 Hi Mr Kiringai
From our experience in Spain trying to implement new technologies that create new data and information to growers for a better crop in-puts management we have seen that the key important point is to find technical people that want to change and be leaders in this process.

As i don´t have experience in Africa (only in South America) my question is if from your experience implementing ICT solutions you have found more succed through the private sector with  professional managers hired from farmer owned organizations with aggregation of produce or with the extension  agents from the state or the region helping the growers?

We need tech people in the field "filtering" information and helping growers, as doctors started to do so 150 years ago when in medicine objective diagnostic methods had market approach. I am agricultural engineer and i see a big opportunity with the ICT revolution in agriculture for our career and i think we could be the key point to promote the change in contact with farmers. With ICT solutions they will be able to help big areas with crops that they know well  and build trust with the growers because they have on-line technical data and knowledge that help him to promote preventive alarms before the problems arrive.

I agree with other posts that the first step to be done with ICT solutions in developing countries should be to introduce "simple technical concepts of crop management": thats were this apps and mobile phone could help a lot. They will help to promote acces with critical information to growers for the basics of how to improve good crop practices.

Less people are talking about a second step,  that could be done in those more advanced private  farmer owned organizations that are you talking about, that has technical staff and professional managers,  were could be  possible to introduce few new technologies (wether forecast that learns from its microclimate, sensors, remote sensing, data from field with digital uptake etc) to create data to optimize crop in-puts management and technical decitions (when, what, how ) solving "temporal" crop problems (treatments, irrigation, fertilizers use)  and helping them to create its own know-how and history from their own experience which could be linked as a technical "module" in a ERP solution. This second step should be done very carefully in terms of adapting technology to customers request, but it will lead to a "prevention" stage, were from the know how developed in the area and in the most important crops, the growers will take technical decisions that let them to improve crop management and improve their profits. Here mobile phone will help too.

kiringai's picture
Last seen: 8 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 07/12/2009 - 13:35
Alvarez,   It is indeed true

It is indeed true that the most important aspect in introducing ICT4Ag is the identification of passionate and technical people who are keen to changing the status quo as well as being leaders in the ICT4Ag adoption process.
I also note something that seems to run across many discussions in government and private sector discourse, that agriculture seems to be taken to be a crop or agronomy focus rather than the wider crop and livestock focus. 
You seek my opinion on whether farmer organizations deal more with the private sector professional managers or with the extension agents from the state or the public sector. My experience, and the business model we employ ensures that extension and management of professional s in farmer organizations takes advantage of both the state agents support, who are more technically endowed than the management orientation of professional hires from the private sector. The state officers have a role in pulling government resources, through their payment and policy interventions that integrate into the farmer organizations and their value chains. The biggest contribution of the professional managers therefore has been in integrating the business dimension in their work with farmers. As indicated in my discussions, the value chain, and knowledge capture, provides space for interaction of all actors.
On the perspective of "filtering" of information to help growers create a symbiotic relationship with agricultural professional as doctors do, you cannot be more right. My own experience and practice has been to create community ICT and Knowledge Centers which we have dubbed Resource, Aquaculture, Value Addition and Knowledge (RAVAAK) Centers, our own model of telecentres or Community Informatics Centers. At the centers the knowledge gathering is two ways – from the communities to capturer indigenous knowledge and from the technical extension people to pass their knowledge to the community in what has been undisputed in this forum that sharing of information on a man-to-man perspective beats even ICTs, mobile or otherwise.
Your own or country’s work in capturing knowledge on what can be added to the information network of farmers is definitely very interesting. Early warning systems are not quite integrated in the current weather advisory to farmers which is an aspect of how well resourced the ICT4Ag developers need to link up with other actors in the infrastructure and knowledge layers. A lot is being done by Google and I suppose many others in creation of cloud based solutions that can provide the necessary integration to what people like yourself and your country are doing. With so much ubiquity in the internet, one wonders why a concerted joint effort among development actors in the ICT4Ag is not linking to create a single solution that helps the sector better.
In the coming sessions, I am sure we shall delve more into some of these challenges but yes…there is more learning that needs to be captured and stored to help the sector grow by capturing weather forecast that learns from its microclimate, sensors, remote sensing, data from field with digital uptake etc, to create data to optimize crop in-puts in management and technical decisions on the ‘when’, ‘what’, and ‘how’

shahid's picture
Last seen: 2 days 11 hours ago
Joined: 06/11/2008 - 10:40
Need an integrated approach and leadership

e-Agriculture is the most fancy and hot issue but not a 'mandatory'' kind of issue for many development practitioners in developing countries. So we have not seen any significant global initiative to promote ICT usage in agriculture though developed countries already adopted all modern ICT facilities in agriculture sector. When in Bangladesh we are talking about basic ICT usage for extension, most of the developed countries are using sensor or sattelite image based ICT applications for agriculture.

Though e-Agricluture has been identified as one of the action lines identified in the Declaration and Plan of Action (2003) of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The "Tunis Agenda for the Information Society," published on 18 November 2005, emphasizes the leading facilitating roles that UN agencies need to play in the implementation of the Geneva Plan of Action. FAO hosted the first e-Agriculture workshop in June 2006, bringing together representatives of leading development organizations involved in agriculture. The meeting served to initiate development of an effective process to engage as wide a range of stakeholders involved in e-Agriculture, and resulted wide spread discussion among various stakeholders on usage of ICT in agricultural sector. But in field, not much commendable progress achieved till now. 

e-Agriculture now needs leadership where FAO can take initiative jointly with other relevant stakeholders and Governments can implement with necessary customization. The major issues for next few years are -

1. Lack of National e-Agriculture strategies to guide and lead to a path

2. Capacity of the relevant organizations in terms of HR (Skill & Knowledge) and technology.

3. Committment of the government and development partners

4. Lack of coordination among the actors, even within government and development agencies

A global initiative to facilitate, support, monitor and mentor as global knowledge hub can be useful to overcome these challenges.

Resources are not the challenge rather utilization of the resources is the major challenge to introduce e-Agriculture.


pablomac's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 months ago
Joined: 20/11/2013 - 00:18

This is so critical and I wonder if it has been formally proved that the levels of trust actually interfere in the quality of the information captured.

So much of the farmers' business and daily dealings are face to face that answering questions in a cell phone or tablet may not have the same importance or relevance in their minds..... just a thought...

But in our case, as members of a value chain we have been working on building trust for many years now, this should "hopefully" help with the quality of the data we are capturing...

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