Alberto Solano

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Alberto Solano
Alberto SolanoGrameen FoundationGuatemala

As mentioned in this forum there are many ICT efforts, a lot very promising but few that can pass beyond the pilot test. Scale is rare and uncommon, there is a lot of duplication of efforts, learnings are not shared properly and over all there seems to be lacking a common path or vision of future and success. Donors, practitioners and governments are not aligning efforts or creating enabling environments that can orient efforts and make resource utilization more effective.

Governments and donors need to build better incentives for private sector companies and telcos to engage and generate social innovation, its possible but not common. There are somegood experiences that merit being mentioned, here in Medellin, Colombia the local Government of Antioquia and the municipality have been promoting the city as an innovation hub, yes, Medellin, and you will be surprise how successful they have been in just few years.

Ruta N, http://rutanmedellin.org/index.php/en,has become an true innovation hub, where the goverment has partner with scientist, academia, donors, private sector players and enterpreneurs to promote socia technology innovations. Ruta N is building a technoogical district that provide a safe and ease company landing program that promotes that international technology businesses and support companies set up in the city under one roof, creating an innovation hub (by now there are more than 40 companies that have started operations in Medellin).

Beyond landing of companies, there are funds and support vehicles for entrepreneurs, institutions and reseach organizations, that support the development of innovations from ideation and prototyping, to acceleration programs that promote commercial scale. 

Ruta N is a perfect example of defining a common vision that can make systemic changes. We need to do more of this if we want to see real changes and if we want to have ICT efforts that pass the pilot test. 

Its not about projects, its about enabling ecosystems that promote continous improvement,shared learnings and growth.


Alberto Solano
Alberto SolanoGrameen FoundationGuatemala


You raise some important points here, first you remark the need of more holistic approaches ICTs are but a minor component on development projects and need to be part of a more integral intervention. If ICT projects just focus on knowledge exchange welll... these will be dead by the time the donor funds extinguish. The commercial approach is as important as the user centric design of the tool.

We are working a lot in coffee and have a well funcitoning platform that connects extension services with certification, GAP and now working with Starbucks to integrate loans. We have mapped 4 seals (CAFE Practices, FLO, Rainforest and almost done with organic) to a single data collection tool and we can map how close or far a farmer is in complying with these standards. We have done this (or trying to) by focusing on the Ag principle and if we take care of the the key 4-5 practices of soil conservation, then we can comply with any standard that related to it.

This multicertification empowers the coop and helps guide the extension services efforts, we know for each farmers which practices are low and we can focalize the efforts. Happy to share more.


About sustainability,agreed, you might be familiar with our CKW work in Uganda, this is a great project that was the base of our work in LAC, but the model we have design here maitains the basis but mutated a lot. I cant say we will be for sure 100% sustainable, but we believe is a short term goal. The model is much lighter weight and while still on early stage is promising. Again, is not just information exchange (nobody pays for info) is info that generates transactions and business.



Alberto Solano
Alberto SolanoGrameen FoundationGuatemala

Thanks Doorn018,

I will be reviewing the report you just shared. About your questions let me try to respond:

- Mobile interface and farmers usage: The mobile interface is quite simple but robust, design for last mile usage therefore is very friendly, intuitive and easy to use . http://taroworks.org/, here you can find the information. Taro runs in android phones and uses Salesforce.com as backend which is excellent as we have the security of a corporate CRM and the versatility of Android platform. We use both tablets and smartphones but always with the human network, therefore a community leader is the one trained to use the platform and this person interacts with the indicidual farmer. We are just starting to use SMS so we can assign the purcahse order to the farmer directly (beta-testing), to do sms blasting is quite easy, but we need to start by having the leader visit the producer so they understand the system and the technology, so when they start to receive the sms they know what to do. This takes several visits, trust and adoption dont come naturaly, they need to be cultivated.

An important aspect is that the producers have gave us tipson how this product could add more value to them, I listed some of the suggestion they provided.This is important as they are as essential in the process as the supermarket or the aggregator and we need to add value across the chain to drive adoption.

In average a community leader can be trained fully on the use of the mobiles and the platform in 2 days, we have done it with leaders starting with 6 years of schooling, but most tend to have 7-10 years of education. We do conduct simple test on basic aritmethics, reading and comprenhension to select leaders.

-About interoperability: In Colombia mobile wallets are new but available, and you can basically register your sim card and associate it to a bank account quite easy. We will be training the leaders to do that and so farmers could receive a mobile payment if needed, but, our challenge is having enough cash in and cash out points so its convenient for the farmers. Our platform is independent to m-wallets, which is great as we dont have to create them, through Salesforce we are creating purchase payment reports that mirror the internet banking payroll forms, so its painless to distribute the payments. 

Finally, we are considering to do a gradual mobile payment strategy, which means to start paying 80% of the orders as done today and 20% through the mobile wallet, and gradually increase the %. This is still TBD as first we need to secure the cash in/out points.

I know I provided quite detail here, happy to follow up offline.

Alberto Solano
Alberto SolanoGrameen FoundationGuatemala



I certainly agree with you, integrating climate analysis can provide the deedback loop to the farmer required by ICT initiatives, can help understand sidease dissemination or the influence of luminosity and temperature in production. We are just about to start working on this in Colombia, we have access some weather databases from Meteoblue but are in an early stage and sharing experiences, methodologies and analytical frameworks will be excellent. Here is my email, very interested in getting in touch asolano@grameenfoundation.org

Alberto Solano
Alberto SolanoGrameen FoundationGuatemala

We have been discussing about the use of ICTs to support knowledge sharing and families to adopt best practices. I want to bring another topic here which is as important, using ICTs to help businesses transact with smallholder farmers. This might not address Nafia question on transacted or paid services as we are still on prototype phase but should evolve to a fee per service model if successful.


In southwest Colombia, Grameen Foundation is providing ICT services to family horticultural farmers that are organized in small associations and then one commercial company (aggregator) sells their produce to large Colombian supermarkets and grocery stores. Working with this aggregator, we are currently testing the viability of a mobile sourcing (mSourcing) and mobile purchasing tool (mPurchasing) to promote efficiency and standardize product sourcing processes; increasing farmer revenues and participation.

Connecting smallholder farmers to the market, this commercial aggregator is an indispensable ally for farmers and their associations. It takes daily supermarket orders, disperses these orders among the associations, and delivers the final products from the associations to the grocery stores. While the commercial aggregator connects farmers to the market, it does so in an inefficient way. They previously managed order sourcing, purchasing, and sales using a series of simple spreadsheets, whiteboards and mostly phone calls. One of the biggest inefficiencies of this approach is that the aggregator does not or inadequately collects information about individual farmers, associations, and products requested and delivered, delaying farmer payments and leading to incorrect information and production planning. Because the aggregator did not previously track this information, there was little transparency in the processes and family farmers knew very little about the final delivery of their product. Additionally, farmers did not have the correct information about the quantities of crops they should be planting and harvesting.

To solve these inefficiencies and lack of information sharing with family farmers, we are developing an m-Sourcing tool (with plans to build an m-Purchasing tool in the future). Through a series of surveys done on mobile phones and tablets, grocery store orders are placed, assigned to associations, and assigned to farmers as purchase tickets. These surveys provide real-time updates to a series of reports, which are then used to provide association leaders more detailed information about each individual farmer and to make farmer payments.

While we are still in the prototype stages of this ICT project, we have already been met with positive results.

  • 40 hours of admo. work a week eliminated in report building at the aggrgator level
  • 1,577 order cycles completed
  • $42,667 in sales in the last month
  • 13,164 surveys completed

Farmer buy-in: 

Farmers are excited about the project and have approached Grameen Foundation about additional functionalities that they would like to see in the mSourcing tool like

  • Production planning surveys
  • Text messages notifying them about orders and payment
  • Farm management plans
  • Yearly and monthly production planning
  • Traceability for products.

In the future, this technology will be amplified to involve farmer level reports that farmers themselves receive, to provide agricultural extension services (information about crop production and quality will be loaded onto the tablets and shared with farmers), text message notifications, and mobile payments. We expect that these tools respond to a current market failure, and if we can continue to provide value to established businesses then these will continue to transact from smallholder farmers and maybe one day, this can be a fee per service model.

Alberto Solano
Alberto SolanoGrameen FoundationGuatemala

Clearly ICTs have limits and are far from being a silver bullet, both Mowyni and Door018 have touched on this before, but I will comment on what makes our biggest limitation or success factor, the need of a well functioning human network:

This is well known and has been a topic in this forum in the past, nevertheless it is such a critical component that worth being flagged again. Technology is an enabler and only human interaction changes behaviors, this is a rule of thumb  in our work with smallholder farmers or with pregnant women across the world. We put a lot of emphasis on defining the profile of a successfull agent (in our work in Grameen Foundation we work with producer or community leaders, so they are not paid technicians) in the field and looking for those specific carachteristics. We also put emphasis in understanding what makes an agent more effective than others and how this can be affected by gender or age. 

Some examples, in our work using ICTs to empower extension agents, we have learned that women agents visit less farmers than men agents, but the level of repeated visits and interactions is much higher. This is because they have less time (have to take care of the home), or are unable to cover large distances and therefore, we prefer to recruit women in communities with higher densities of population.

We have also learned that women agents tend to visit poorer and more vulnerable families, and data shows that they also tend to visit more fellow women. These are key learnings and have influenced the way we recruit extension agents in communities where we want to target more women or where poverty levels are higher.

All extension agents use ICTs and all farmers in the program have the same level of access to them, but effectiveness is clearly drove by the human factor. Therefore we have to spend a lot of time understanding what motivates the agents  and building incentives that respond to those motivations, which has not been a simple thing. We have found that incentives must have 3 basic elements: a) should be enough so the agent does not incurs into personal costs, b) should have an important personal learning component built, and c) must help the agent or leader gain more recognition in their communities. In our experience if agents dont incur into personal costs, we need to work on the others as those are more important than compensation.