E-Agriculture

John Tull

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John Tull
John TullGrameen FoundationAustralia

4. Train and then Publicly Deploy:  graduates of the training are 'branded' with T-shirts and caps, helping to reinforce their special status. Some embrace this even further, posting signs and hanging shingles (to advertise that 'the doctor is 'in'', so to speak).
·       The idea is to maintain community engagement, not make this solely a ‘private’ contractual arrangement.

5. Pay for Performance:  targets (for conducting valid surveys of neighboring farmers; for disseminating information or conducting group interactions) are explicit and written -- they are sent monthly to each CKW wirelessly, along with links to their specific set of surveys or job tasks. They track their individual performance in real-time on the phone; and then receive payment via mobile money upon attainment of a performance target.
·       Making this rigorous is essential: e.g. all interactions with farmers are geo-tagged and logged; all surveys are quality-checked both logically and with spot-checks in the field. Consistently strong performance enables a CKW to graduate up to a higher tier of work and monetary opportunity.  

6. Maintain the Focus:  while the overall approach has a strong commercial theme, it is subsidiary to the community-sanctioned role and responsibility. We reinforce this in periodic refresher training, CKW local cohort meetings and in farmer community meetings. The strongest performing CKWs appear in farmer-to-farmer videos and are interviewed on Farmer Voice Radio, reinforcing the intrinsic value and status of the role.
·       In Uganda approximately 450 of the CKWs are women, largely serving the more than 75,000 women farmers registered in the program (35% of the total) -- and we have seen that women CKWs consistently tend to be the best performers, in no small part (we believe) a reflection of the new status they have achieved.
·       We have also learned to become more aware of social dynamics; not all husbands have found they were comfortable with their wives' new-found status and ICT prowess -- incentives can work both ways! 
 
Grameen Foundation continues to refine the model, especially as we now plan to deepen the farmer services that the most capable CKWs can perform in their communities and therefore need to manage the natural tension between creating greater income opportunities for the CKW via the ICT platform and maintaining the integrity of the Community foundation of the model.

I hope this gives you a more concrete picture on this key issue of motivation; let me know if you'd like any more info (or can share some insights from your work).

-- John 

John Tull
John TullGrameen FoundationAustralia

Megan,

you hit on a very important issue: pay-for-performance is (probably) necessary, but by itself insufficient. Issues with any simple pay-based approach include (i) creep away from mission to narrow commercial-mindedness or even a form of entitlement; and (ii) possible gaming, where people work out how to play the system at the expense of achieving the end goal. 
  
In the CKW program, the major motivation is more intrinsic -- give already-motivated people the opportunity to earn an additional incentive while performing high-impact work to agreed community standards. 

Sounds high-minded/idealistic, so naturally you'll ask: 

(1) how do you find and recruit those 'already-motivated' people? (how do you know you've done it well?) 
(2) how do you maintain performance to agreed standards, when work is largely being performed out of direct sight in remote areas?  

While not holding out that there is a universal answer, what Grameen Foundation has found works best is the following (all currently deployed for the 1,300 CKWs deployed in Uganda today):

1. Mobilize Social Capital:  Work with the community to first agree to the program and then have them nominate trusted local people to perform the work.
·       hold sensitization sessions up front, about the type of responsibility the role holds, nature of the work, how the incentive plan works, and to surface the needs of women farmers in particular and encourage female participation
·       these have been design principles in the CKW program from the early days, after we'd seen that  more traditional select/recruit/train approach didn't reliably deliver

2. Select on Merit:  from the small number of nominees put forward, perform an objective selection process to determine aptitude (to use smartphone-based apps, in a consultative manner) and availability

3. Engage as Peers: in Uganda, the CKW candidates know that they will receive performance-based incentives but also that they will each purchase a 'business in a box' of a smartphone and solar charging unit complete with panel and additional charging ports for a micro-utility income opportunity.
·       Nothing is given to them; instead, we believe it is essential to underscore the responsibility and the opportunity of the role with this financial commitment by the CKW. Repayments are made from cash incentive payments.

(** long-winded, so I need to break into two replies, sorry **)

John Tull
John TullGrameen FoundationAustralia

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

    

 

John Tull
John TullGrameen FoundationAustralia

Hi Alvarez,

you make an interesting distinction between knowledge of crop management in the agro-ecological area, versus decision-making knowledge needed during actual cultivation.

The former is essentially a planning exercise, and mobile technology can certainly play a role in e.g. mapping farm plots and collecting crop history data.  Other forms of ICT can also be used effectively - farmer-to-farmer videos on crop planning and intercropping, for example (such as by Digital Green http://www.digitalgreen.org/; or the farmer-to-farmer low cost video techniques promoted by USAID's FACET program via great training work by FHI360 http://www.e-agriculture.org/blog/free-toolkit-demystifies-video-agricul...); community radio shows on Ag topics with farmer listening groups and using SMS feedback channels (e.g. Farmer Voice Radio http://www.farmervoice.org/content/consortium; IVR for farmer connection to public resources such as planting material depots; etc. 

The latter type of knowledge - for improving grower input management - is more 'in the moment': it is local, contextualised, dynamic and involves actual investment of scarce resources.   Again, we have a rich portfolio of potential ICT tools - mobile apps that help with decision-making by querying a database or contacting an expert; various ways to share local knowledge via video, radio, drawing and sharing pictures.

But you make the key point that Measurement is very important. 

Grameen Foundation has been enabling farmers in Uganda to offer up local solutions - such as alternative ways to use byproducts as compost in cultivation, or ways to tackle a pest on the crop - via the mobile phone. The information is captured by the community, sent to a central expert hub in the form of text, image, voice and/orvideo over the phone, and then validated by independent agronomic experts. Approaches that are empirically validated are then 'published' in the menu of knowledge available instantly to all the Community Knowledge Workers on their handsets.

This is an area that we all need to develop much further; as Megan noted: utilise the skills and experience that people already have, as far as possible; to which I'd add, and use the tools to help identify what is effective.

-- John
   

John Tull
John TullGrameen FoundationAustralia

Hi BackpackFarmKenya,

I'd agree very much that one marker of real progress is when interventions by development agencies and not-for-profits are able to get out of the way. Think: training wheels!
 
Many commentators argue that there are too many 3-5 year development projects that just don't seem to go anywhere; conversely, one of the notable features of well-designed development programs is that they usually emphasise having an exit strategy that explictly includes self-sustainability.

But I wouldn't make the distinction between 'commercial or development sector' too catgeorically.  Instead I'd suggest we set high, objective performance standards on any approach on a "horses for courses" basis; the starting contexts vary so much for the remote rural poor.  

Where infrastructure, enabling services and commercial actors are able to bring goods and services to remote communities, then farmers can become both producers and consumers as you say.  But in the absence of infrastructure, enabling services and competitive commercial activity, many of those farming households are consigned to being "off-net" -- invisible, un(der)served, often exploited by middlemen trading on those deficiencies, and often with very limited pathways to change.

That is where well-designed development interventions using (e.g.) the power of ICT to overcome distance and enable information collection and dissemination can be powerful.
It can create development activity that actively promotes inclusion of those farmers in commercial supply (buy/sell) chains, on an informed and empowered basis (choices, competitive markets, etc). But design is everything; I think we all still have "training wheels" in regard to design. 

At Grameen Foundation we have repeatedly seen 50+ year old farmers -- people who've had very little opportunity for formal schooling -- embrace well-designed apps presented intuitively and usefully on an Android smartphone, and in no time at all they are bringing new ideas and market opportunities to their neighbouring farmers (e.g. performing surveys and disseminating agricultural information that is useful to those farmers).

This type of activity is, I think, an important pre-condition for informed, capable engagement with formal commercial markets. Commercial interests have to "see" attractive, viable, accessible markets; farmers (as consumers or sellers) have to have genuine choices, good product knowledge and informed ways to access what they need (loans, seeds, knowledge).   

Whether in mobile agriculture or in mobile financial services, we have found that when we do get it 'right', overwhelmingly it is because the whole approach was bottom-up in design, very much in line with the Human Centered Design approach you also have discussed earlier in this forum.

The challenge is to get it 'right' more often; and know we are doing so, with better measurement. 

Bottom-up wins too (and probably more often)!

-- John 

John Tull
John TullGrameen FoundationAustralia

Some excellent dimensions have been called out so far, about (e.g.) the need for integration ('solutions' over 'tools'), better ways of measuring impact ('farmers reached', like 'mobile penetration', doesn't tell us much), and scalability (robust ways of working at scale, versus 'science experiments').

While no approach is a universal solution, Grameen Foundation has been deeply engaged in one scaled-up project that utilises ICT in a user-centred way, i.e. by trying always to start with the end farmer and her/his needs, and engage them in a co-creation of services to address those needs.  Through trial and error we have learned that a participative approach is key; as Steph, Kiringai and others have indicated. In both mobile agriculture and mobile financial services for the rural poor, we start with what we call 'human centered design' principles and methodologies, making findings available once substantiated. 
http://www.nextbillion.net/blogpost.aspx?blogid=3519 

The 'Community Knowledge Worker' ('CKW') approach (a community-nominated trusted intermediary empowered with a smartphone, useful apps, training/management support and a business model that encourages quality interactions with farmers) is maturing as a 'next generation' style of intervention, enabling us to start capturing some valuable learnings. http://www.grameenfoundation.org/what-we-do/agriculture

Again, this is not a 'silver bullet', but it is proving to be a cost-effective way to reach scale (213,000 farmers currently, after 3 years in Uganda) through local participation (over 1,000 CKWs active in their communities). It is also starting to record some interesting impact results (in one independent study, 22% better crop prices, 30% better agronomic practices, and a discernible shift by farmers towards diversifying into new, higher-yield crops).

A number of commentators have rightly called out the paucity of empirical data available in this arena; we hope to publish these and other data to contribute to the joint development of evidence-based guidelines for replication and adaptation.

-- John