E-Agriculture

Kiringai Kamau

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Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Alvarez,

Your thoughts and mine have some resonance that can help mold a solution to the practical data collection end. Having the ability to isolate the various layers in the production to consumption continuum is critical to creating wealth and identifying clearly which parameters are critical when measured.

When dealing with smallholder farmers who do not have the wherewithal to own the technologies that can provide the data, the challenge can bring even a well designed assessment model down. The structured organizational model that farmers need has to be factored in as a measurable outcome of the cohesion of members. Their ability to create nodes, or collection centers, from where produce is collected is critical. If the organizational framework is created, such tools as the value chain, as thought through by Porter or the Balanced Scorecard that you make reference to, from Kaplan and Stratton, will make sense. If you do not have an organization or enterprise, then mapping the models from these researchers will be impossible.

The case for Africa, where we just want to own land, dividing even the very small uneconomical units, even when such ownership does not mean much to you, has been a serious challenge in implementing systems or processes to manage agriculture. There is serious need therefore to think through the models that may be difficult to implement the kind of testing systems that you may have the ability to do in Spain. It may mean that as we develop in Africa,  need emerges to aggregate the uneconomic land units to ones that can make economic sense and where processes can be introduced. To help out, we have to think around land and produce aggregation or aggregating inputs (in all their shades as you have well referenced them) as well as outputs (as demanded by the market) to gain economies of scale. With this, you then can understand why weighing is critical as it measures individual production (delivered to the aggregation point/Centre/sore), helps assess the outturn (production per unit of crop), and supports proportional payment for the proceeds from the market, if the farmers are organized into marketing groups/units/entities, etc.

In a nutshell the knowledge dissemination at the production chain will be different depending on the level of knowledge of the farmer; or their workers. It can therefore become more complex managing this scenario in places where land fragmentation is a challenge than it is in some of the agricultural environments that seem to flow from many of us in this forum.

I seem to therefore notice a very clear divide in our thinking on the technologies that can work for some areas like those twhere high end technologies as you seem to describe make sense . The measurement systems and processes will therefore be different and may call for more focused consideration depending on where they are domiciled.

Kiringai

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Hillary,

My approach is value chain driven. I seek to see business indicators that are linked to the use of a centralized information system that aggregates measurable parameters like the farmer demand for inputs..depending on what value chain. This should again be matched against the sales by the supply chain. With an organization buying from the suppliers and individuals making individualized orders, its possible to use the farmer organization to tell the individual picture of how much impact the ICTs have supported through the database queries.

Similarly all parameters associated with knowledge that can be captured through digital learning sessions can be captured and documented. Radio call ins can also be used to collect respoinses to the use of various agricultural initiaitves.

When farmers are paid through their organization, the wealth formation can easily be ascribed and with credit being possible through the payment supported procurements that derive their force from the sale of produce, productivity and wealth formation can be assessed and impact measured. Suffice to say that all begins with measurable farm outputs that comes from digital weighing then others are easy to measured and digitally controled.

The cost of the survey is not necessarily high, it is based on how the system is designed. We work with multinationals that pay their smallholder suppliers and have to respond to their Fair Trade and Green Forest Alliance engagements. They do that using systems we have developed and are able to provide since we measure everything from the weights of the produce delivered by farmers. They payment to farmers is again from one pot and can be ascribed to the use of our technology.

As a business model, the design of the trials complies with this thinking and can be as empirical as there are possible areas of focus that one seeks to address.

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

To address the question at hand more clearly therefore, the targets of data to monitor from ICTs include the following:

  1. What investments have ICTs attracted to a community, a neighborhood, region, country?
  2. What new knowledge can be inferred from the way people do their work out of using the ICTs?
  3. What level of efficiency in time reduction in carrying out tasks can there be out of engaging with ICTs?
  4. How much has ICTs promoted the inclusion of marginalized communities - youths, women, the poor into the mainline economic mainstream?
  5. Have ICTs promoted the creation of new enterprises that enable more investment in new technologies? and,
  6. How much have ICTs influenced policy shifts at the macro level planning?

The mere introduction of MPesa in Kenya created vast readjustments in the way people related. Savings at the national level has been rising, the velocity of money movement has increased and general wellness can be avered to be associated with this innovation that uses the mobile for money transfer. BUT it influenced the Central Bank of Kenya to change and influenced banks to change. Out of the technology that has been championed by a marketing telecom company, many youths have gained entry into the mobile apps development and many other services have become possible including doing business selling air(time).

Going forward, the adoption of technologies needs what has been well argued in my previous post - create organizations that can invest in technology platforms. AND of course no one would appreciate this to be my post if I do not remember to integrate all this to the value chain...so it is necessary to ensure that all the potential opportunities that the various value chains present are the force behind which technology is adopted by all. Let those who have land resources use them with inputs from those who have them whether they are physical or non-tangible like knowledge, let those with money invest as chain actors to provide a service to those lower and let those that can consume also feed the producers with the payment and promptly so that the movement of financial resources fuels growth.

Kiringai

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Thanks Michael for the introduction.

This is definitely a different area and calls for a policy dimension that interaction with the grassroots may not have provided much insights, but yes there is reason to focus more on the measurement or impact of ICT4Ag.

My posts have consistently mentioned weight as the only standard that can provide measurable linkage to agriculture. Weighing, particularly when it is digital provides the foundation on which the assessment of the contribution of ICT to agriculture can be done. By measuring the inputs to the agricultural chain, and comparing that with the productivity or output from the chain using digitized  data from the databases of the aggregators of production, then we have a sure way of measuring agricultural benefits.

In my humble opinion, it is from the digital databases that the other tools - mobiles, radio, cellular communication, apps etc can gain relevance. Critical in the data management is the organizational framework or infrastructure for hosting the digital or ICT platform on which all other devices and processes will gain the reason for their inclusion as contributors to ICT4Ag. I want to submit once more that creating standalone smallholder solutions without this basic organizational foundation is just but sinking sand. This IMHO may explain why so much effort in ICT4D impact has been minimal as no strategic thrust has been implemented, creating the many solutions that have been more donor/investor/sponsor driven than sector or impact focused.

As derived from Sloan's 3Ses, we easily aver that without structure, there cannot be systems and without systems there cannot be strategy. The introduction of ICT4D within the WSIS focus and the MDG focus, referenced in the ITU and UNICEF's documents, many development initiatives never factor in the institutional framework against which to implement measurability. It definitely is not possible to control what you cannot measure which explains why the direction of many development projects where development efforts take place never sustain. Arising from this argument therefore, it is easy to see why the outcome of measuring what is scattered yields as myriad results as there are interventions that stem from as many actors, which beats all sense in sustainable development.

Given this thinking, there is need to right the wrongs that project designers and implementers have made happen. With ICT bringing as many thinkers as it is able to bring as it is itself a unifying framework, let all professions join in, contribute their knowledge set, create communities of practice in a shared platform which deliverers measurable impact. My submission therefore is that we are now moving from data based technologies to knowledge based solutions that call for structural frameworks in the form of agricultural enterprises that are based on agricultural value chains so that the agribusinesses that emerge from these value chain engagements can support the processes that ICT brings, after which crafting strategies on measurable impacts is possible.

Continued...

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Will ICT embrace the indigenous knowledge of women in food security for example in my community?
 
I have stated in another post the work that Digital Green is doing in bringing people together to listen not from radio but from their peers. We have developed a model which is backed by a value chain cooperative at national level that we call RAVAAKs. It would be nice to include your groups that work along appropriate value chains to create a value chain cooperative that can benefit from our Value Chain Agribusiness Investment Cooperative.
 
Will ICT bring along technology that my community cannot afford?
 
When communities come together as a value chain rather than households, we have demonstrated in dairy and horticulture that they can afford investment in any identified technology. The model of RAVAAKs, which I have made reference to in the post on gender, can be supported through the government Huduma Centers in Kenya. It can become a vehicle for investment by other development institutions. We are keen to explain this one in your vernacular to your people.
 
Lee Babcock has mentioned BOP impact assessment has anyone used it in Kenya or around east Africa?
 
BoP Impact Assessment is just impact assessment in pro-poor programmes that target grassroots programmes. All development programmes by leading development programmes of USAID, DANIDA, IFAD, World Bank, SIDA, JICA, Technoserve, SNV, World Vision etc have impact assessments at the BoP.
 
Kiringai

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Is your strategy to grow in other agriculture areas like annual crops or tree plantations? It is not so easy to control prices and the value chain if we don´t solve marketing intermediates

If I get your question well, you seek to know if I have a strategy for growing annual crops and tree plantations in agricultural areas... and that it may be impossible to control prices.

My contention is that the challenge of market intermediaries is the creation of agribusiness enterprises. Aggregation of outputs of any value chain layer helps address market intermediary challenge.

Do you want to collaborate with foundations or similar with experience in field to solve farmers problems, like gender problems that are been talking in this post or similar?

Foundations are necessary to support investment and creation of sustainable agribusinesses since cost of money is very high. Sustainable programmes call for term investors or angel investors whose desire is to create something that thrives sustainably.

What is your approach to use new technologies to help these growers to be more efficient?

Efficiency of smallholders comes from knowledge and its dissemination. The technologies best suited for this include FM Radio, the internet, mobile phones and of course our own technology on digital weighing and linkage to database solutions that drive ERPs.

Do you think that your approach could help the empowerment of training farmers and technical staff that are necessary to develop your ideas?

I am currently involved in a knowledge management perspective in the CAADP's programme on the Agricultural Training and Vocational Education and Training. Part of this effort is to promote agricultural staff training. Using the online learning programmes promoted by the Telecentre.org Academy, much of the training can be undertaken through hosted online databases. All our programmes are driven through training supported empowerment with Cisco and Telecentre learning programmes that engage both youth and women.

Kiringai

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

When an agribusiness enterprise is mapped to act as the linkage to the market for agricultural produce, superimposing ICT solutions at all layers of the chain engages youth, women and men alike. Backed by this thinking, I want to submit that the biggest challenge in agriculture is our addressing the sector as distinct operational silos and not a continuum.

This view may call for reason to be excused as someone who has listened to me many times told me that I tend to sound like a carpenter whose tool in trade is a hammer, and believes that the problem is always a nail. My effort to integrate the value chain may seem to make me that proverbial carpenter but I have always contested that much as I use it as the basis of explaining my thinking, I always seek to contextualize my discourse.

That said; my experience in the daily sector has been to integrate our basic ICT solution to agriculture which is the digital hand held scale into farmer owned agribusiness initiatives. My contention is that the choice of ICTs, that have no domicile, alienates producers. Creating a physical space where knowledge is shared on a one on one basis promotes understanding. Having the sharing backed by the internet or other local computer or video solutions as has been noted in the model of the acclaimed digital green business model presents a home grown solution.

With the agribusiness organizational model housed in a digital centre that links the produce aggregated at the centre for economies of scale in volume aggregation for marketing helps in joint marketing and payment.

Our dairy sector experience has been that the knowledge centre which we have come to dub the Resource, Aquaculture, Value Addition, Agribusiness and Knowledge (RAVAAK) Centre engages women, youth, and men. This is what we did in the dairy sector and can be used in all value chains.

While women and youth are the labor in the farm and all wealth goes to the owner of the household resources who is the man, creating an agribusiness enterprise as a cooperative for aggregating agricultural produce and marketing can also have other businesses associated with it. We have formed a savings and credit cooperative as the arm for paying the farmers and we have also integrated retail outlets also owned by the producer and marketing cooperative. What this means is that the family uses the produce to procure for their household needs whether or not they have money, so long as they have the produce delivered to the cooperative to guarantee their payment for the credit. The cooperative Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) also issues cheques in its name for producers who have a need to pay for anything on the strength of their produce.

In essence, the foregoing ensures that the family members that are authorized can take goods and make payments on credit and therefore are not alienated from their productivity outcomes. This then means that using the digital scale to capture produce weight, process the data for payment from the digital scale using a youth developed agribusiness ERP, run their organization using the same ERP, relay information on payments and credits using SMS and make payments using mPayment of the balance that has not been consumed through credit, we have a totally integrated ICT solution that ensures that women, youth and men are all actors in the value chain. Since the men only take what remains, the role of the ICTs to promote transparency and effectiveness makes it possible for women and men to share transparently and using societal pressure as the tool to ensure that men even they are pig headed in their houses are reminded in public gatherings the gains the cooperative is achieving in social development.

In a nutshell, it is necessary to combine the power of ICTs with organizational or business modeling to ensure gender equity or parity and to make youth actors through ICTs solution development and service provision from the knowledge end.

Kiringai

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Alvarez,
 
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’
 

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

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.

Kiringai

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

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.