E-Agriculture

Megan Mayzelle

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Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

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.

Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

Gerardsylvester, this is a very interesting point.  I wonder if devices themselves are the best way to collect project impact data from users as well.  Do you think this holds potential?  If so, what are the obstacles?  Three that come to my mind are 1) as you mention, limitations of the device 2) user objectivity 3) user motivation to complete survey.  

Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

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?

 

Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

Steph,

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.

Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

Radio is neither new or glamourous, but it has been both utilized by and enabled by ICT for ag development in very important ways in the past few years.  

 It has almost no associated cost, requires no literacy, and is already widely used and available.  In fact, radio is used by an even larger percentage of the developing world than mobile phones.  

Of course, the long-standing limiting factor of radio in communication is that is it has traditionally been a one-way channel.  Mobile phone technology and a host of service providers have recently broken down this barrier.

Service providers such as FrontlineSMS and Esoko have enabled small radio broadcasters to successfully manage communication with massive numbers of listeners.  Organizations such as Farm Radio Int'l link various stakeholders together to provide quality radio services.  

As a result, small local radio stations have become potent hubs of information exchange within the larger community.

A single example of ICT "success" is Salam Watandar in Afghanistan.   This station puts ag experts on the air several times a week, and returns farmer's "missed calls" to respond to their queries. The station tracks these queries and general reports from farmers and are in the process of creating a map based on that data to help predict where future agricultural "events" (drought, infestations, etc) are likely to occur.  Furthermore,  SW relays to the community the commitement made by the Ministry of Ag in the Ministry's periodic reports.  Then, they utilize stakeholder feedback to hold the Ministry of Agriculture accountable for the commitements they've made.  This is a great example of an NGO fostering connections between various stakeholders in the national community in ways that create symbiosis and empower everyone involved.

Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

As backpack farm points out, the ultimate sustainable design in the incorporation of all stakeholders (agribusinessmen, farmers, coops, ag advisors, etc etc)  into a national (or otherwise large-scale) network of exchange of goods.  But, as John points out, some communities are so excluded from the existing network that they perhaps don't even know what possibilities exist.  Therefore, I suggest that the role of development is to ultimately foster those connections and, as John says, prepare the un(der)served for capable participation in said network.  This is well articulated in two of kiringai: 

  1. How do we link market dynamics that can ensure value chain actors: producers, service providers who include the youth with their m-apps, and consumers who will link directly with sources of produce rather than relying on middlemen whose value add is derived from information asymmetry or distance.
  2. Can logistics networks use more of the m-apps to reduce distances to delivering produce to consumers and what considerations are necessary to achieve such....
Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

John,

Thanks for sharing this intriguing example.

I am interested in hearing more about what motivates the CKW to work toward community improvement.  Traditional motivators--such as piece-meal pay--are not easily applied in such scenarios, and frequently results in apathy on the part of the selected representative.

Best, 

Megan

Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

Steph,

Interesting points!  In response:

1. You are absolutely right that all humans have a limit where challenges become obstacles, and initiatives that ask farmers to overcome *obstacles* rather than challenges are often not worth the energy investment for the farmer --> are not successful.

2. When introducing new technology, the question is, why wasn't this community already using this device?  Too expensive?  Not available?  Too big of a knowledge gap?  Whatever it is, it is likely to prevent the scalability that you mention.  Even if you provide devices to a whole community, what will they do when the device breaks down?  Often unsustainable.

3. Absolutely--as I said, we also found that multi-channel communication allowed maximum engagement levels --> success.

On all three counts, the bottom line is meet the users where they are comfortable.

Megan Mayzelle
Megan MayzelleUniversity of California Davis International Programs OfficeUnited States of America

Steph and Pablo, thank you for these excellent points regarding real impact of agricultural mobile initiatives.  I'd like to add a few observations that came to mind as I read your posts:

1. Measured impact of mobile technologies on agriculture is scant and generally antecdotal.  Clearly, good information is needed regarding the impacts of previous initiatives in order to inform the design and approach of future efforts.  At the same time, these  impacts are inherently difficult to measure because they may not be immediate, may not be reported/recorded, etc.  Furthermore, as in so many aspects of development, success of ICT interventions in agriculture is case-by-case.

2. Our team at the International Programs Office at University of California Davis analyzed ICT initiatives in agricultural development in three Feed the Future African countries.  Our conclusion was the same in all three countries, and I have found the same to be true based on my own experience in Afghanistan.  The most successful initiatives:

--utilize multiple technologies.  In particular we found that radio+mobile phone combinations were most successful.
--utilize technologies and skills that people already use rather than training on new technology, or demanding new or little-used skills (such as reading, in some cases).  Mobile technology is novel and a status symbol, and so people are eager to use it.  Nevertheless, on the long term, people tend away from making important decisions based on systems that they aren't completely sure they understand or trust (or are not confident that they are using correctly).  Thus, the mostly widely used interventions are one that exploit exisiting skill sets.  
--complement existing infrastructure.  That is, for example, market intelligence technology will only increase farmers' sales price if there is a road network that enables the farmer to get his/her products to market.
--are low-risk in terms of time and monetary investment
--are financially self-sustaining 
--enable multi-way communication between stakeholders.  The more connections the better: farmer to farmer, farmer to "expert" (such as extension agent), etc.

It is worth mentioning that our evaluation of "success" was antecdotal.  Nevertheless, these national analyses did give us the opportunity to begin to articulate commonalities between initiatives that have received widespread positive feedback.

3. The last point in the list above perhaps captures the point on the continuum which Steph mentions wherein mobile tools rest.  Mobile phones have been so tremendously well received in the developing world precisely because they enable human communication at a price that people are able and willing to pay for that invaluable service.  Consequently, mobile technology improves any situation in which the limiting factor is communcation.  Mobiles cannot resolve lack of capital, infrastructure, security, etc--thus it is no silver bullet or magic wand.  However, communication is a key element in so many aspects of society that indeed such technology has many applications and much potential for positive impact.