Grameen puts mobile technology to the test

In early 2009 the Grameen Foundation went to Uganda with the idea of creating a fluid and effective two way communication channel between rural farmers and the world of agricultural experts, development agencies, traders and commercial players. Through this loop, rural small holder farmers would be given livelihood saving agricultural information generated by the experts and the big players would keep informed on conditions on the farm from adoption of best practices to available produce for sale. Grameen has now published its Community Knowledge Worker pilot report to share some of the lessons learned on what it takes to sustainably build and expand such a network of information intermediaries.

If you know much about agricultural extension services in rural Africa, you could have called such an ambition, well, ambitious. Traditionally, taking agricultural extension services to these farmers who live in far and hard to reach places is slow, expensive and inefficient because it is riddled with bottlenecks such as poor or no road infrastructure and few extension workers spread thin over vast areas. Grameen Foundation’s technology center had a plan – harness the power of the mobile phone, a technology that is oblivious to such bottlenecks and combine it with a network of human intermediaries that can be trained to fully leverage its capabilities for the benefit of the farmer.

In nine months of testing the concept, Grameen Foundation built recruited, retained, and provided ongoing training, support, and monitoring to 38 Community Knowledge Workers operating in two districts. The foundation partnered with 7 organizations to pool expert agricultural information onto a central database and was commissioned by three organizations, including the World Food Program, to collect grassroots data on farm conditions. Together with MTN Uganda, the country’s leading mobile network operator, the foundation prototyped, tested and deployed eight mobile applications to deliver information to and from rural farmers.

The result of all these intricacies? The network of 38 community knowledge workers reached rural farmers in more than 14,000 instances either providing information to them or interviewing them for surveys commissioned by leading players in agriculture. That is; more than 8,000 times, a farmer received livelihood improving information such as organic agricultural tips and advice developed using local knowledge, agronomic best practices as prescribed by experts, market opportunities and market prices, location and contact numbers for agricultural input dealers. On the other hand, institutional agricultural players touched based with more than 6,000 rural farmers on such crop disease incidence, potential to supply to lucrative markets like WFP and farmer’s knowledge of disease control methods.

via Lydia Namubiru, Grameen AppLab blog, 20 May 2010.