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3 Ways to Improve Farmer Information Systems

By Guest Writer on July 20, 2015


Farmer Information Systems have found solid footing in development, and are now fine-tuning their strategy and approach in communicating market prices, weather forecasts, and farming techniques. Yet participants at the recent ICTforAg conference spoke of the difficulties of trying to create better Farmer Information Systems to increase the value of their communications with farmers.

The three main takeaways were fundamentally linked to one another: farmers and their communities need to be consulted and engaged in the projects.

1. Involve Farmers in Program Design

Farmers need to be involved from the beginning of the project. While creating user profiles for the rural farmer can be a useful tool, it cannot be the only method for inclusion. Joint efforts of demographic studies and conversations with farmers can provide more success than assumption-based projects. Some projects ran into issues of low literacy rates in their target communities; one project overcame that issue by talking with farmers about how they would prefer to receive the information.

The farmers overwhelmingly asked for voice messages, specifically voice messages that were read in their own language preferably by someone from the community. Knowing that a local individual supported and understood the message helped the farmers to build trust with the program. ICT Ag program creators can do more not only by designing projects for farmer participants, but also by designing them with input from their farmer participants.

2. Collaborate Instead of Replicate

As organizations realize the successes and potential of ICT projects, more ventures are finding their way to the field. In order to best harness this potential and to make sure that the work is cohesive, Information Systems need to work within the context of their projects, meaning they need to determine what is being done, and then build off of those existing platforms.

New projects do not have to build their own systems when they already exist. Together, they can work towards finding more effective solutions. In some cases, it may be easier to build a customized system, but when all organizations do this, it creates fatigue. One audience member spoke of the exhaustion that project participants feel when it seems every new organization requires a new program, training and time to learn.

3. Engage at the Grassroots Level

We heard one individual who created his own system because, despite asking for feedback, support, and assistance, he was unable to get a larger organization to recognize his efforts. Instead of forcing grassroots efforts to strike out on their own, Farmer Information Systems need to be a strong foundation that grassroots efforts can turn to for support. Local organizations have a strong sense of the community constraints and strengths, which makes them key partners in building strong projects.

Additionally, the grassroots organizers can be valuable liaisons in building trust for a project. Panelists talked about program participants jumping from project to project trying to maximize benefits instead of building the type of strong relationships needed to see projects through to completion and, ultimately, to success. One solution is to find engaged community members who can help create projects in which individuals want to participate and improve. Providing a solid foundation of local participants and innovators will give projects the best chance of success.

As more organizations realize the significant benefits of Farmer Information Systems, it is critical for them to engage and to channel the needs and the opinions of the local participants in order to make the most of those benefits.

Cassiane Cladis is a Masters student at University of Colorado Boulder and an intern at FHI 360

Filed Under: Agriculture
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9 Comments to “3 Ways to Improve Farmer Information Systems”

  1. Bhaumik Shah says:

    Great insights!

    Was there any discussion around sustainability of these projects? It seems financial sustainability is still the unresolved mystery for mobile based agri info services.

    • Cassiane Cladis says:

      Financial sustainability seems elusive to many development projects and ag is no different. ICTAg is still a nascent field but as more donors and users begin seeing the benefits it’s crucial that the field becomes more refined. To maintain and attract funding ICTAg projects need a clear design and usage patterns. This comes from collaborating on platform design so the market isn’t flooded and engaging grassroot level support so that participants are connected and reap the benefits. Have you seen other methods for financial sustainability that agriculture projects should be utilizing?

  2. Very insightful. We realized these challenges in 2009 when piloting a Goat Markets Access system and this gave us the idea to launch a resource that will provide provide governments (think e-gov) and development agencies/practitioners coaching on resolving the issues (and more) raised here. We are still in pre-beta but those interested in testing the pre-beta site can contact chris.hanyane@elearninginstitute.biz with subject Pre-Beta Use normal e-mail since feedback sources on the site are being fine tuned.

    • Cassiane Cladis says:

      A space to connect and discuss these topics will be a great way to enrich the field. Will the resource be targeting any specific region or type of agriculture?

      • It is targeting ICT4D in general and more tilted towards global south though some of the issues are global. ICT4Ag will be options chosen for project work to as specialization. Inbox me on chris.hanyane@elearninginstitute.biz to get credentials to access the free lesson which is available even though the site is still in Pre-Beta.

  3. Thanks for the insight.
    This is helpful.However it is vital for all Farmer Information Systems to involve the government supervisory structures at the top end as much as the grassroot level. This will help in supervision and uptake of such an innnovation in the target community and even sustainability of such an innovation.

    Such an innovation should be designed from the start with the government incorporated at the top level.

    • Cassiane Cladis says:

      I agree that government support can greatly enrich these projects. As the field becomes stronger hopefully governments will invest in ICT as another method to engage, support and encourage not only the existing farmers but also to attract youth. In our discussion we had some questions about accessibility of power/electricity as a reason for governments being an under-engaged resource, have you found this as well?

  4. Mireille Nsimire says:

    Totally agree on Collaborate Instead of Replicate, The innovative mobile finance service for farmer is an exemple of the above point.
    Unfortunately we did not relay on farmer Market information system to build our application; but on Mobile Finance apps by adding some component which was needed to fulfill our company’s goal.
    We are ready to share the with others so that they might be able to customizing based on their own need.