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Organic Farming Training in rural Kenya – an ICT approach to knowledge dissemination

By Ignatz Heinz on May 11, 2011


Biovision Foundation is a Swiss non-profit organization with a global mission to alleviate poverty and improve the livelihoods of rural people in Africa while maintaining the natural resources and diversity that sustains life.

From Biovision’s longterm engagement in research for natural methods to fight pests and increase agricultural output, has emerged The INFONET-BioVision Information Platform to transform scientific, academic research into usable and accessible information for small scale, mostly subsistence, farmers in rural Africa.

The information platform is used as a resource pool for disseminating information inside and outside the Internet through active cooperation with partner organizations and local farmer- and women’s groups and with information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The core concept of Infonet-BioVision is the database with its processed information and pre-defined structure, which facilitates the rapid and easy incorporation of new data. As the needs of users with varying levels of knowledge and experience ought to be catered to, the platform around the database is conceived in such a way that the users can access its content through different entry points. These include databases on sustainable pest and crop management, animal, human and environment as well as training modules in these areas.


The target audience are ultimately the farmers themselves, but the reality of Internet and generally ICT availability in rural Africa calls for an elaborate dissemination structure, for which the knowledge management system and web-site can only be the core, not the final means.

For the farmers, the value of this kind of information is significant. From simply assuring subsistence in the absence of funds for chemical pest prevention to creating income on the emerging high value organic produce market, alternative farming methods can break through a static pattern of problems that persists for decades in African farming.


Traditionally, the kind of information now made available on the Infonet has been trained by individual trainers or extension farmers, or been captured in books and conference papers. Unfortunately, this kind of information reaches only a small subset of the vast farming population for reasons that can be as simple as the lack of infrastructure to transport books from A to B or simply organizational problems that cause books to be kept locked up centrally as a means of exercising power.

The role of the system

In essence, the system is a “content capturing” knowledge management system. It allows editors at various positions in the editorial work-flow to interactively and remotely carry the original scientific input to a state that can be used by trainers or farmers as simple how-to instructions. It makes sure that the content is captured in a “semantic” manner, meaning that relationships between e.g. Pests and Crops and remedies are identified in the data, and that the content is clean from proprietary technology, so that it can easily be re-used in mobile systems or future technologies.

How is it used?

The most popular way of accessing information is via the images, which are used as a simple visual dialogue. A user can navigate from the image of a certain crop, e.g. a Banana, to an image of a specific “problem Banana” and from there has access to a short “How to remedy” instruction.

Trainers and extension workers use the system in a different manner, searching by keyword or topic to prepare printouts for their training sessions.

Dissemination channels

Apart from the website itself and a derived CD-ROM edition, the content has been made available through a free SMS Mobile search service with Google in Uganda, has been taken as the core for many articles in the leading Kenyan organic farmer newspaper “The organic farmer” and has been edited and broadcast by local Radio stations. In addition, “i-Tof” stations have been established, which are basically extension workers equipped with a mobile Internet solution and who travel around to the farmers and farmer groups in specific areas.

As pure one-way dissemination can not satisfy the quickly changing needs that often depend on a fluctuating market and weather situation, a mobile (SMS) based helpdesk was created that answers messages that are received by SMS, and a Facebook group with more than 2000 users (Facebook is very popular in Kenya, amazingly even among rural population with irregular Internet access).

Further Information


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One Comment to “Organic Farming Training in rural Kenya – an ICT approach to knowledge dissemination”

  1. Cleopa says:

    30 KenTel members last year December through support of CTA (www.cta.int) had a chance to interact with Infonet Biovision during a training workshop at ICIPE, Nairobi.