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Strengthening rural development with ICT

The Send Foundation provides price information on mobile phones (© IICD)
The Send Foundation provides price information on mobile phones

The International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) believes that people need access to information and communication to improve their lives, particularly in developing countries. "Farmers, workers and entrepreneurs can use information and communication technology (ICT) to access market information, improve quality and productivity and strengthen business skills and employment opportunities," states IICD's regional manager for West Africa, François Laureys. Over the past five years, IICD has been working with its partners to evaluate their projects to learn lessons about the effective use of ICT to boost rural economic development.

Boosting productivity

In Burkina Faso, IICD has worked with local farmer organisation, Nian Zwe, to train 2,500 farmers in innovative production, food processing methods, marketing skills, production of organic fertilisers, and techniques for sustainable management of natural resources, using video, photos and digital presentations. The use of participatory multimedia, IICD reveals, has also been shown to be effective for enhancing the impact of exchange between producers. "The importance of locally produced content that is tailored to user needs cannot be overemphasised," explains Laureys. "Farmers, especially illiterate farmers, understand and memorise new production and food processing techniques better if the information is visualised and provided in their own language or dialect."

Nian Zwe trains farmers using video, photos and digital presentations (© IICD)
Nian Zwe trains farmers using video, photos and digital presentations

"Formerly, people used to fall asleep during our training sessions," says Nian Zwe's Korotimi Doumaba. "With the camera we can now show pictures of the evolution of test plots. In our brainstorming meeting with producers, we compare visual images. Agriculture techniques are filmed and we present these videos during the training sessions." As a result grain production has increased from 0.5 to 4.5 tonnes per hectare. The visual approach has also helped overcome problems relating to the comprehension of certain topics in a province where nearly 80 per cent of producers are illiterate.

More efficient markets

By making informed decisions on where and when to sell, producers can increase their income substantially but in many countries farmers do not have access to price information. A number of IICD projects have focused on providing market information via radio, mobile services and the internet. In Ghana, IICD supported the Send Foundation, which provides price information on mobile phones and trains smallscale farmers to use the information effectively to connect with buyers. Evaluation showed that an important innovation was the development of voice-based responses, allowing illiterate - particularly female - farmers to use the service to contact and negotiate with potential buyers. Over 85 per cent of participants have increased their revenues through participation in the programme.

In Bolivia 15 provincial telecentres have been established (© IICD)
In Bolivia 15 provincial telecentres have been established

"While access to market information supports awareness of producers, it does not guarantee better decision making," adds Laureys. "Integrated use of different ICTs, including rural information centres, provides an even more powerful approach." In Bolivia, for example, a large-scale information system for smallscale farmers provides crop price information from eight national markets and information about production techniques to over 300,000 producers, through a national daily radio broadcast.

One thousand farmers are also subscribers to a mobile SMS service which provides price information. This is being expanded in 2012 to 10,000 users. Additional information services, such as weather alerts, are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, 15 provincial telecentres have been established to provide 100 extension workers with access to online information to enable them to inform and train producer organisations to analyse and use online information at a local level.

Strengthening skills

By helping to develop ICT skills, IICD has also been supporting partners to improve their business skills. "ICT-supported training in business skills has been shown to assist producers and traders in much more efficient, effective and more sustainable ways of doing business and to enhance their entrepreneurship," states IICD's Laureys. In Mali, for example, a women producer organisation - Coprokazan - has quadrupled its sales of shea butter from US$29,000 in 2006 to US$115,000 in 2010, through the use of their website.

Coprokazan has quadrupled its sales of shea butter through the use of their website (© IICD)
Coprokazan has quadrupled its sales of shea butter through the use of their website

Other IICD supported projects are using ICT's to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of certifying products, enabling producers to get better prices and enter new local or international markets. In Zambia, a farmers' organisation - OPPAZ - is using smartphones as a way to collect field data for organic certification and traceability. Over 10,000 organic farmers are participating in the programme which has seen a 30 per cent decrease in costs and a 20 per cent increase in membership of new producers, who are now able to afford the certification process.

In the highlands of Bolivia, quinoa is one of the few products that can be produced under the soil and climate conditions of the altiplano, and is a product with a high sales value. "Without better information about land use, the region risks over exploitation and long-term depletion of production possibilities, affecting the income of thousands of families in Bolivia," reveals IICD's Country Programme manager for Bolivia, Wietse Bruinsma. The AUTAPO Foundation, therefore, is helping producers use GPS devices to collect data to show the productivity of smallscale quinoa farmers, provide information about soil management and increase the chances for farmers to receive organic certification.

"With the right tools, people in developing countries can considerably improve their livelihoods and quality of life," Laureys concludes. "Better access to information and communication technology is particularly vital in enabling them to achieve their goals."

Written by: the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD)

Date published: September 2012


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