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Reaching the last mile

Farmers need appropriate advice and access to inputs (WRENmedia)
Farmers need appropriate advice and access to inputs

One of the greatest constraints that farmers face to improving their farming practices and productivity is availability of information and agri-inputs. Known as 'last mile delivery' (LMD), it means reaching farmers with appropriate and timely advice and enabling them to access the inputs they require. LMD is an ongoing challenge for private and public sector providers.

Since many public extension systems have broken down, attempts have been made to fill the gap. A greater array of ICTs is now available but not always accessible to all. Packaging information in the right format with the right messages is also an issue, particularly for reaching illiterate farmers who are unable to pay for the information they need.

At a workshop hosted by the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) in New Delhi, India, from 10-12th February 2010, representatives from farmers' organisations, international research institutes, and national as well as international private sector companies gathered to share and discuss their views on this challenge. In this Points of View, we provide a summary of viewpoints on 'reaching the last mile'.

The challenges of reaching the last mile

The lack of extension workers is a critical bottleneck in reaching the last mile (DSCL)
The lack of extension workers is a critical bottleneck in reaching the last mile

Subsistence farmers in Asia are relatively large in number, generally poor and low in education level, with small landholdings. One of the effective approaches is direct contact to build awareness and understanding in technology but it demands a big investment and consumes much time. This is definitely one of the challenges that limit the deeper reach in achieving more effective last mile delivery.
Teh Kim Sing, Syngenta, Singapore

The critical bottleneck in reaching the last mile is the lack of trained and motivated manpower, which has an incentive and accountability for producing measurable results in the farmers' fields. This is compounded by scant availability of tailored and customised information relevant to the farmers' needs. The package is poorly designed, and lacks specificity to the crop and soil conditions.
Rajiv Sinha, DCM Shiriram Consolidated Ltd, India

As farmers we really face a lot of problems in getting the information we want. There is a gap now between the extension workers and farmers. Secondly, there is a poor infrastructure and poor communication network. The information centre is always at the district level, where at times it is actually a long way to go. And most radio programmes for agriculture are not given priority or aired at the right time for us to listen.
Emmy Katera Turabagyeneyi, Uganda National Farmers' Federation

Farmers have to see that something is beneficial to them otherwise they resist change. We should not misguide them. In the name of helping them we should not give something which is not proved, and then they will have to pay for it the rest of their lives.
Dr Sarala Gopalan, National Institute of Agriculture, India

In areas where radio is not available, listening groups can provide practical advice which farmers can discuss (Pius Sawa)
In areas where radio is not available, listening groups can provide practical advice which farmers can discuss
Pius Sawa

You need the software, which is knowledge and information, but you also need the hardware, especially seeds and fertilisers. Even in countries that have some infrastructure that's still a big issue. And it is two dimensions: physical availability, often these materials are not available in time, and also cash to be able to buy those inputs.
Bernard Vanlauwe, Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (TSBF-CIAT), Kenya

Reaching the right client in the right way

If you go and change practices overnight the farmers are not going to accept it. So we have to first see the practices, watch them, and identify the gaps. From the gaps come the opportunities. And we need to exactly prescribe on the opportunities and the gaps so the farmers get immediate results. And that is how they become more attuned to change.
Sovan Chakrabarty, DCM Shiriram Consolidated Ltd, India

At the Gates Foundation we believe in the Four 'R's': having the right message delivered at the right time; having it come from the right source, a trusted source; and and having the right feedback so that, over time, that message is refined to better meet the needs of smallholder farmers. So it is not just the knowledge but the right source, whether that be a trusted agro-dealer, extension officer or farmers' organisation, that is very important to make sure that that message is communicated in the right manner.
David Bergvinson, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

In our culture in Africa you do not get men who are strangers interacting very closely with women. That really poses a challenge. So we urgently need to get more women in the extension workforce so that they can reach the women, who are the majority of farmers in Africa.
Rebbie Harawa, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Kenya

To attract the young, agriculture must become an exciting career prospect (WRENmedia)
To attract the young, agriculture must become an exciting career prospect

When we look at developing appropriate technology we have to look at who is our client, and the Gates Foundation recognises that women play an extremely important part in agriculture. So as we look at developing and delivering technology we need to keep them in mind.
David Bergvinson

We need a greater number of well-educated younger people on the ground, who are willing to work with farmers and retailers in a professional manner. This must become an exciting career prospect for young people in rural areas, people who grow up there; but, at present, these people seem to want to leave for the cities as fast as possible. This requires business investments and business models, but also excellent certification and continued education programmes for this new workforce of professionals.
Achim Dobermann, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

We need to get to a point where agriculture is not just for subsistence but providing an income, agribusiness. This is what is going to attract the young. To do this we need to connect our production to the right markets as well as set up these demonstration plots in schools where we have the future farmers so that they see what kind of agricultural technology is productive and applicable.
Rebbie Harawa, AGRA

Making the most of ICTs

We have to involve the farmers but going there every day has a very high transaction cost. So we are using cell phone technology to ask questions to several farmers at the same time. These farmers are registered on our database. They use the cell phone to tell us what they want. We use the cell phone to give them the information and it is working very well.
Kofi Debrah, IFDC, Ghana

Mobile phones are being increasingly used to provide agricultural information to farmers (IRRI)
Mobile phones are being increasingly used to provide agricultural information to farmers

One way forward is in the innovative use of widely available mobile telephony to vastly multiply the reach and timeliness of information needed by the growers. But this has to be accompanied with programmes to train and certify the extension manpower, including the input dealers.
Rajiv Sinha, DSCL, India

Any ICT device which is internet-based and wireless will work in rural India and I believe this is where we need to focus our efforts.
BB Singh, Tata Chemicals, India

A collaborative approach for greater impact

Overnight change cannot happen, it is a long gestation period. So we have to pull in resources from strategic partners, strategic alliances and then work on those resources together. So collaboration is very, very important and there is no shortcut.
Sovan Chakrabarty, DCM Shiriram Consolidated Ltd

The cost of last mile delivery is significant so we have to create partnerships. Platforms for LMD should allow for different disciplines and stakeholders to adapt to the needs of farmers, as these vary from region to region.
Hillel Magen, International Potash Institute (IPI)

A collaborative approach will have a greater impact on LMD and reach more people (WRENmedia)
A collaborative approach will have a greater impact on LMD and reach more people

We have to demonstrate to the farmers that it will be profitable. We have not paid enough attention to profitability and the big challenge is to scale up these initiatives and to bring all the partners together in order to have consistent messages among the different partners involved in the extension.
Patrick Heffer, International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA)

Better last mile delivery can only be achieved through multiple pathways, implemented by multiple public and private sector entities that act as partners, utilizing their comparative strengths. More providers equals more people reached, and allows scaling up. One prerequisite for this is to get the goals and messages right. Ten different messages confuse people. One common one can encourage action.
Achim Dobermann, IRRI

Date published: March 2010


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