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Development Community Urged to “Take it to the Farmers”
|For links to ICT Panel presentations, visit http://www.aiard.org/program1.html|
By Emily Ardalan, GHI Public Affairs and Research Intern
The Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) began this June by participating in the 51st annual Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD) conference in Washington, DC. Over 100 representatives from the agricultural and rural development community, universities, the private sector, and associations from around the world gathered to share innovations in practice and technology and to learn from each other. The conference also provided a venue for youth leadership in agriculture and rural development, with over 30 global youth participants attending to hone their leadership skills and bring new energy to international agriculture and rural development.
The main message of the conference can be summed up with a quotation from Norman Borlaug: “take it to the farmers.” Several speakers, including Dr. Priscila Henriquez, Specialist on Technological Innovation for the International Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and Aldo Noseda, Vice President of Information Technology at Monsanto Company, emphasized the importance of reaching out more effectively with timely and tailored advice to the over 500 million small-scale rural farmers across the world. (Monsanto Company is a founding member of GHI; IICA is a GHI consultative partner organization.)
How Can We Reach 500 Million Farmers with Timely Support and Information?
Small farm holdings are defined as agricultural holdings of less than 5 hectares, yet collectively they hold over 30 percent of the world’s cultivated land. The majority of these farms are concentrated in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It is in these same areas where the most dramatic increases in the adoption of mobile technology have occurred in the past five years.
One of the things small-scale farmers need most is timely information to be more productive, conserve their soil and water resources, and increase their incomes. In order to update and adapt conventional extension and advisory systems, especially throughout rural developing countries, extension services must take advantage of the growing technological links between knowledge providers (government agriculture extension agents, universities, and private sector input providers) and farmers through mobile phones and web-based knowledge platforms. Companies like Monsanto and initiatives like MEAS (Modernizing Extension and Advisory Service) help bring knowledge to those rural farmers by facilitating access to technology and site-specific consultation and education.
As presented by Aldo Noseda (Slides Courtesy of Monsanto Company – All Rights Reserved), Monsanto’s Farm Agvisory Services uses basic mobile technology, such as text and audio messaging, in addition to call center support to give Indian farmers producing corn, cotton and vegetables access to custom advice on their crops, which results in larger and healthier yields. By increasing access to information and education, extension services help increase the productive efficiency of these rural farms. Such programs also allow each extension agent to reach further into developing regions, cover more ground, and address issues quickly. The program will expand globally in the coming years.
Monsanto Call Center Advisors in India respond to farmer’ inquiries (above). Extension agents visit small family farms to collect information, determine the source of any problems, and identify solutions to help farmers (below).
In her panel presentation, Priscila Henriquez, Innovation Specialist with IICA, discussed two programs designed to increase the impact of extension services and improve the quality and efficiency of small farms in Guatemala. Each of the two programs helps bridge the knowledge gap for farmers, particularly those farmers that do not speak Spanish, but local languages such as Q’eqchi.
- P4P (Purchase for Progress, a partnership with the World Food Program) aims to improve the quantity and quality of crop yields (primarily maize and beans), reduce losses, develop business management skills and access to credit, and increase the production capacity and management roles for women. Guatemalan farmers and families have greatly benefited from this program, and P4P has led to the production of training videos which are widely available in Q’eqchi, Spanish, and English. Increased access to these videos has increased the effectiveness of the training modules, reaching more farmers in the region.
P4P farmers learn to quality control maize in Guatemala with IICA training (above) and learn from instructional videos (below). Photos courtesy of IICA.
- Another program, TotoGeo, serves as an application dashboard for information delivery designed to increase education and outreach around the world. IICA is collaborating with other partners to adopt the TotoGeo platform, currently used in Africa and Asia, to be used in a pilot test in Guatemala. It provides access to information on soils, weather, crops, markets, prices, and more. This program gives small scale farmers access to up-to-date geo-localized information.
Both of these programs have proved to be effective, and have shown that collaboration is key to spread education and advisory systems. Importantly, they have also utilized a feed-back loop, to continually improve and tailor the services to the particular needs of these farmers.
Advisory services not only help production at the farm level, but can also assist farmers with market information to help them sell their products at a fair price. Smallholder farmers have been limited by remote locations and lack of information about market conditions, and have not always been able to secure fair prices for their products at a market. Through the use of mobile technology, farmers are able to connect with crop buyers with a fair price recommendation. This provides the farmers with more options, and brings them closer to regional and global markets so they can earn more money.
These advances in innovative extension will set the stage for the continued and improved support of small, rural farms. To solve the global problems of hunger and poverty, we must collaborate to “take it to the farmer” through tailoring advice to meet specific needs of farmers of all sizes and across all agro-ecological conditions.