Fostering entrepreneurship among Ugandan smallholders

3 July 2013
ITC News
Using the latest technology to deliver vital agricultural information to rural communities in Uganda, helping farmers to increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods

Through a smartphone-enabled real-time information channel, a cloud-based technology platform and a network of peer-nominated intermediaries, the Grameen Foundation is seeking to change the lives of smallholder farmers. With over 1,100 community knowledge workers (CKWs) deployed across Uganda, the social enterprise known as the CKW Initiative will not be slowing its pace anytime soon. In fact, the Grameen Foundation plans to double the size of its CKW network in Uganda this year, has already piloted a similar operation in Latin America, and has plans to replicate the model in additional markets in the near future.

How it works

CKWs are nominated by their communities based on criteria such as past leadership experience and willingness to serve the community. CKWs receive a loan for a ‘business-in-a-box’, which includes an Android-based smartphone, a solar charging station, a weighing scale and marketing material.

Using an app on their smartphones, CKWs deliver vital agricultural information to their communities, helping farmers to increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods. Two basic types of knowledge are shared: information that helps to increase productivity (such as best farming practices, how to prevent and treat diseases and pests, and weather forecasts) as well as information that helps farmers connect with markets and effectively engage with agricultural value chains (including up-todate market prices, directories of suppliers and buyers). This twofold approach enables smallholders to increase the quantity of food that they produce, and to maximize returns for any surpluses that they sell. This empowers farmers to exponentially increase their incomes, and provides them with the entrepreneurial support they need to make the leap from sustenance farming (farming solely for consumption) to commercial farming (farming for profit).

Additional communication channels, such as SMS and a Farmer Call Centre, which is maintained by a team of agricultural experts fluent in nine local languages, supplement the activities of the CKWs and further increase access to the knowledge in the Grameen Foundation’s agricultural database.

A real-time, two-way information flow

The most powerful aspect of modern technology lies in its interactive nature, and the Grameen Foundation exploits this in several ways. Information is not only disseminated to rural communities through the CKW channel, it is also collected and sent back to the Grameen Foundation database, allowing the operation to be managed in a highly reactive manner. The Grameen Foundation uses this data to monitor and evaluate CKW activities, making it possible to continuously improve all aspects of the programme, including the content being disseminated, the functionality of the technology and the ways in which incentives are given to CKWs.

The Grameen Foundation is not the only organization that benefits from these last-mile data collection capabilities for rural societies. CKWs also administer mobile-based surveys to their communities on behalf of partners of the Grameen Foundation, including international non-governmental organizations, development agencies, government organizations and private-sector businesses.

The impact

Since its inception in 2010, the CKW Initiative has deployed over 1,100 CKWs across 18,320 villages in 36 districts across Uganda. It has reached more than 176,000 smallholder farmers with the critical information that is held in the Grameen Foundation’s agricultural databank, with at least 880,000 beneficiaries estimated to have been indirectly reached by CKW information services. Currently over 1.2 million direct interactions with farmers have taken place, with the number increasing daily.

An independent evaluation of the CKW Initiative carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute, which compared a group of smallholder farmers with access to CKW information services to a control group that did not yet have access to these services, made the following conclusions: farmers with access to CKW information services experienced a 34% increase in access to agricultural extension services, a 17% increase in agricultural knowledge and an increase in knowledge about market prices of up to 45%. Of farmers that use CKW services, 92% reported taking action based on the information they received from CKWs.

The future

As the positive impact of the CKW Initiative continues to demonstrate itself in research as well as through increased investment from partners of the Grameen Foundation, the CKW Initiative will continue to grow. The world is becoming increasingly connected by technology, and the development sector is surely a field that stands to benefit from this. The CKW Initiative empowers by connecting: it empowers organizations to better serve rural communities by connecting them with those whom they seek to serve, and it empowers smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods by connecting them to vital knowledge and limitless entrepreneurial opportunities.