October 15, 2009 / Community Knowledge Worker Initiative Provides Vital Information Link to Improve Agriculture
As the international community prepares to celebrate World Food Day, Grameen Foundation today announced that it will expand its Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative in Uganda, supported by a $4.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative is building a self-sustaining, scalable network of rural information providers who use cell phones to help close critical information gaps facing poor, smallholder farmers. They will strengthen the information link to poor farmers by disseminating and collecting relevant information in these underserved communities.
“Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for poor people in much of the world, including more than 75 percent of Ugandans. Through the Community Knowledge Worker initiative, we are helping poor, smallholder farmers, who may meet with an agricultural agent infrequently, access vital agricultural advice, weather forecasts and other information to improve their lives,” said Alex Counts, president of Grameen Foundation. [snip]
Working closely with and complementing existing government agriculture programs, CKWs are trusted local intermediaries serving farmers who frequently lack basic access to up-to-date information on best farming practices, market conditions, pest and disease control, weather forecasts and a range of other issues. The CKW model is designed to improve farmers’ lives by enabling them to get the information they need to improve yields and have broader access to lucrative markets. Upon request from a farmer, a CKW will use his or her cell phone to access actionable information to meet farmer needs.
In addition, CKWs collect agricultural information from farmers, providing a vital link between farmers, government programs, non-governmental organizations and other entities focused on improving agriculture in Uganda and beyond. While farmers sometimes have access to a cell phone, this service will greatly expands its availability and also connect farmers to trained professionals tasked with sharing knowledge and information with them.
During a successful nine-month pilot, which concluded in August 2009, 40 CKWs in Uganda’s Mbale and Bushyeni districts had more than 14,000 interactions with smallholder farmers. They conducted 6,000 surveys to help organizations such as the World Food Program and IITA (www.iita.org) better understand farmer needs. IITA also created Geographic Information System (GIS) maps showing crop disease outbreaks, the impact of farmers adopting recommended disease control methods, and other important information for farmers and scientists. [snip]
In this next phase of the initiative, Grameen Foundation is building on its experience in the pilot to develop a self-sustaining national network capable of reaching more than 200,000 farmers.
The CKW initiative advances Grameen Foundation’s efforts to develop innovative and sustainable approaches to use technology for the benefit of the world’s poor. It also leverages the extensive knowledge and expertise from its successful Application Laboratory (AppLab) Program in Uganda [snip].
The grant is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development initiative. The foundation will also announce this grant as part of a larger package of agricultural development projects in conjunction with Bill Gates’ keynote address today at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa.
Building a Network of Community Knowledge Workers: $4.7 million
To develop a network of 4,000 community knowledge workers in Uganda who use mobile devices to increase the reach and relevance of agricultural information, leading to improved productivity and livelihoods for small-holder farmers. The project aims to reach up to 280,000 small-holder farmers, reduce the cost of adoption of new and improved practices by 25 percent to 50 percent, and ultimately provide a model that can be scaled to reach millions of small-holder farmers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.