What Do Farmers Want To Know?

Calling into Question Box

Calling into Question Box

During the test of concept phase of our Community Knowledge Worker initiative, AppLab Question Box (AQB) was one of the services that the CKWs provided to rural communities. Grameen Foundation worked with Appfrica Labs, and US based NGO, Open Mind, to pilot this service.  AQB is a live, local language hotline service that brings the Internet and expert advice to the homes and market stalls of individuals who may never see a computer, visit an agricultural specialist, or read in English.  Between April and September, villagers in Uganda’s Mbale and Bushyeni districts had access to the service to ask agricultural, education, recent events and other questions.

Villagers access AQB via CKWs who connect to local-language telephone operators.  Once a question is asked, an operator searches for the answer in English and calls back with the answer, translated back into the local language. The operators can answer many questions by searching pre-approved websites and doing and local database searches, but, when necessary, can also escalate questions to identified experts.  AQB currently works with Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) to bring accurate and relevant agricultural information to smallholder farmers.  NARO also provided the list of approved agricultural websites and a wealth of locally relevant resources from a range of agricultural organizations.

Between April and September, the hotline received almost 3000 calls from CKWs and our analysis of the questions provides great insight into the questions that are of greatest importance to rural communities.  Roughly 2/3 of all questions asked focused on agriculture, with health, education, and news being the next most popular subject areas.  Diving deeper into the data we are able to learn more about what, specifically, farmers are asking about agriculture.  The following table provides a breakdown of the agriculture-specific questions:

Content area Percentage of calls Example
Crop problems related to pests, nutrients, and diseases 42% “What is the cause and control of spotted leaf disease?”

“What type of fertilizer should I use in my coffee garden, which is one year old?”

Crop production techniques 15% “Is it OK to intercrop coffee and maize?”
Agricultural product prices 12% “What is the price of rice in Bushenyi?”
Health problems related to animal husbandry 17% “What is the cause and cure for diarrhea in goats?”
Enterprise development for animal husbandry 6% “How do you rear or manage rabbits?”
Other 8% No pattern

This information is extremely helpful for us. For example, the fact that such a high proportion of questions focus on pest and disease control may mean that we should focus our efforts on new applications that help farmers address the most frequently encountered problems.

More Question Box users

More Question Box users

As we plan for the next phase of the project, we are taking special care to ensure that we will be able to collect data, like the above, on a regular and reliable basis.  It is only by listening to farmers that we will ensure that CKWs are providing services that meet the real needs of the communities that they serve.

Posted by:  Adam Taylor, Project Officer

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2 Responses to “What Do Farmers Want To Know?”

  1. Valery Colong says:

    I wish to congratulate you all for the wonderful work you are doing. Information is what an average African needs in upgrade his/her standard of living. Let us continue the fact and don’t relent; we may help bring a new era of revolution in Africa.
    Ride on people!!!

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