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Agriculture and Mobile Phones Come Together With Our Community Knowledge Worker Project in Uganda

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CKW ICT4D Uganda
Posted on October 21, 2009

Eric Cantor is Director, Grameen Foundation Uganda.

Last week in Uganda I was fortunate to attend a meeting in Busano subcounty, Mbale district, with some of the Community Knowledge Workers  (CKWs) – local farmer leaders empowered with mobile applications to improve the livelihoods of their communities by distributing and collecting relevant information about agriculture – and their clients, the smallholder farmers we all seek to benefit.  There was a lively discussion of the pros and cons of a variety of information services we have been testing nearby.  One farmer, Elias Mabala, then stood up and spoke about how his income improved more than 100% last harvest by virtue of having greater access to market information through the CKW assigned to serve the information needs arising in his village.  Stories like that explain why we come to work each day.

Grameen Foundation has been active in Uganda for some time, starting with the Village Phone joint venture with MTN Uganda and continuing to innovate with AppLab and the roll out of Google SMS.  We now find ourselves with an excellent opportunity to go more deeply in demonstrating the huge potential for mobile phones to benefit under served communities with the expansion of our CKW initiative here in Uganda.

Beginning in January, we ran a 9-month test of concept to examine whether a network of empowered intermediaries – 38 who made it through the whole program — based in the communities they serve can deliver meaningful impact by virtue of their own leadership and a set of context-rich mobile phone information services targeted to the needs of the farmers around them.  During this pilot, we delivered five information services and collected information for the benefit of five different partners in the agriculture sector, facilitating more than 15,000 interactions with smallholder farmers overall.  We learned a lot about the potential for impact, best practices for training and managing the fleet of CKWs, and looked at which pieces of the project can be made scalable and sustainable.  Last week the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced we would have the privilege to build on this pilot and spend the coming years transforming CKW into a sustainable program incorporating thousands of CKWs and touching hundreds of thousands of farmers.  The team is currently seeking a strong and experienced leader to drive that effort on the ground in Uganda.

Our experiences in Uganda reveal a deep demand for timely, actionable and relevant information that can help people solve their own problems.  Our work represents some of the very early steps in an emerging field with some dedicated and innovative practitioners, highlighted in a recent Economist report.  We have a lot more to learn and a lot more work to do, and we look forward to it!

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