Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Introducing FrontlineSMS to pepper farmers near Kurunegala

Over the next five days, the Rapid Prototyping Work Group will be meeting with various farmer groups to share ideas for using low cost ICTs to support knowledge mobilization.

Today we met with pepper farmers near Kurunegala.  Janaka Lindara, Asst. Director of the Dept of Export Agriculture kindly offered his time and support to this meeting, and I was pleased to meet him  and learn about his enthusiasm for this project.

Rapid prototyping is about achieving fast results, and we were able to listen to farmers tell us about the challenges they face in getting market price information for their products and create a simple solution for them.  All in less than an hour.  While Nuwan led an interactive discussion with the group, Chandana set up FrontlineSMS to design a keyword-based solution that allows farmers to subscribe to receive price information by text message.  We then demonstrated the SMS-based price reporting system by having the farmers subscribe using their mobile phones.  Using the system, we then sent them a demo price per kilo for pepper to illustrate how they would experience it in action.

In this photo, Nuwan and Chandana are showing the Village Agriculture Development Officer how to use FrontlineSMS to provide real-time price information to farmers. She has offered to install an instance of FrontlineSMS and to manage the text message service on behalf of her community. Chandana will work with her over the next few months as part of his PhD research at Wayamba University.

Pepper farmers have two harvests per year, so the system needs only to be active during harvest time.  This means that the system could be set up on a campaign basis for the months that it is needed most. The campaign could be launched by telling the farmers about the service and inviting them to subscribe to it.  Prices could be sent on a daily or weekly basis from the market by someone at that location.  These prices would then be entered into FrontlineSMS and sent to the farmers by text message.  This would allow farmers to be aware of the going rate for their product and to make selling decisions accordingly.  After the harvest, if the system is not needed it could then be put away for the next time.  Or it may be used for other purposes.  That will be up to the community.  

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