In addition to the workshop, Mary Beckie, Naomi Krogman and Suraya Hudson were able to hold interviews with people in the following organizations:
World University Services Canada
Farmers’ Federation for the Conservation of Tradtional Seeds and Agri-Resources
Eco-Cultural Studies Centre
BioFoods (Pvt) Ltd.
A general theme among our respondents was that communication with and among farmers is primarily face-to-face. While almost all farmers have cell phones, very few farmers have computers. Powerpoint, audio and printed materials will, however, be used during training sessions. There is very little use of radio or television for sharing information on organic agriculture. Most printed material is pitched at a grade 8 level of education. The most preferred way for farmers to learn is through demonstration.
For us, this begs the question, how can demonstration of successful organic farming practices be facilitated by ICTs? How can those who lead, teach, and who are privy to new information, be linked up with those who lead demonstrations, and gather farmers to take up these practices?
We hypothesize that the use of low cost ICTs (as presented at the workshop) may be of most relevance to those stakeholders operating more at the meso-level: "social mobilizers" that Sevalanka uses at the district level to communicate with farmers, other community and farm leaders, NGOs, businesses, University offices coordinating training and other initiatives with the farmers. The NGOs and business that we spoke with were very interested in trying out these low cost technologies within their own organization or business and felt that there was definitely potential for future use among farmers. There may be ways that farmers could use cell phones, for example, to communicate with each other about cooperative efforts to deal with a pest issue, pooling resources to buy a new piece of machinery, trading work for food and such when there is variable success with certain crops, and coordinating other work efforts.
Climate change is a challenge for agricultural production and home gardening in Sri Lanka because of the increasing unpredictable variability in production conditions from year to year. Ushahidi might be a good method of showing production levels of the same crop/garden plant in different places, to learn where success was achieved and adaptations were tried, or to inform the buyer (e.g. BioFoods) about the levels of production that appear to be emerging over the season.
We also could see text messages, Freedom Fone being of use there, to alert farmers to special video showings, meetings with key informants, or training that focuses on special techniques of interest to farmers.
Finally, we were made aware of difficulties for farmers to get registered as farmer societies from our WUSC informant, and their desires to empower farmers to control more of the production side of things, and the processing by companies. There was interest there to see communication enhanced among farmer associations and groups in remote regions (via cell phones); a good potential for Bio Foods.