Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome to our newest team member

We are pleased to welcome our newest team member Faria Rashid.  Faria is an MSc student in Capacity Development and Extension with International Development Studies at the University of Guelph.  She will be working with team member Dr. Helen Hambly on the Radio+ Working Group within the project.

Her past experience includes various development studies projects while she was in Bangladesh, including work with Oxfam, SIDA, IUCN, and ICDDR(B).  She has a keen interest in the role of ICT in rural development and agriculture, and we welcome her to the project.

Friday, November 7, 2014

FAO E-Agriculture Forum: Comparing our Experiences

FAO E-Agriculture Forum: Comparing our Experiences

E-agriculture is an online forum. It is part of the participatory discussion on “Communication for Development, community media and ICTs for family farming and rural development”, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). From 22 September to 6 October 2014, E-agriculture forum discussed five key issues related to communication media and ICT tools. Their topics were framed by the following questions:
  1. How can communication, community media and ICT tools support family farmers in their activities?
  2. How can ICT tools and communication services engage family farmers in accessing information and exchanging knowledge?
  3.  What are the barriers family farmers face when using community media and other ICT tools?
  4. What can be done at policy level to promote the use of community media and ICTs, and improve rural communication services?
  5. What are concrete actions that can be undertaken to improve rural communication policies and services?
From these discussions our SSHRC PDG project might learn that:

Communication, community media and ICT tools support family farmers in their activities around the world. In the era of globalization, we need to introduce these tools to the farming activities and farmers can use ICT tools to communicate globally. Using ICT tools and equipment like community radio or mobile phone, family farmers benefited in several ways. For example, Michael Riggs, FAO’s Information Management Specialist for the Asia-Pacific region, he shared a recently realized video on how mobile phones are being used by farmers in Myanmar.

Agriculture offices and other farming institutions can share information about seeds, fertilizer and weather forecasts with the farmers. Oumy Ndeye from Senegal, she highlighted how weather forecasts and climate service helping farmers. The weather forecasting department of Senegal (ANACIM) and CCAFS are testing a promising use of mobile phones and community radio to help the farmers to base their critical decisions during the short and erratic raining season on timely information about the weather.

As researchers or extension workers we should not underestimate that farmers and their families can use ICT for entertainment, and education. Like listening to music from the radio during breaks in their work, ICT tools also can create awareness among family farmers such health issues or early marriage. For example community radio is providing a voice to millions in rural Bangladesh and helping fight poverty and extremism. local radio station broadcast 95% of their programs in local language, and the majority of their audience consists of women.

Community media and ICT are promoters of social and economic change in rural areas, providing access to timely information to improve agricultural production and revenues. ICT also helped in the training of rural communities’ farmer families about home gardens and community forestry to ensure food security and create niche crop innovations. For instance, Walther Ubau from Nicaragua, he shared how Nicaragua has some considerable experience in indigenous communities benefiting from community forestry. They have been projects in the Atlantic coast of the country. Community leaders are trained for community management of forests, on issues such as conformation of small forest enterprise and appropriate use of ICT to market their products. Equally ICT has helped in the training of community families about home gardens. 

Most relevant to our SSHRC PDG project is that through mobile SMS based services, ICT can provide farmers with current information about weather or markets. ICT tools and communication services engage family farmers in accessing information and exchanging knowledge. For understanding what are ICT tools and communication services, farmer training is needed. For better communication farmers can learn the two way uses of mobile phones in delivering SMS messages to farmers, receiving feedback or concerns. Radio is a useful media for farmers. For example in Uganda women farmers get together in groups of 30 in 12 sub counties of the community to listen, ask questions and contribute to radio agricultural talk shows. This example was posted by the E-agriculture forum coordinator Valeria Contessa is currently working in FAO on TECA (Technology and practice for small agricultural products.- She mentioned that through a partnership between the Grameen Foundation and FAO, the TECA content is used to repackage information and to share it with farmers in Uganda through a network of community knowledge workers by using mobile phones. This allowed the Grameen Foundation in Uganda to use information from TECA to reach more than 250,000 farmers via smart phone.

The E-agriculture forum participates agreed that ICT become very easy to use even with limited technical knowledge. Almost anybody can use at least some of the wide range of available ICT tools. ICT tools influence and motivate young farmers. Through the ICT trainings from ICT center young farmer are introduced to the digital world.  Using the ICTs, farmers are able to know the local crop price information, production techniques and new technologies and financing opportunities. After getting ICT trainings, young farmers can start applying the knowledge in agricultural work. Some of these applications of their knowledge are in the area of best market prices, keeping records and find crops in high demand etc.

In Summary, community media and ICT tools are very helpful for the family farmers but it has some barriers as well. This discussion forum identified 14 key obstacles: 
  1. Accessibility of telecom services, affordability for telecom services and electronic devices
  2. ICT teaching and education.
  3. Internet/network coverage is not good in most of the rural areas.
  4. Cost of purchasing mobile applications and its operation through mobile service providers is not affordable to farmers.
  5. Quality of information like what types of information they should take.
  6. Use of mobile phone services are still in very early stage. Basic functions like placing missed calls, making/receiving calls. Advanced use of services such as MMS/internet/value added service related to agriculture through mobile is very limited in some rural areas
  7. Language barriers. It means rural people may know only their local language so when they want to use internet they face problems.
  8. Privacy problem, especially for women when they use mobile.
  9. Low literacy is a serious limiting factor for family farmers as it deprives them from accessing important information that is available in written format.
  10. Poverty is a barrier for using ICT because some rural farmers cannot afford computer.
  11. Low technical skills is also a problem. When social centers provide free internet, most rural farmers cannot use it by themselves.
  12. Lack of infrastructure, like limited training institutes.
  13. Lack of electricity, television, internet and community radio stations. 
  14. The absence of effective Public Private Partnership in linking ICT to agricultural development.

Let us now consider the following question as colleagues of the SSHRC PDG project which of the above mentioned opportunities and obstacles have we also identified and addressed in our activities?

By: Faria Rashid and Helen Hambly.
University of Guelph, Canada.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Post-campaign meetings conclude with LIRNEasia colloquium

We arrived in the Colombo area at the end of the week and took part in a colloquium at the LIRNEasia office on Oct. 3.  We presented preliminary results of the campaigns and had a lengthy and productive discussion about the project overall, with helpful input from a number of perspectives.

Setting up for the LIRNEasia colloquium.

We introduced the notion of "proportionate participation" at the colloquium which is a term we have recently coined to describe the relationships between sponsors, tech stewards, technology, and communities within the scope of a campaign.  

Although it is very much a nascent concept, the idea is that these four elements comprise a system of innovation that requires proportionate participation if it is to be inclusive and sustainable.  We chose the term 'proportionate' to capture the notion that the type and amount of participation of any one of the elements is relative to the other elements.  

So, for example, a robust and easy to use technology, will make it easier for tech stewards and communities to use it, thus reducing the burden of training.  On the other hand, a community that is struggling with literacy challenges may require a greater role for the tech steward or the technology in establishing a useful and sustainable system of innovation within that community.  

The idea is new but we will continue to work on it as we look more closely at the results of the campaigns.

Post-campaign meetings: Dept of Export Agriculture (Kurunegala)

The Sri Lanka Department of Export Agriculture (DOEA) sponsored two campaigns in the Kurunegala district, with ginger farmers in the north area and pepper farmers in the south area.  Both campaigns were intended to improve the efficiency and timeliness of communication between DOEA extension offiicers and local farmers.  

Both campaigns used text messaging and both showed that there was interest from farmers in this form of communication, despite challenges with using text messaging on their phones.  Many of the older generation farmers said they needed help to use text messaging but found the information useful.  They asked for a voice-based system to complement the SMS system.  Extension officers indicated that the text messaging system had saved them time and effort when trying to communicate news and updates to their communities.  The DOEA north tech steward was particularly active with the campaign.

DOEA has expressed interest in continuing its use of text messaging and expanding into a voice based system with Freedom Fone.  We are also in discussion with the department about the possibility of working with Wayamba University of Sri Lanka to expand the number of campaigns and extend them into other regions of the country.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Post-campaign meetings: Rangiri radio

On Sept. 30, the team met with Rangiri radio to review the results of the radio+ campaign they had been running with FrontlineSMS.  Rangiri is using the text messaging software to enhance its broadcast programming by making it possible for listeners to submit song requests through their mobile phones.  While we had initially hoped that Rangiri would introduce this into its Thunetha farm radio show, the tech stewards at the the station decided to trial it with popular music programming.  From all indications, the introduction of SMS-based requests has been a success with the station receiving about 150 per day across its three broadcast programs.  

Rangiri radio has a three-person stewardship arrangement, with one individual handling incoming requests with FrontlineSMS (pictured above), another who relays the song requests to the on-air team, and a third who oversees the system.

In discussions with the tech stewards we learned of their preference for a voice-based system for its farm radio programming.  Voice, it is felt, will be more suited to the audience preference and will provide material that can be broadcast over the air.  As a result, we will we working with Rangiri in the coming weeks to deploy Freedom Fone at the station while they continue using FrontlineSMS for other programming. 

Post-campaign meetings: farmers in Verugal

On Sept. 29 we met with a farmer group in the Vergul area north of Batticaloa after clearing our visit with authorities from the Sri Lankan National Guard (the area is still closely monitored by the military after the conclusion of hostilities in 2009).  We learned at the meeting that many of the farmers who had been initially registered in the campaign are now working elsewhere due to economic conditions in the area following a crop failure.

While the farmers expressed continued interest in using text messaging to communicate price information and news updates, there is a fundamental challenge with language in this area.  Tamil is the  main language and the current SMS system is not able to render these characters.  To get around this, messages are composed in a form of phonetic Tamil using a latin character set.  However, many farmers said they are unable to read latin characters, so there is a persistent barrier that will need to be addressed, most likely through the intorduction of a voice-based system.  

Neverthless, a local leader (pictured above, second from left) expressed interest in continuing with some involvement in the project and generated some ideas with the farmers to introduce a news update service involving a local library.  We will follow up but the challenges in this part of the country are significant and it is difficult to know if we can successfully kickstart another campaign at the moment.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Post-campaign community meetings: day one

Members of the ICT Rapid Prototyping Working Group are spending several days meeting with communities to examine the results of a set of recently concluded communication campaigns.

The campaigns form part of an action research strategy to explore the use and adoption of low cost ICTs for knowledge mobilization in agricultural communities of practice.  A previous post describes the campaigns and the communities involved.

Day one involved a meeting with a community group in Kirunkullan, a village located a few kilometres south of Batticaloa, sponsored by Janathakshan (formerly Practical Action).  This campaign centred on using text messages to relay price information to the local community in an effort to improve the return they have been getting on their produce.  Overall the campaign demonstrated the feasibility of text messaging for making this possible.

It is not entirely clear from discussions with the technology stewards involved in this campaign as to whether the demand for price information is seasonal, or whether there is a call for it on an ongoing basis.  However, the tech steward will need to continue to work with the community to promote the system and encourage individuals to organize and plan to report price information when they visit the market or otherwise receive market information.  In this case, the technology can enhance current social practices of sharing information by making it easier to distribute to a large group relatively quickly.

One of the technology stewards on this campaign also asked about the possibility of using FrontlineSMS to coordinate text messaging with another project he is involved with through UN Habitat.  This is an encouraging sign, inasmuch as it demonstrates that this individual is taking initiative to further innovate with the technology having had some initial experience with it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

LIRNEasia Colloquium: discussing the preliminary results from the ICT campaigns

Inclusive Innovation for Knowledge Mobilization in Agriculture Communities of Practice: preliminary results from the ICT campaigns
qrcode.pngLIRNEasia Colloquium

Friday 03rd October 2014
3:30 - 5:00 PM (UTC+5:30)

SPEAKERS:: Mr. Chandana Jayathilake (PhD Candidate, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka) and
Dr. Gordon Gow (Associate Professor, University of Alberta, Canada)

PLACE:     LIRNEasia Office, 12 Balcombe Place, Colombo 08, 
                                                                       Sri Lanka
SKYPE: la_colloquiums
email ranmalee [at] lineasia [dot] to connect

A series of field pilot studies termed as “campaigns”, involving agriculture communities, were conducted in the Kurunegala, Matale, and Batticaloa Districts in Sri Lanka. Farmers identified various knowledge mobilization activities, ranging from exchanging local crop price information, to alerting on elephant attack, to disease control, general inquiries, announcements, so on and so forth. This presentation will discuss the insights gained as well as challenges faced by the research team in carrying out the campaigns, with a view to developing a better understanding of key factors of partnership development for promoting inclusive innovation among these communities of practice.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Participatory approaches, community and the ladder of inclusive innovation

Considerations when planning the next steps

As we enter into a discussion on the next steps of this project, we have considered the use of more participatory methods or adopting participatory/community-based perspective. The following blog entry highlights some topics for discussion, particularly focused on participatory approaches and inclusive innovation.

A participatory approach

A participatory approach can be used either with or without a community-based approach. Our rapid prototyping process (based off of the action research cycle) can be very participatory if stakeholders are involved in each aspect of the process. Perhaps one of the first questions may be, to what extent do we want a participatory approach moving forward? To what extent should stakeholders be involved in the rapid prototyping process? Which stakeholders? Whose participatory involvement do we want?

A participatory approach definitely has its strengths.
-          Builds organizational capacity
-          Helps ensure that a wide range of diverse perspectives is considered,
-          Encourages the use of accessible and relevant language,
-          Ensures the relevance of the project activities to stakeholders,
-          Helps facilitate the implementation of research into practice
(Banks, 2014; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008; Sclove, Scammell & Holland, 1998)

A participatory approach that is community-based has additional strengths:
-          Build community capacity
-          Build community credibility
-          Further ensures that a diverse range of perspectives is considered
-          Further enhances the relevance of the project to the community itself
-          Further facilitates implementation of research to practice
-          Is recommended when engaging marginalized or potentially vulnerable populations
(Banks, 2014; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008; Sclove, Scammell & Holland, 1998)

Levels of (community) participation

Participation can be classified into 5 levels ( There are others who have developed levels of community participation, but this one is fairly accessible:
  1. Informing – there is clear communication with community about the project
  2. Consultation – the project gathers feedback and ideas from the community, e.g. through focus groups and interviews. This is an initial step towards benefiting from local expertise.
  3. Deciding together – making decisions together, ideas are brought forward from within the community, e.g. through project committees and decision making initiatives. The community is involved in some aspects of decision making process.
  4. Acting Together – partnership with community that involves planning and implementing the plan together. Power sharing.
  5. Supporting independent initiatives – community is self-mobilized, simply rely on researcher/practitioner as a consultant
Once we enter into levels 3, 4 and 5, it would be considered participatory and if community is involved in those levels, it would be considered community-based.

What level of community participation are we striving for moving forward? What level of participation do we want from each stakeholders?

In developing a training program or education modules for tech stewards, to what extent do we want technology stewards to engage the participatory involvement of their communities? Perhaps technology stewards should be trained also on participatory methods to use in their community? To what extent are (or should) tech stewards representatives of their community?

Community-based research

A general description of community-based research (CBR) is:

community-based research is intended to empower communities and to give everyday people influence over the direction of research and enable them to be a part of decision making processes affecting them” (Sclove, Scammell & Holland, 1998)

There is a focus on the collaborative and equitable involvement of community through various phases of the research. It seeks mutually beneficial outcomes for all partners/stakeholders, but with a particular emphasis on community outcomes/action. It is iterative and collaborative and could complement our rapid prototyping process if desired.

While CBR is a useful method in many community contexts, it is not necessarily the best fit for all community projects. As we’ve said before, we can adopt aspects of CBR without claiming to be doing CBR.

Inclusive innovation

Another, possibly more relevant theory for us to situate ourselves is Inclusive Innovation. Richard Heeks (2013) describes inclusive innovation as that which is designed specifically for those who are excluded. Further, Heeks describes the “ladder of inclusive innovation”, providing a step-wise approach to inclusive innovation (levels 1-6), with higher levels representing greater inclusivity. It would be a useful exercise for us to consider where the project currently is on the ladder of inclusive innovation and where we aspire for it to be…then determine how we get there. Do we want to align ourselves with the language of inclusive innovation?

-          Level 1/Intention: an innovation is inclusive if the intention of that innovation is to address the needs or wants or problems of the excluded group. This does not relate to any concrete activity but merely the abstract motivation behind the innovation.
-          Level 2/Consumption: an innovation is inclusive if it is adopted and used by the excluded group. This requires that innovation be developed into concrete goods or services; that these can be accessed and afforded by the excluded group, and that it has the motivation and capabilities to absorb the innovation. All of those stages could be seen as sub-elements of this level of the inclusive innovation ladder, though all will be required for consumption so they are not hierarchical sub-steps (as appear in later levels).
-          Level 3/Impact: an innovation is inclusive if it has a positive impact on the livelihoods of the excluded group. That positive impact may be understood in different ways. More quantitative, economic perspectives would define this in terms of greater productivity and/or greater welfare/utility (e.g. greater ability to consume). Other perspectives would define the impact of innovation in terms of well-being, livelihood assets, capabilities (in a Senian sense), or many other foundational understandings of what development is. For those with concerns about inequality, this could include a condition that the benefits were restricted to the excluded group, or were greater than those achieved by ‘included’ groups using the innovation. One can therefore differentiate an absolute vs. relative notion of inclusive impact of innovation, the latter being a sub-step above the former.
-          Level 4/Process: an innovation is inclusive if the excluded group is involved in the development of the innovation. It is highly unlikely that the entire group could be involved so this immediately shrinks down to “members of the excluded group”: a point taken up further below. This level needs to be broken down according to the sub-processes of innovation: invention, design, development, production, distribution. These would create a set of sub-steps with, for example, an assumption of greater value of inclusion in the upstream elements than the downstream elements. Further complicating matters, the extent of involvement is equated with different levels of inclusion. Again, there would be sub-steps akin to those seen when discussing participation in development with higher sub-steps representing deeper involvement. Borrowing from Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of participation, sub-steps can include: being informed, being consulted, collaborating, being empowered. controlling.
-          Level 5/Structure: an innovation is inclusive if it is created within a structure that is itself inclusive. The argument here is that inclusive processes may be temporary or shallow in what they achieve. Deep inclusion requires that the underlying institutions, organisations and relations that make up an innovation system are inclusive. This might require either significant structural reform of existing innovation systems, or the creation of alternative innovation systems.
-          Level 6/Post-Structure: an innovation is inclusive if it is created within a frame of knowledge and discourse that is itself inclusive. (Some) post-structuralists would argue that our underlying frames of knowledge – even our very language – are the foundations of power which determine societal outcomes. Only if the framings of key actors involved in the innovation allow for inclusion of the excluded; only then can an innovation be truly inclusive.

Where is our project on the ladder of inclusive innovation?

Identifying where we are on this ladder is not straight forward. A case could be made that we are currently in the process of moving from level 3 to level 4. The tendency of using a model that is a ladder or levels, is that we place value on higher levels. But, do we aspire to reach a higher level of inclusive innovation? Or perhaps we further develop how to improve at our current level?

We will hopefully spend some time discussing this as we review the campaigns together at the end of September.

Friday, August 1, 2014

(Sharing an important post from the iNARS listserve)

Asian agriculture and food chains (agri-food chains) are rapidly evolving to meet local, national, regional and international markets’ needs. These needs include providing easily accessible, affordable, safe, nutritious, healthy, quality food and economically viable industrial feedstock, both produced ethically in globally competitive markets within their own countries and for export.
Emerging needs from Asian agri-food chains also include agricultural commodities to be produced through sustainable means. Agri-food chains are also increasingly being expected to contribute to the conservation and spread of socio-cultural heritage and improving the quality of life in rapidly urbanizing societies.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are rapidly transforming agri-food chains locally and globally. They have the potential to make agri-food chains more productive, sustainable and resilient. They can be used to improve the quality and safety of products and to lower costs in complex food value chains.
This facilitated e-discussion will consider how agri-food chains in Asia may develop in the future (by 2030) and what roles will ICTs may play in their development. The future development of agri-food chains in Asia may also give direction to innovation in ICTs applied in these chains. This e-discussion will focus on what futures may happen for Asian agri-food systems and ICTs through research, innovation, changes in institutions, regulatory frameworks and organizations at international, regional and national levels.
The E-discussion is facilitated by:

Leisa Armstrong, Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University
 Robin Bourgeois, Senior Foresight Advisor, GFAR Secretariat
 Ajit Maru, Senior Officer, Knowledge, GFAR Secretariat
 Gerard Sylvester, Knowledge & Information Management Officer, FAO-Bangkok
 Gerhard Schiefer, International Center for Food Chain and Network Research, University of Bonn
The outputs from these e-discussions will feed into the one day forum on “Forward Thinking for ICT use in Asian Agri-food Chains” at  9th Conference of the Asian Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture - 2014.

We invite all interested to please participate and contribute to this e-discussion.

To participate please register at: and subscribe to

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

List of academic journals and publications on ICT4D

ICTWorks has compiled a list of 79 journals and publications related to ICT4D.  It's not clear which ones are open access but it's a good starting point nevertheless.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Surveys with Farmer Communities in Melsiripura, Dambahera and Rideegam

The survey team comprised Nuwan from LIRNEasia, myself from Wayamba University of Sri Lanka (WUSL) and team of students affiliated with the ICT Centre of WUSL. We surveyed the local communities affiliated with the Department of Export Agriculture (DOEA). Basically there are two campaigns at DOEA and it cover the Melsiripura and Rideegam Divisional Secretariats of Kurunegala District. The previous survey tools (surveys with farmer communities in Batticaloa) were practiced.

                                      Survey conducted in DOEA- North

                                        Survey conducted in DOEA- North

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Running Campaigns..

There are four campaigns running in different locations with the identified three sponsors namely Department of Export Agriculture (DOEA), Rangiri Radio and Janathakshan. Each campaign runs on a separate Frontlinesms instance. All  technology stewards were trained for technologies used in campaign at the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka. 

DOEA North campaign started on 08 April 2014. There were around 20 farmers registered in the system in same day. The Frontlinesms instance is installed on a laptop computer at DOEA sub office situated in Govijana Sewa Center in Melsiripura. Mr. Chandana is the tech-steward operates there and Mrs. Gunasekara assisting him for official works. Both were trained as Technology Stewards in Wayamba University of Sri Lanka. This campaign main target audience is Ginger, Pepper and Cinnamon farmers.

DOEA South campaign started on 28 April 2014. This setup is installed on a desktop computer in DOEA main office, Kurunegala. Mr. Mahendra and Mr. Upul serve as the tech stewards there. This campaign main target audience is Ginger, Pepper and Cinnamon farmers. In this season Ginger became most prominent export agriculture crop among farmers because of having high market price in last season.

       Mr. Chandana – DOEA North Tech steward            Mr. Mahendra, Upul – DOEA South Tech stewards
 Janathakshan campaign started on 02 May 2014. Mr Kamalaraj serves as the tech stewards there.  The Frontlinesms instance is initially installed at RDS office building at Kathiraweli. It’s configured as solar powering turnkey solution. Later this Frontlinesms instance is moved to the tech-steward’s home at Batticaloa and now running it from there.

Rangiri campaign started on 06 May 2014. Mr. Buddhika, Mr. Ranga and Mr. Dilanka serves as the tech stewards there.  The Frontlinesms instance is installed on a desktop at their office building at Dambulla. Basically this campaign interacted with listener groups. They use this system to song request specially to dedicate these songs to their friends and family members.

       Mr. Kamalaraj – Janathakshan Tech steward     Mr. Ranga & Dilanka – Rangiri Radio Tech stewards