internet Vs mobile phone: rural farmers to judge!

18 04 2010

Talking about social media and ICT. Today I am helping my friend Cissy to create a Facebook page for her organization. She works with Ntulume Village Women’s Development Association (NVIWODA). In a humble setting lies the story of the Ntulume Village Women’s Development Association (NVIWODA). In June 1987 a group of women residing in Ntulume Village founded, Ntulume Village Women Development Association. NVIWODA operates in ten districts of Uganda, the organization equips women with skills, networks and shares knowledge and information with twenty seven women community based groups.

Apparently NVIWODA does not have an independent website, however they are hosted on a subdomain www.nviwoda.internnection.com – powered by Kabissa and also profiled on the women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) website – http://www.wougnet.org/Profiles/nviwoda.html

NVIWODA is one of the 99 or so women organizations profiled on the WOUGNET website.

As we chat she sparks a question, “So, how has the internet benefited the rural farmers in marketing their produce?”

Nice question – I think to myself. But the internet has not benefited the rural farmers that much when it comes to marketing their produce. The rural farmers have more or less benefited from the internet indirectly. As a matter of fact, access in rural areas remains a big challenge.

But this doesn’t mean that rural farmers have not used ICTs to commodity prices. The mobile phone has proved to be a

Women farmers testing use of Mobile Phones to access commodity prices..

very handy tool due to its flexibility in functionality and yet doesn’t require special skills to operate.

I telling her a living example on how Kubere Information Centre –  a project formed by Women of Uganda Network under the Information Sharing and Networking program has helped many rural farmers over the years on how to use ICTs to access agricultural information. Kubere Information Centre works with rural farmers from Lira, Oyam and Apac. These farmers are also trained on how to use the mobile phone to access commodity prices.

She was so excited to hear this; that the mobile phone can be used to access commodity prices. “I would love to share this knowledge with the rural farmers we work with.” I demonstrated to her how to access the commodity prices on her phone which is on the MTN service/ network. We request for the market prices for matooke – the sms charge is UGX220 (approximately USD 0.10). In just a few seconds she has the commodity prices for matooke in various districts around Uganda – “Interesting now I know how to use my phone better! I will be using my phone to send market prices to my colleagues in rural areas.”

Apparently she is working on an idea which involves the use of a notice board. On this notice board the farmers write their market prices prior to the communal markets in their rural areas. She says once implemented this idea would help reduce on exploitation of rural farmers. She says that this idea will first be implemented in Kabarole and then to other districts. She will also use her cell phone to access the commodity prices which she will then pass on to rural farmers to write on their notice boards prior to the market day.

“Many farmers in rural areas sell off their produce not for profit but to get necessities like kerosene to fuel lamps in homes.”

Become a Fan of NVIWODA on Facebook!!

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I report inadequate food access and availability in Uganda.

14 03 2010

Uganda’s economy widely depends on the agricultural sector. The biggest population of Ugandans benefits from Agriculture – both directly and indirectly.
Many regions in Uganda are practicing subsistence agriculture – mainly because the land is owned by private individuals in small plots; so, the people choose what to do on their plots of land.
Because families practice subsistence agriculture on small plots of land, their target is to produce enough to feed their families until the next harvest. In many cases they fall short of their target. Often yields are not enough to feed the family until the next harvest. This has greatly been attributed to the poor farming methods (many farmers have chosen to remain local – NO diversity in their farming methods), prolonged droughts, pests and diseases.
Under circumstances, the farmers are faced with situations where they have to sell part of their produce to cater for emerging needs – access health facilities, pay for school fees, rent, provide for their families, name it… In many cases they sell their produce at very low prices because the market is not readily available plus the middlemen exploit them because they are desperate to sell.

Threats to Food Security in Uganda:
Poor farming methods. Farmers are still practicing traditional farming methods which hamper their yields. Practices like cultivating up and down the slopes which lead to massive soil erosion, over cultivation not giving soil enough time to regain fertility among others. They grow local crops – which cannot survive under bad weather conditions and more prone to pests and diseases.

The LAND TENURE SYSTEM. Because the land is owned by individuals in small plots, every farmer aims at producing enough to feed their growing families. Farmers are producing on small scale because they are constrained by their plots. In many cases the plots are quarter an acre. The men also tend to have more control over the land as compared to the women – Gender and Land Issues. For example the man makes the final decision over what to use the land for. This limits on the productivity of the women interms of agriculture. Also the man has more control over the yields – in many cases they choose to sell/ trade part of the produce for “local beer”.

 

Pests and diseases. Poor selection of crops plus lack of preventative measure has also contributed greatly to the ever reducing yields in terms of quality and quantity. Many local farmers still grow local breeds which are less resistant to pests and diseases.


Lack of agriculture support and Market Support. The governement/ private sector has not worked out a strategic market and agriculture support plan for the farmers. Farmers are not knowledgeable about the available markets and market prices – hence they are exploited by the middle men. The work very hard season after season, year in year out to feed the nation but their efforts are not rewarded appropriately. The agriculture support programs by the government have not been effective – instead they have been failed by the high ranking official due to corruption, embezzlement and misuse of the funds (see one of the such cases here: Kanungu NAADS Officials Arrested).


The communities remain unaware of the food insecurity in the country. The ministry of Agriculture has not made enough efforts to sensitize the farmers about the inadeqaucy of food access and availability in the country. This has made the farmers more relactant in terms of production. The farmers are also unaware about the opportunities provided by large scale production.


Increasing population – triggering rural urban migration! The population of Uganda is growing at a very high rate. As the population grows, the competition for food and land increases. As a result the demand for agricultural products increases – the supply remains constant or increases by a very small margin making food very expensive. The energetic youth are swarming cities like (Kampala the capital of Uganda) and other towns leaving food production to the elderly. The elderly are less energetic, less flexible and less innovative.

 


Many people still believe that the agricultural sector is for the illiterates. This has made the agricultural sector less sounding over the years. The learned are looking for “white collar jobs” in big companies.


Innovative solutions

Many non-profits, the government and individuals are making efforts to ensure a future with guaranteed food security. Here I must mention the work done by the following:

 

Food and Agriculture Organisation Uganda – FAO’s Integrated Support to Sustainable Development and Food Security Programme (IP). The aim of the IP is to promote synergy through interdisciplinary collaboration and information-sharing across and in support of ongoing rural development programmes.

 

World Food Programme. WFP carries out a range of development activities that seek to address the underlying causes of food insecurity through two priority sectors: agriculture and market support, and food and nutrition security. Agriculture and market support to small-scale farmers and traders aims to leverage WFP’s local purchasing and is provided through the construction and rehabilitation of market infrastructure such as warehouses and community market access roads; training in post harvest handling; and the purchase of the farmers’ produce – mainly cereals and pulses.

 

National Agriculture Research Organisation.


Agricultural Research and Extension Network (ARENET). Agriculture Research Extension Network (ARENET) is dedicated to helping anyone involved in improving rural farming to readily access practical, technical and relevant agricultural information from various national and international sources.

St. Jude Family Project. St. Jude Family Project is a Community Based Organization (CBO) in Masaka, Uganda that began as a small organic farm on 3 acres owned by John and Josephine Kizza since the 1980s. Its purpose is to improve household income, crop yields, household food security and diet. St. Jude teaches the most vulnerable groups in the society ways of improving family subsistence farming and diet. The training techniques use locally available materials and the methods used are environmentally. “Personnaly I have been to this farm twice and I have always admired their work. This family project has been an inspiration to many farmers – today many farmers in smalls groups do exchange visits to this farm.” We need more of such WORKING examples.

Women of Uganda Network through Kubere Information Centre – (one of its projects).The KIC was established under the project “Enhancing Access to Agricultural Information using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)” whose primary target is rural women farmers in Apac District, with partner women groups in Gulu, Lira and Oyam Districts. This project is one of the activities under the Information Sharing and Networking Program area of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET). The project is conducted with generous financial support from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and from Hivos.

To achieve a self sustaining food secure future, the governments together with the private sector should work closely with the communities to provide a strategic agriculture and market plan. Listen to the farmers challenges and provide working solutions. Up to now the communities are not aware of the food insecurities they are facing. This is because there is NO DIRECT communication channel between the government and the food growers in the country.

Our country is blessed by nature in that the soils are fertile and the weather is condusive for agriculture. All we need is to sensitize the farmers, highlight the pontentials agriculture is promising and provide better farming skills.





Provide skills NOT just finished technologies.

3 03 2010

Most of the current problems in Africa are being solve by the few “experts”. On top of being expensive, it takes them a bit of time to do the necessary research and studies before they come to a conclusion. In my opinion, it would be a lot easy if the local people are given the skills to investigate solutions to the problems affecting them. This makes them feel more involved hence taking up the obligation to find solutions to their own problems and “make it happen”/ innovate. Its the same with the technologies. Once people get the technologies, they don’t feel the urge to work hard or improve on the current technologies or even look for cheaper solutions. But when the solution to a problems affecting a wider community comes as a result of skill the locals have earned. They get more involved in applying the required skills – more innovative too!! Give skills not technology.