Friday, October 16, 2009

Grameen Targets More Farmers In Uganda Thanks To Gates Foundation

The Grameen Foundation is to expand its Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative in Uganda, supported by a $4.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative is building a self-sustaining, scalable network of rural information providers who use cell phones to help close critical information gaps facing poor, smallholder farmers. They will strengthen the information link to poor farmers by disseminating and collecting relevant information in these underserved communities.
"Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for poor people in much of the world, including more than 75 percent of Ugandans. Through the Community Knowledge Worker initiative, we are helping poor, smallholder farmers, who may meet with an agricultural agent infrequently, access vital agricultural advice, weather forecasts and other information to improve their lives," said Alex Counts, president of Grameen Foundation. "Equally important, we are providing a business opportunity for Community Knowledge Workers, who will be providing government agriculture programs, NGOs and other entities with relevant and timely information about the on-the-ground needs of poor farmers."
Working closely with and complementing existing government agriculture programs, CKWs are trusted local intermediaries serving farmers who frequently lack basic access to up-to-date information on best farming practices, market conditions, pest and disease control, weather forecasts and a range of other issues.
Upon request from a farmer, a CKW will use his or her cell phone to access actionable information to meet farmer needs. In addition, CKWs collect agricultural information from farmers, providing a vital link between farmers, government programs, non-governmental organizations and other entities focused on improving agriculture in Uganda and beyond. While farmers sometimes have access to a cell phone, this service will greatly expands its availability and also connect farmers to trained professionals tasked with sharing knowledge and information with them.
During a successful nine-month pilot, which concluded in August, 40 CKWs in Uganda's Mbale and Bushyeni districts had more than 14,000 interactions with smallholder farmers. They conducted 6,000 surveys to help organizations such as the World Food Program and IITA better understand farmer needs. IITA also created Geographic Information Survey (GIS) maps showing crop disease outbreaks, the impact of farmers adopting recommended disease control methods, and other important information for farmers and scientists. Throughout the pilot, farmers routinely sought out CKWs to obtain information to help them treat pests, get accurate weather forecasts for planting, and earn more for their crops. For example, a farmer who had lost his groundnut crop because the rains came late and his seeds died contacted his local CKW to access regular weather forecasts so that he could plan the rest of his planting season and preserve his livelihood.
In this next phase of the initiative, Grameen Foundation is building on its experience in the pilot to develop a self-sustaining national network capable of reaching more than 200,000 farmers.
The grant is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development initiative.

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