Social ICTs – engaging with the grassroots

Organised by: CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), ILRI

Climate change, agriculture and food security are among the most pressing problems the world faces. They are complex issues that affect every one of us; they are particularly pressing for rural communities in developing countries where margins of success, and risks of failure, are narrow. Success depends on the willingness and ability of individuals, communities and agencies to collectively address 'wicked problems' that typically can't be addressed by any one individual or household.

To move forward, we need to navigate a course between different perspectives and draw on the many different "knowledges" of different stakeholders. Social and participatory approaches help collective decision making by enabling collective learning and communication. While ICTs are frequently used to amplify and broadcast often one-way information and advice to rural communities, this session starts from the notion that using ICTs in socially engaging ways is better suited to certain kinds of rural challenges – those requiring collective, social involvement from many people.

The session will use active participation and engagement to explore the current agricultural "social scene" in terms of approaches like participatory video and GIS, community radio, and innovation platforms that catalyse a dynamic interactive and collective creation, documentation, exchange and application of agricultural knowledge.

Nov 7, 08:30 - 10:00
Room: Bulera
Stream: Capacity Strengthening

Sessions Chair

Chair of the session is Peter Ballantyne
Head of Knowledge Management and Information Services, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

I am organizing 2 sessions and represent ILRI on the steering committee. I expect to catch up with latest thinking and experience and meet people I can learn from.

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Participation, social learning, communication and ICTs for more informed and connected decision making in agriculture and food security

Climate change, agriculture and food security, are among the most pressing problems the world faces. Climate change is a complex issue and a wicked problem that affects every one of us. 
While we each have an individual role to play in tackling these problems, success ultimately depends on the willingness and ability of individuals, communities and agencies to come together to collectively address issues that typically can’t be addressed by any one individual or household. 
The challenge is less to determine ‘a’ solution as to mediate a course between many possible perspectives and drawing on many different voices and ‘knowledges’ of different stakeholders.
In such situations, social learning (processes in which people learn through interacting with each other, changing them and changing the broader groups within which they participate) is a useful framework for collective decision making and action in complex settings.Since the decisions need to be collective, the learning also needs to be collective.
Such social learning is closely associated with enhanced ‘participatory’ multi-directional communication. Conventional communication tends to be one-way and treats individuals and communities as consumers, as passive listeners. There is however a long tradition of other more participatory and development communication approaches and some of these are regaining importance, allied to new information and communication technologies and media. Participatory video, PGIS, community radio, telecentres, oral drama, listening clubs, learning alliances and innovation platforms, e-extension are examples that help to catalyze a much stronger ‘local’ creation, documentation, exchange and dissemination of ‘other’ knowledge by and of communities, and indeed decisions and decision making processes that are more inclusive.
This contribution will take a collective look at promising ‘social’ approaches, including ICTs, and how they can be put to work in agriculture and food security.

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Organization : ILRI


Peter Ballantyne

Head of Knowledge Management and Information Services, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Sauti ya wakulima: using mobile phones to make the voices of rural farmers in Tanzania heard  

Sauti ya wakulima, “The voice of the farmers” in Swahili, is an e-agriculture project which directly addresses the socio-agricultural context of rural communities in Tanzania. The project was started in January 2011, when we traveled to Tanzania to conduct a series of interviews with farmers living near the town of Bagamoyo, with the purpose of engaging them in the creation of an online, collaborative knowledge base about the effects of climate change, using smartphones as tools for observation and a web page to gather the recorded images and sounds. Accompanied by Dr. Flora Ismail from the Botany department of the University of Dar es Salaam, and Mr.

Hamza S. Suleyman, the local extension officer, we held a meeting with a group of farmers that regularly gather at the Chambezi agricultural field station in the Bagamoyo District. At this meeting, the project and its goals were explained to the farmers. Despite the fact that none of them had accessed the internet before, they had all heard of it largely through the younger members of their communities. They quickly understood that the images and sounds uploaded from the smartphones would not only be visible to them, but to anyone who visited the project’s web page. After deliberating, the farmers voted unanimously in favor of taking part.

We established the project's dynamics together with the farmers, and carried out the first training session on how to use the smartphone and the project's web page. A group of five men and five women chosen by the community would take turns to share the two available smartphones, by exchanging them on a weekly basis. Whenever a farmer's turn to use the phone arrived, he or she would have the task of using it to contribute content to the knowledge base. These contents consist of units, which we call messages, comprised of a picture, a voice recording and an optional keyword. A special application running on the smartphones makes it easy to capture the multimedia elements. It also integrates geographical information into the message (if available), allows the addition of one or more keywords and sends all the elements to a web server, bundled together as an email message. By using pictures and voice recordings, farmers can portray a wide variety of objects, situations and persons, and complement visual evidence with their own spoken narrations.

Farmers not only got together to exchange the phones but also to see and discuss the pictures and voice recordings that the group had uploaded during the week. There, they accessed the project's web page using a laptop computer with a mobile broadband connection. As of this writing, the farmers in Chambezi were continuing to use the smartphones to publish content. After 21 months, Sauti ya wakulima now runs in a semi-autonomous fashion, and is partially supported by the local government in Bagamoyo.


Hamza S. Suleyman

Extension Officer, Bagamoyo Agricultural Office


Eugenio Tisselli

PhD Candidate, Z-Node, University of Applied Arts Zurich

Modeling with rural communities – applications of ICT experiences from the CGIAR Challenge Programme on water and food

Modeling with rural communities – participatory ICT applications and communication for empowerment and learning Modeling becomes a useful tool when it leads to new insights or facilitates negotiations that help people make decisions. Several CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food projects have been particularly successful at using models for integrated resource management at different scales at the farm level, the water control system level, and regional and national levels.

Models can also help span the boundaries between sources and uses of knowledge to either influence particular decisions or to improve manager’s capacity for making decisions.This contribution describes how four types of scientific modeling applications have been applied and re-imagined at the local level to help local communities improve their decision-making and access to information. The common feature is how mixed media (face to face, ICT, audio/video) approaches applied in participatory ways empower communities and make research more relevant. These experiences include:

  1. The Happy Strategies Game aims to match land and water ‘practices’ and interventions to the needs of specific landscapes. This game is modeled on "happy families' children's games and allow farmers and community members to understand discuss different strategies in a more open way
  2. Companion Modelling (Com-Mod); this work has been extensively used in SE Asia to improve resource sharing. Here Agent based Models are applied to examine scenarios of resource sharing, it may be possible to elicit stakeholders’ knowledge and perceptions of water dynamics, stimulate dialogue, and promote better coordination among users.
  3. Hydro-literacy for citizens' rights: in the Andes CPWF partners (Kings College and WWF) have translated hydrological models so that marginalized upstream indigenous communities can use this information in dialogue with powerful actors. This helps to 'level' the playing field.


Michael Victor

Communication Coordinator, CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, IWMI