Holistic ICT Solutions versus Specific Mobile Solutions for Agriculture

Organised by: Grameen Foundation App Lab

Hedgehog or Fox? The ancient Greek poet Archilochus taught us that "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing". Adapting this slightly, we can still ask today: What is the best approach to solving problems with ICT -- "hedgehog" solutions built to do one thing incredibly well (like the hedgehog's daunting defences); or unified, multi-faceted "fox" solutions that synthesize many capabilities (like the crafty hunter)?

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, advocates focused "hedgehog" strategies that make just a few companies incomparably powerful; whereas Steve Jobs' ability to transform whole ecosystems was a superb display of "foxy" strategy.

In this session we examine our "hedgehogs" and our "foxes" in ICT4Ag by asking our eminent panel of speakers to address some key questions.

  • How can we encourage the development of mobile applications that are locally relevant and yet support the entire value chain process?
  • What is the current state of ICT solutions for extension services to farmers that span the Agricultural Value Chain?
  • Conversely, what are the advantages and disadvantages of providing specific mobile applications?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of either approach?

Please come and join the discussion to decide for yourself: Hedgehog or Fox?

Nov 6, 11:00 - 12:30
Room: Ruhondo
Stream: Emerging Innovations

Sessions Chair

Chair of the session is John Tull
Global Director – Mobile Agriculture Innovation, Grameen Foundation

Currently the Global Director of Mobile Agriculture Innovation for Grameen Foundation, a US-based social enterprise that specialises in the use of mobile telecom technologies for tackling some of the biggest problems facing the poor. I am responsible for identifying, developing and implementing solutions for the problems of agricultural productivity and livelihoods that are addressable through mobile technology-based strategies. 

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A cautionary tale: creative mixes of ICT strengthen farmers from field to market

There is a great need to promote fair economic development among participating chain actors especially in the tomato, onion and passion fruit value chains. WRCCS has been addressing this by promoting farmer entrepreneurship through the value chain development approach. To fully actualize this objective, WRCCS has encouraged chain actors in value chains to exploit market and production opportunities and address constraints to value chain growth and competitiveness.   

WRCCS has used a number of ICT tools for specific chain actors and has seen varied response in each circumstance. The youth seem inclined towards going online on computers to access information while the older generation responds better to audio and visual ICTs. Most of our stakeholders have also taken a keen interest in some of our technical solutions like FrontlineSMS used for mobilizing farmer, and we are also partnering up with Syngenta Kenya to use it to answer farmers’ queries via phone as well as advising on pests and diseases.    

The video learning sessions have been a great success with regard to how they exchange information on production techniques, inputs, markets and services to improve productivity and scout for new niches. We develop video content by recording various farmers as they carry out Good Agricultural Practices, recording experts as they teach farmers on various topics, model farmers as they give accounts of how they managed to achieve in the same field as the other farmers and downloading relevant video clips from local TV stations’ websites on programs that are applicable to the farmers. These clips are viewed in a group format followed by discussion of what they have seen and learnt, as well as what their plans are afterwards.   

The key challenge we have faced is high illiteracy levels and we have dealt with this by including illiterate farmers in the less complicated ICTs like radio listening sessions and the video sessions. Balancing between the needs of old and youthful farmers has been addressed through separate classes and unavailability of power in most villages.

The video concept has been very popular in the region to the extent that we have collaborated with other stakeholders like the Ministry of Agriculture, local NGOs and Syngenta Seed Company in training whereby we share video clips that we have and we get to attend and record them during their trainings.    We are expecting that more farmers will get involved in the actual recording; since most of them want to watch these clips as they work in their farms, we are planning to convert the video and audio to formats suitable for handsets.

Key takeaways:

1. A holistic ICT approach to every agricultural value chain is not as effective as a "technological mix" approach/methodology towards specific challenges.   

2. The video learning sessions have greater impact than we had earlier envisaged.   

3. The similar challenges facing different agricultural value chains need to be looked into more intently.

View the presenatation


Gerishom Boiyo

ICT Officer, Ack Wrccs

The ‘Fox’ Perspective: Value of Holistic ICT for Market Linkages

Recently the growth in the use of mobile phones in agribusiness and general trade transactions has significantly increased. A number of developers are therefore eyeing the development of solutions that address the challenges in agribusiness; such as the capacity of farmers to sustain supply in a value chain, production planning, tracking of production costs, input monitoring and linkage to suppliers and markets.

FIT Uganda has over the past 5 years developed a 3 way market information integrated ICT application using Integrated ICT Solutions to promote sustainable Agriculture Business Market Linkages. FARMIS (Farmer Record Management Services)  works with both mobile, offline data collection services, and 4 digit short codes to collect, analyse and disseminate/distribute production, transaction and market data.  The Service was developed first to provide farmers with seasonal production data analysis that is compared with the market price data collected from the farmer’s relevant market linking up with MIS operated under INFOTRADE. It gives interactive reports about farm and market, links seasonal information into a profit and loss statement and simple farm balance sheet while providing comparative data for farmers within their geographical area.

The service offers farmers the opportunity to maintain records for profitability assessment, loan tracking, or loan applications with funding agencies, crop insurance and possible supply linkage with bulk buyers.   Since the service is organised through cooperatives and farmer organisations, it faces challenges, as many of the cooperatives in the country have low management capacity to roll out and benefit from the service.  Despite the fact the service is self-sustaining, adoptation of the service by the associations is low, as many of the cooperatives expect immediate gains before the delivery of the service to their farmer members.  However, FIT management intends to mitigate this challenge by working with some of the banks to push adoptation of the service from the farmer side, with the aim of improving their financial linkages and reporting with the banks.

Key takeaways: 

1.Individual Farmers can operate a trackable and profitable business with organised farm records. 

2.Market information services need however to have full integration of production, transaction and market data if they are to support economic growth and profit of the individual farmer. 

3. ICT solutions cannot work in isolation but need to be integrated to reach wide audiences and also to maximise returns on the investment.


Robert M Kintu

Principal Consultant, Fit Uganda

Solutions TIC innovantes qui intègrent plusieurs technologies au profit des petits agriculteurs


Paulin Nguena Tsafack

System and Network Engineer, BICEC(T2SA)

The new e-extension portal of the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services in Ghana

Ghana has seen many new ICT opportunities emerge over the last years, largely due to (i) a rapid explosion of mobile phones used by more than 90% of farmers,  (ii) Extension agents increasingly own smart phones, and (iii)  competition among six internet service providers covering the entire country resulted in lowered costs of using the Internet  

The concept of web-based extension adopted by the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) of the Ministry of Agriculture in Ghana is to create an ICT-based information storage and retrieval system designed for both smart phones and computers. In addition to regular market updates and weather forecasts, the platform contains a Central Knowledge Repository supporting text, audio and video content.

Open Systems Ghana built an web-based extension platform for DAES based on a Drupal 7 CMS which will be publicly accessed from this URL: www.agricextension.gov.gh.  To reflect decentralisation in Ghana, the platform is made up of a central page of DAES as well as individual pages of the many District Departments of Agriculture in the country. Each district office will receive the opportunity to shape its own internet page as well as update data and upload documents. The aim is to have 50 district webpages up and running by the end of 2013. 

The Central Knowledge Repository provides a single point of entry to disparate sources of knowledge. Stored knowledge is generated from articles written purposely for the portal, fact sheets, extension posters, extension brochures as well as external databases and web pages. The information is presented via different media: Written articles and newsletters, downloadable pdfs, audios, videos as well as PowerPoint presentations.  

To ease communication with the 4,000 extension agents in the country, the platform also contains a Bulk SMS application. With the help of this feature, extension agents can send SMS alerts to their farmers, and different departments in the Ministry of Agriculture can quickly reach all extension agents.  The most important interaction feature is the Online Forum in which users post their questions and other users (or experts) provide answers to these questions. The forum is a real-time system and self-archiving.

Key takeaways: 

  1. Ghana will receive for the first time a central knowledge repository which can be used, and contributed to, by all different stakeholders. 
  2. From a survey of how farmers are best learning new technologies today, an Online Forum, short video films as well an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system have been integrated into the web-based extension platform. 
  3. Farmers in Ghana are getting older, with the younger generation moving to the fast growing urban areas. If they are to be retained in agricultural production, ICT can help to make farming more attractive.


Charles Adams

First Deputy Director, Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Ghana


Jon Antwi

IT Consultant, Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Ghana