Collaborate, Create, Communicate

The Community Knowledge Workers model – A success story

“Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest smallholder farmers grow more and get it to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty.” – Bill Gates.

One of the five AGCommons’ Quick Win Projects, Community Level Crop Disease Surveillance, has achieved an important result. As a component of the larger Community Knowledge Workers (CKW) Project implemented by the Grameen Foundation, it has contributed to demonstrate the potential of the CKW model. The CKW Project is scaling up its activities after receiving a huge boost in the form of a $4.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. AGCommons is proud to have contributed to its success.

The grant will enable the CKW Project to expand its activities in Uganda, where it is building a self-sustaining, scalable network of rural information providers who use cell phones to get vital information to smallholder farmers.

As one of the components of the CKW Project, the AGCommons Quick Win Project trained 40 CKWs in two Ugandan districts to interact with more than 14,000 smallholder farmers and conduct 6,000 surveys, all of which helped organizations such as the World Food Program and IITA better understand the needs of the farmers. IITA also created Geographic Information System (GIS) maps that provided farmers with vital information about crop disease outbreaks and the impact of disease control methods, to name a few.

During the Quick Win Project’s nine-month duration, farmers regularly turned to the CKWs for information on the treatment of pests, accurate weather forecasts, and how to maximize their crop incomes. For example, a groundnut farmer who lost his crop when the rains came late contacted his local CKW, who gave him access to regular weather forecasts and enabled him to plan the rest of his planting season and preserve his livelihood.

The CKW model is simple, efficient and effective. Once a request is received from a farmer, the CKW will use a cell phone to access the relevant information. At the same time, CKWs collect agricultural information from farmers, providing a vital link between farmers, government programs, and non-governmental organizations. The second phase of this initiative will enable more farmers to access a cell phone to contact trained professionals tasked with sharing knowledge and information with them. Indeed, the Grameen Foundation plans to build on its experience gained from the Quick Win Project 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 and was announced as part of a larger package of agricultural development projects in conjunction with Bill Gates’ keynote address at last week’s World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa.

The five Quick Win project funded by AGCommons cover a range of technologies and African geographies. They span a variety of different links with end-users – from direct work with farmers (“Seeing is Believing” project) to collaboration at the research level to create access to valuable data sets that can be used on the farmers’ behalf (“Africa Trial Site Catalogue”). Scheduled for completion by the end of 2009, they are already meeting one of their goals: to provide a learning opportunity that offers the potential for scaling up benefits to farmers in the future.

Photo courtesy Guido Ric via stock.xchng