Tuesday 17 May 2011

Uganda: Radio Could Transform Rural Farmers

There is no doubt, FM radios are the most accessed channel of communication in Uganda, thanks to the liberalisation of the broadcast sector in the early 1990's which led to its rapid growth.

Rural people are increasingly accessing more information from the many rural FM stations spread throughout the country because of the enormous advantages they provide, leading to better decision making. Radios easily transcend barriers caused by isolation as a result of illiteracy, distance to urban centres, lack of power connectivity and general poverty.

In addition, rural FM radio's easily adapt to local language and culture, rural folks can listen to radio in privacy of their homes in a language they are comfortable with, requiring no special skills.

But what type of information do they provide to the rural folk? The former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela once said, "Bad media is better than no media at all." Yes, rural FM stations are doing a great work to empower the citizens through access to information but questions abound about quality.

What is the quality of the information accessed? Are they contributing to the improvement of the household incomes of their target audiences? Do they carry out on-the-job training to their journalists?
Do they involve their target audiences in programme design? What percentage of their time do they use for development messages in comparison to foreign broadcasts and music?

Uganda being a predominantly agricultural country with over 80 per cent of the population directly or indirectly employed in the sector - majority in the rural areas, appropriate use of radio to sensitise rural farmers on market information, seeds and access to loans can easily turn around their fortunes.

Rural FM radio's indeed have the potential to address all these challenges if equitable access to information and better knowledge sharing to enable the rural people exploit the available resources is ensured. A lot of agricultural sensitisation funds are invested in buying airtime and calling experts the usual way; to teach people what to do, the likes of NAADS. Yes, it is good but is it sustainable?

Government agencies, donors and civil society involved in agricultural sensitisation should know that there is need to more than just sensitise (buying airtime and calling experts to teach rural farmers what to do.) Rural FM stations, more than any other media, influence the opinion of rural folk but continue to employ untrained journalists because of the increased commercialisation of the sector.

Journalists and radio presenters continue to receive peanuts because to the radio owners, profits are at the forefront of anything to do with professional journalism and the information needs of poor rural folk.

I have been in the villages of Kabarole District in Western Uganda and listened to their radio stations, the topic is always who is going to win in the elections, which player Ferguson bought the other day, how Bobi Wine is pirating Kafeero's music, etc but not which agricultural products are available for sale in a given village, low interest farmer loans in a given financial institution, improved seeds in a given shop in town.

Imagine what difference it would make for a radio programme that connects buyers and sellers of agricultural products, giving the contact phone of the seller/buyer, place, amount and products needed or available.
If nothing is done, many people especially in the rural areas will continue to produce crops but continue to sell them at a low price to exploitative middle men, hence gaining little from months of hard work and the vicious cycle of poverty shall continue.

The writer (Solomon Akugizibwe) works with Toro Development Network

National Peace Corps Association Names Grand-Prize

Winner of Africa Rural Connect 2010 Ideas Competition

Winner to receive $12,000 to implement small-scale rural maize project in Uganda
Washington, D.C. - The National Peace Corps Association(NPCA), the nation’s leading nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps community, announced today that Johnstone Baguma of Uganda is the grand-prize winner of the Africa Rural Connect(ARC) 2010 ideas competition. Winners of the year’s four rounds and other noteworthy ideas submitted to the ARC online contest, including runners-up, competed for the grand prize. The panel of judges selected Baguma to receive $12,000 to implement a small-scale rural maize project in Uganda. ARC, launched last year by NPCA, is an online community that fosters collaborative thinking to generate ideas to help solve rural Africa’s greatest challenges.
Green Lifestyles - The National Peace Corps Association(NPCA), the nation's leading nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps community, announced today that Johnstone Baguma of Uganda is the grand-prize winner of the Africa Rural Connect(ARC) 2010 ideas competition.
“We had several really good ideas, so our judges had a hard time choosing the grand-prize winner,” says Molly Mattessich, manager of online initiatives for the National Peace Corps Association and a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali. “Baguma’s rural maize project serves as a model grassroots idea for others looking to develop ways to help improve rural Africa. ”

Baguma is founder and executive director of Toro Development Network (ToroDev), a community-based, non-governmental organization that promotes the access and strategic use of information communication technologies for development in western region of Uganda. His idea focuses on strengthening the capacity of small-scale rural maize farmers, focusing on demand-driven production for urban markets. The maize crop has been identified by ToroDev because of its multiplier effect: It serves both as a staple food and source of income for farmer’s households in the targeted rural community.

In addition to Wilber James, managing general partner with Rockport Capital, the other judges on the panel included Maréme Jamme, CEO of SpotOne Global Solutions, and Bruce McNamer, president and CEO of TechnoServe.

“The real winners of this contest continue to be those who live in rural Africa and benefit from all of the thought and hard work that goes into generating ideas for Africa Rural Connect,” adds Mattessich. “It’s always a struggle to choose from so many worthy ideas and this year was no different.”
To share your ideas and be part of the ARC online community, visit this site.

About the National Peace Corps Association Founded in 1979 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the National Peace Corps Association is the nation’s leading 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps community through networking and mentoring to help guide former volunteers through their continued service back home. It is also the longest-standing advocate on behalf of the Peace Corps and its values.
To learn more, visit this site

“Africa Rural Connect” Winner Hopes to Empower Rural Communities

By Luis Filipe Dias

Washington — An idea to make small-scale maize growers more successful came a step closer to reality with an award to an innovative Ugandan.

After seeing a series of other projects win Africa Rural Connect (ARC) online contests, Johnstone Baguma Kumaraki of Uganda was surprised and humbled that his proposal was selected as the grand prize winner of the 2010 ARC ideas competition — a program sponsored by the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA).

Woman tending maize (Courtesy photo)
Farmers in Uganda will benefit from the ideas of Africa Rural Connect’s 2010 winner, ToroDev.
“It’s a great achievement and a milestone for our organization, and it’s a signal of our commitment to empowering rural communities,” said Kumaraki, who is the founder and executive director of Toro Development Network, known as ToroDev.

A panel of judges selected Kumaraki to receive $12,000 to implement a small-scale rural maize project in Uganda.

His project, “Increasing Small Scale Rural Maize Producers’ Revenues by Promoting Maize Value Addition and Collective Marketing in Kyegegwa and Kyenjojo Districts of Western Uganda,” was selected from among 1,200 entries.

“We had several really good ideas, so our judges had a hard time choosing the grand prize winner,” said Molly Mattessich, manager of online initiatives for the NPCA and a former Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. “Kumaraki’s rural maize project serves as a model grass-roots idea for others looking to develop ways to help improve rural Africa.”

According to ToroDev — a community-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that promotes access to and strategic use of information communication technologies for development in the western region of Uganda — maize has a “multiplier effect” because it serves as a staple food and source of income for farmers’ households in rural communities.

Kumaraki’s idea focuses on increasing the capacity of small-scale rural maize farmers to increase revenues and access to urban markets by providing them with local storage facilities.

He said ToroDev has encouraged rural families to own mobile phones by identifying influential farmers and sending them current market prices via SMS text messages.

“We are taking it a step ahead and looking at issues of how to minimize harvest loss, how to transport crops and how to best store them,” said Kumaraki, who told America.gov that the first step is to agree with farmers on the location of five easily accessible storage centers that also would allow prospective buyers better access for transporting grain to urban markets.

“In the short term, farmers can store their crops in bulk, and in the long run we plan on transforming the facilities into marketing centers — with information points, Internet connection and a place where people could charge their phones,” Kumaraki said.

“Lastly, we are looking at how farmers can establish their own credit facilities or village banks, which could be established in these marketing centers that will be owned by groups of families.”
ARC — launched in 2009 by the National Peace Corps Association, a nonprofit organization supporting returned Peace Corps volunteers and the Peace Corps community — is an online global network that fosters collaborative thinking to respond to the needs of African farmers.

Funded initially by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ARC project aims to collect ideas from people who live and work in Africa.

“The best ideas come from the ground up and from people collaborating,” Mattessich said. “We initially started with our core and reached out to our network of Peace Corps volunteers that served in Africa and then to rural farmers and to the Africa Diaspora.”

Mattessich explained the website — www.arc.peacecorpsconnect.org — is built around the concept of collaboration, so that an idea that is formed on the site can attract resources and partners and develop into a concrete business plan.

Throughout the year ARC selects eight projects to receive $1,000 grants and then selects a grand prize winner among all entries at the end of the year.

The platform is free to anyone with an Internet connection. The site accepts input on how to improve the collaborative nature of the site and has grown since its inception.

“We have added a new feature, [through] which one can endorse a project by pledging time or money,” Mattessich said. “There are no transactions done directly on the site, but it allows for organizations to connect together.”

Interconnecting organizations is exactly what Kumaraki hopes to see, after the recognition he gained by winning the 2010 ARC ideas competition.
“It’s encouraging when you work hard and you receive an award like this, but more importantly it can open doors in the donor and partnership community,” Kumaraki said. “It would be great to partner with other programs and get more support.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)

Monday 16 May 2011

GenARDIS grantees: Small scale woman farmers in Western Uganda: Increasing revenues through ICTs

Successful global research results indicate that there is no doubt that “Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) improve rural people’s livelihoods” (IDRC/Acacia Prospectus 2006-2011). In a rural community context, this phrase is widely understood to mean traditional and modern electronic tools that include telephony (both mobile and fixed), community radio transmissions, television broadcasting, cinemas, computer hardware, software and the internet that help access and use quality information that has the potential to accelerate, if used strategically, sustainable rural people’s social, economic and political development. However, in the Rwenzori Region of Western Uganda where the Toro Development Network (ToroDev) operates, ICTs need to be embraced more comprehensively. Although efforts have been made in the past five years by a limited number of local and international NGOs, assessments show most of these initiatives have been dominated by men. A more gender-sensitive intervention is needed to enable both men and women to generate and exchange reliable information of relevant local content on their own. There is a need to strategically involve men who have taken a step in embracing ICTs, to enhance gender advocacy and sensitisation programmes that target improving the status of women and sharing knowledge by building an electronic community and network, especially in the agricultural and agro-business sector. Over 80% of rural women depend on small-scale agriculture and agro-business sector in the region.
In order to address this situation Toro Development Network (ToroDev) successfully submitted the project “Increasing Small-Scale Women Farmers’ Revenues in Kabarole and Kyenjojo Districts of Western Uganda by Using Sustainable ICT4D-Enabled Production and Marketing Tools”. ToroDev is a community-based NGO established in 2005 to promote the use of appropriate ICTs for sustainable and gender sensitive socio-economic community development in the rural Rwenzori region of Western Uganda. Its current operations cover the districts of Kabarole and Kyenjojo.
Agriculture, men and women in the Rwenzori region
Small-Scale Women farmers in the Rwenzori region of western Uganda are facing the poorest agricultural production and marketing conditions because the majority have much more limited access to relevant information and communication facilities compared to men. The Batoro traditional culture puts men at the helm of women’s welfare and therefore women have, for long, complacently settled for less in terms of their social and economic development. Men in the community look at women as merely housekeepers, responsible for provision of free domestic labour, childbearing and ensuring food security for the family, leaving them with no time to access quality education, skills training and other programs that increase opportunities for access to both traditional and modern ICTs. Further to this, women are frequently used by their husbands to work in commercial agricultural farms, whose earnings go to the men. This is another form of exploiting women, yet they comprise 58% of the 1.5 million people in the region. However, today due to national constitutional reforms that favour women’s empowerment, there is a steady increase in the number of women defying the above inappropriate cultural beliefs that belittle them, by steadily employing themselves in the small-scale agricultural sector, either independently or semi-independently since most of the land is culturally owned by the men in the community. In August 2007, ToroDev carried out a sample survey in twelve rural farmers’ groups, of which five were women-led, with a total of 120 registered members in Kabarole and Kyenjojo districts. The survey revealed that, for example, the total sales share of a kilogram of maize, beans and groundnuts in an urban market place between these farmers and an intermediary was at 38% and 62% respectively. This was due to lack of current market price information and low value production.
There is need to increase rural small-scale women farmers’ revenues, which can be done by supporting them to access and use simple ICT4D tools, by strategically involving men who have taken a step ahead in embracing these same tools and supporting them to improve on agricultural production skills, thus adding value to their products. Sharing knowledge with colleagues for behavioural change also helps them get instant information about better market prices, and communicate easily and cheaply with buyers in the nearest urban centres like Fort Portal, Mbarara , Kampala and beyond.
Bringing change about
The project seeks to increase the total sales share of at least 120 members of five groups of rural small-scale women farmers by at least 25% by tapping into men’s support for ICT training, using and piloting ICT4D-enabled demand-driven intensive farming that reduces reliance on middlemen by directly linking them to potential buyers in the nearest urban centres and regional markets by 2010.
Specific objectives include: to hold eight community radio sensitisation talk shows on the role of simple ICTs tools and influencing behavioural change, with support from men in improving rural women’s small-scale agriculture production and increasing household income by March 2009; to train 70 members from five small-scale women farmers’ groups to use modern ICT and Web 2.0 tools to gather, package and disseminate information to their colleagues and set up electronic networks with other agricultural organisations locally and globally by July 2009; and, finally, to develop a rural community agricultural marketing and knowledge sharing system that provides timely information to women farmers on current agricultural products prices in urban centres and available ICT4D resources and opportunities from ToroDev and partners by use of male agents, mobile phones and bicycles by October 2009.
Gender and ICT issues at stake
The women make up 58% of the total population in the two districts. Among these, over 80% women live in rural areas and are involved in subsistence and small-scale commercial farming. Women are responsible for providing food for their families whereas most men/husbands move to urban centres where the ICT infrastructure is more developed, enabling them to more access and use of ICTs than rural women. Yet back in rural areas, women also often contribute household income in order to enable their family members receive good healthcare and pay for children’s education, among other needs. 43% of these women are illiterate and speak only the local language (Runyakitara) whereas 57% of the remaining members can at least read, write, speak and interpret simple documents prepared in English. In the Kyenjojo district, the villages where these women live have no power or internet connectivity, whereas in the Kabarole district, less than 15% of the targeted rural women can access electricity. Only 23% of the rural women in the targeted districts can afford to use generators and solar power at nearby trading centres. Therefore, the use of individual computers and mobile phones in these areas is a big challenge. On top of that, internet connectivity provided by the mobile telecom companies in rural areas is very expensive for these rural women. Supporting these rural women access and use (after training) simple and cheap (Open Source) Web 2.0 Tools, at community information centres/points, that facilitate the generation of relevant local content (in local language, audio & visual and formats affordable to rural women) information can help them manage information flow and share knowledge for improved production and marketing in the agriculture and agro-business sector.
More information on ToroDev’s website