Institutionalization of Agriculture Knowledge Management System for Rural Farming Community
Mr. Faisal Islam
This project uses a participatory approach to establish crop insurance through a process of community driven management with participation of different on-farm & off-farm agri-stakeholders to ensure qualitative and quantitative input supply, technology & marketing security. Through the Institutionalization of Agriculture Knowledge Management System (AKMS), Padma has initiated the process of a re-directional information flow from global researchers to local farmers.
Modern agricultural technology has led to a process of marginalisation. A weak agricultural economy producing insufficient food is frequently associated with a weak or nonexistent democracy and can lead to migration, social unrest, an unhealthy as well as unproductive labour force, and mismanagement or abuse of environmental resources.
The problem is fundamentally one of a real lack of coordination between researcher and local farmer. Adopting modern agricultural tools is not possible for local farmers mainly because of illiteracy. Farmers need less academic feedback than what they are currently receiving from agricultural research institutes. Consequently a demand and supply chain management system has been developed for effective market promotion of agri-entrepreneur products with the participation of the farmers' association, trade union, agriculture dealers, credit providing institutes /organizations, and the market committee. This is a model of social entrepreneurship with a multidimensional impact on society.
Jhenidah is a district in the southwest part of Bangladesh. The agricultural sector is the largest and most critical economic sector as more than half of the population live in rural areas and are economically dependent on the performance of agricultural production. Almost 85% of people here depend on agriculture. Generation after generation, people of this area have been practicing indigenous agricultural technology.
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. A combination of mutually reinforced causes such as frequent natural disasters, internal political strife, corruption, gender discrimination, environmental degradation and poor infrastructure affect the people’s struggle to rise above the poverty line. The traditional indigenous technology for agriculture is no longer in sync with the actual food demand. Hybrid seeds were introduced through agricultural extension but the high chemical input demand of High Yielding Variety (HYV) crops caused a decrease in land fertility. The lack of available pesticides and chemical fertilizers was often the cause of crop and other environmental damage. Additionally, the added cost of extra chemical agri-inputs (i.e. chemical fertilizer & chemical pesticide) creates additional economic pressure. In this way the modern agriculture technology contributed to a process of marginalization for more traditional farming practices.
In Bangladesh more than 60% of rural farmers are illiterate and about 98% do not know any international language (like English). Beside that they have no access to ICT, which could allow for better technology adaptation into their entrepreneurship or for the building of improved marketing and communication linkages. Thus, the inaccessibility of ICT & other modern technology due to language and technical limitation is further marginalizing these farmers. These limitations are also creating barriers to establishing two way linkages with global agriculture research institutes.
This initiative started 2006 in the Jhenidah district of Bangladesh. Originally, five pilot villages were selected. The primary target was approximately 1,500 farming households. The farming community of the area was facing problems throughout the different stages of their farming system, for instance they were unable to obtain their critical information needs or an understanding of the applications for promoting productive, equitable, and sustainable agriculture.
The key framework for addressing these problems is the Agricultural Knowledge Management System (AKMS), consisting of the organizations, sources of knowledge, methods of communication, and behaviours involved in the agricultural process. Knowledge is not the same as information: knowledge includes information, understanding, insights, and other information that has been processed by individuals through learning and thought. As farmers make critical decisions throughout the year (e.g. credit applications, crop selection, tillage methods, pest control, harvesting, post-processing, marketing), a typical household will rely on its own accumulated experience and the support of local organizations (e.g. producer associations, input suppliers, rural credit agencies, extension services, NGOs, schools and others). Thus, farmers were in need of a permanent solution to overcome these barriers to production. By applying a participatory approach called Knowledge Brokering (linking rural farmers with the national and international researchers) the farmers' community now has developed a self driven system to manage all those crucial issues.
Designing ICT-enabled knowledge flows between these actors in any specific case requires careful consideration of the types of ICTs that are accessible by each group and the technological and conceptual packaging of information so that it can flow effectively from one user to the other. Effective ICT deployment explicitly considers the appropriate interfaces between the digital and non-digital worlds, so that those without access to digital ICTs can still benefit from an improved local information environment. From the perspective of the smallholder farmer, the key question is how to gain access to information and resources. These farmers need local support groups that will act as brokers between the available knowledge system and the individual needs of farming households. Developing economical local ICT access for the rural poor and ensuring appropriate content is the essence of bridging the digital divide.
The role of the intermediate organization is that of a knowledge management organization whose purpose is to introduce change for the benefit of the clients. These organizations generally avoid issuing prescriptive recommendations; rather, they play an advisory and facilitating role. In short, intermediate organizations are organizations that provide management of information, communication, and knowledge that allows farmers and farmer groups to make better management decisions that will improve their long- term livelihoods.
The presence of ICTs that facilitate choice and feedback has changed the role of local intermediate organizations such as clubs & CBOs, extension workers, producers’ associations, and input providers that work closely with farming families. For many regions, particularly in rural areas, direct use of ICTs by farmers – with the exception of digital telecommunication – may take decades. On the other hand, local intermediary organizations are significantly more likely to have the organizational capacity, human capacity, and access to the necessary infrastructure to take advantage of ICTs to deliver needed services to the rural poor. Their role will increasingly change from disseminating information sent to them by official knowledge sources to acting as knowledge brokers that comb various sources to help clients find the information and resources they need and place that information in a local context.
Intermediary organizations are the lynchpin of a well functioning agricultural knowledge system, straddling the dividing line between the digital, globalised knowledge and trading system interlinked by digital ICTs and the community’s local system, which will often rely on non-digital ICTs. The following diagram highlights four different functions that intermediaries must master to make the system function well.
This process is linking the farming community with the market management committee, national/international research institutes, concerned GOs & NGOs, and agriculture input providers.
In many cases, research results from agricultural research institutes and other fora are too academic to guide even an intermediary organization. Programs that create or reinforce partnerships between intermediary organizations and agricultural research institutions to produce accessible content in local languages and at the appropriate technical level will satisfy most community content needs, but success depends on intermediary organizations being the major partner, manager, and evaluator of the process.
Padma has involved a group of educated youth from the particular farming community who are deeply rooted in the community and highly accepted within their society as knowledge brokers. They are following a useful approach; mapping out the information and communication needs of clients within their agricultural economic/social system and assisting the key elements in that system to find information they need, when they need it, in accessible terms and language, and at prices that are realistic given available resources and sustainable development needs, to incorporate growth, equity, and environmental dimensions. From this starting point, an effective ICT strategy can take a knowledge brokering approach: identifying who needs information, who can supply the information, what formatting and delivery mechanism will allow the knowledge provider and consumer to communicate and share information, and what institutional / market structure will provide the appropriate incentives for such sharing to take place.
Agricultural knowledge and information needs to be managed like any other key business input. Advances in ICTs have helped create an entirely new discipline, termed knowledge management. Effective knowledge management means that an organization or network of partners gets the right information to the right person at the right time in a user-friendly and accessible manner so that they can perform their jobs efficiently.
Development efforts must improve the capacity of the agricultural knowledge system to manage and disseminate knowledge effectively, particularly to small farming families and women. ICTs can play an important role in linking knowledge seekers to knowledge sources. Agricultural research, extension, and development organizations – public or private, for-profit or non-for profit – are all part of an overall agricultural knowledge system linked by information and communication.
AKMS is a holistic development system of agriculture entrepreneurship. Here 3 vital components have been focused on.
- Re-directional information flow. This includes appropriate information for farming, crop selection, better technology, direction and communication with national & international agri-research institutes to make their research specific to the local content, which will solve the agricultural problem of local farmers.
- Local management system for crop security. This includes 2 parts
- security of marketing and good selling prize of agri-products &
- security of timely & sufficient input supply such as credit, fertilizer, seeds, and fuel.
- An institutional form of indigenous agriculture practice.
Description of the Initiative
Once the Agricultural Knowledge Management System (AKMS) begins to meet the critical information needs of farming communities, and their individual applications, as they make critical decisions throughout the year (e.g., credit applications, crop selection, tillage methods, pest control, harvesting, post-processing, marketing), then modernization will be introduced into their farming methods.
Merging participatory methodologies with content development activities was a part of the participatory content development model. In this model, local intermediaries convene rural farming groups to identify and rate the type of information they need, then go about finding it, creating it, distributing it, and readapting it in response to comments. These groups also contract agricultural researchers for technical support in content development, but community intermediaries ultimately own the product.
The beauty of the participatory content development model is that it meets several development objectives simultaneously: it identifies gaps in needed content, develops them in a language and terminology accessible to target users, increases demand for rural ICT access, builds individual and organizational ICT skills in rural communities, and strengthens the capacity of communities to engage in democratic dialogue and contribute to regional and global knowledge societies. In many cases, the content is likely to retain its value to users even for a long time.
As the rural farmers overcame the barriers of accessing ICT, they were able to communicate (via knowledge brokers) with local, national and international organizations or institutes on what will push them past marginalization and the digital divide. Re-directional information and communication were made accessible for the farmer community to effectively plan, implement and monitor activities to ensure optimum use of natural resources.
The ‘digital revolution’ has facilitated access to ICT to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of farmer’s involvement with AKMS. The barriers of one way communication were reduced and re-directional communicational mechanisms have strengthened the linkage and sharing between researcher and local farmers, strengthening research emphasizing the local problem and, thus, agriculture has been able to contribute more to the national economy.
The ICT revolution has changed society and the way society handles all transactions. This revolution is playing a major role in the socio-economic transformation of people, especially those living in rural areas.
Model of change:
There are some common challenges like poor understanding and coordination among the farmers, market management committee, and input providers. Effective performance of knowledge brokers is very essential to overcome this as they are catalysts for the participatory approach.
- This model is one effective way to optimally use the resources, where the both sides’ stakeholders are getting benefits.
- For the marginal farmers, this method is very effective as the middle man has no existence in this process.
- This participatory process is able to be replicated by a small organization of 5-7 members. Even a local level organization can replicate this model at the local level with different agri-entrepreneurs.
- At the basic level this small scale project needs five computers, one laptop, and internet connection. Staff should include one IT expert, one agriculture expert, and a minimum of five knowledge brokers.
- If the knowledge brokers are not from the farming community that they are attempting to assist then they should gain acceptance from that community in order to engender trust and better perform in their role.