Category Archives: Observations

Information Ecology of Akua Community in Northern Region, Rural Ghana

Discussion participants

Akua (anonymized) is a community situated about 18km from the district capital. The community has a population of about 1400 people. The majority of residents are Muslem, making up for about 88% of the entire population; about 11% are Christian and the rest practice traditional religions. The ethnicity is predominantly Dagomba. They make up about 95% of the community. Other tribes are the Mossi and the Fulani who constitute about 5% of the population. Festivals celebrated in Akua include the Eid-Ul Adha, Eid-ul Fitr, the Yam festival, the Fire festival, the Damba festival and the Guinea fowl festival.

Dagbani is the main language spoken and it was the language of our improvised discussion. Unlike, the rest of the focus group fieldwork, the discussion in Akua was improvised; rather than organized in advance with the help of outreach staff from locally active agriculture service providers. Farming is the major source of income in the area, with few people engaging in petty trading. Due to the presence of a local irrigation scheme, rice is the most significant crop, constituting about 50% of the crops grown.

The setting of the discussion was improvised. A local outreach worker joined me and we recruited participants as we walked down the main street of Akua. The meeting started with barely ten people but due to the open boundary of the discussion, the participants increased to well over thirty by the time we finished. In giving a brief history of the community, the farmers said that the community was connected to the national grid in 1995-1996.

In casting their eyes back, farmers acknowledged that agronomic innovations were introduced by a very good and helpful extension officer. Unfortunately, he had to depart and left a big vacuum. Farming activities in 2009 went well because the rain was reliable but this was not the case on 2010. The community had problems with flooding every year during the rainy season. Farmers near a local irrigation facility  were able to farm all year round, at a fee of Ghc12 per acre. Marketing was also recognized as a problem. Farmers saw agriculture intensification through tractors and combine harvesters as a way forward for thier rice cultivation. They considered shea butter and tomato processing as promising endeavors in the area. This is how the group expressed their hope for change:

“[…] We are liaising on people like you to come and then hear our grief and then send it to appropriate quarters for redress. […] Considering 20 years ago we were almost in total darkness. But now we are in some kind of innovations. Not yet, but since people like you have started coming here, we hope and pray that everything will change at the shortest possible time.”

Information resources in Akua
Information resources in Akua

People in Akua were fortunate to have benefited from foreign donors who set up and maintained a community radio station. One of the effects of the proximity of the radio transmitter was that the signals in the area of all other radio stations were very weak. As a result, the community radio station had a very strong local presence. Most of their programs were in the local language, making it evry easy to understand. Additionally, foreign donors funded the building of a Youth Center, with photocopying, computing, Internet and sports facilities.  Apart from sport events, few adults visited the Youth Center. People recognized the business relevance of photocopying, while the relevance of the Internet remained in the “this and that” area of education and youth development.

 

Information Ecology of Kwaku Community in Northern Region, Rural Ghana

Our discussion at the Kwaku (anonymized) community was facilitated by local representatives of an NGO, working towards food security improvements in the Northern Region, through the introduction of soya crops. Farming is the main economic activity in Kwaku. Situated on alluvial soils, the community faces rainy (18-20oC) and the dry (39-40oC) seasons. Vegetation is mostly savannah woodland, with cash crop trees being dawa-dawa, sheanut and mango; and cultivation crops being yam, groundnut, rice.

Infrastructure at Kwaku

Records for Kwaku show population of about 3 264 residents, with 48% male and 52% female. The community is characterized by strong traditional governance structures, including the roles of chief warrior, women’s leader, mouthpiece of the chief, chief-in-waiting and youth organizer. Besides chieftancy and the district assembly, formal structures in the community include parent teacher association, traditional birth attendants, youth committee, guinea worm eradication committee, food management committee and women’s groups.

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Discussion at Kwaku

Farmers began the meeting by commenting on new crop varieties and on recent infrastructure developments. The maize variety that was used previously took about 4 to 5 months to mature, but the improved variety which is currently used takes 2 to 3 months to reach maturity. Even though population has been increasing, there is still enough land for farming. In terms of infrastructure, there is no electricity supply but the road to the community was expanded from a narrow foot path to a motorable road in order to aid the transportation of foodstuffs out of the community.

KalandeMobile phones are recent in the community with Vodafone, MTN and Tigo being the available networks in the area. As objects, mobile phones are carriers of identity and inscribed with value. Out of 16 participants in the discussion, 3 used their phones for text messaging and 5 subscribed to the ‘calling tunes’ value added service. The latter are services which allow subscribers to manage callers’ perceptions by presenting to them selected answer tones. The significance of mobile phones as status symbols and the significance of musical entertainment in the rural context, are demonstrated by the following quote:

“Some of [us], [we] call it ‘a bar of soap’ because they are big. Those ones, they don’t have camera and they don’t have music player. That’s what we call a ‘bar of soap’. Those ones, [we] don’t like them. […] This one has a torch light on it. A basic one [is] without a torch light. If any of [us] had one with a music payer, and a camera, and those things, you will see which one because [people] will be following him because of the music. […] “

Most people of Kwaku community charge their phone batteries in the nearby district center at a fee of GhC 0.50. The community was once given a solar charger, which ended up bringing a lot of confusion because there were arguments as to who should charge his or her phone first. Consequently, the solar charger was worn out and it is hardly used. Discussing the amounts they spend on call credit per week, 4 people said they spend up to GhC 2 per week. Two people used an average of GhC 3 a week, whereas another 2 used GhC 4-5 a week. One person was spending average of GhC 6-10 per week. Mobile phones are used mostly to complement other information channels, such as social networks. People phone to reach relatives, to access centralized market information services, and to verify the market prices received through such services with their personal contacts. They confirmed that the market information they received was reliable most of the time, and informed their decisions where to sell their produce. On a few occasions, prices were slightly higher or lower than was anticipated through the price information received.
Eight people in the focus group said they have radio sets. They mentioned Radio Savannah, North Star Radio, Radio Justice, Radio Volta and Radio B.A.R as the ones that are transmitted in the area. Radio, they said is mostly listened individually and not in a group; and it is the preferred source of national and international news.Surprisingly, even though people in the Kwaku had no electricity supplu, 3 of the group participants owned TV sets. They bought the television sets when the electric poles were being erected, and they expected that electricity supply will reach them shortly. In terms of legacy technologies, the community has a gong-gong beater who announces meetings. Occasionally, people call each-other on their cell phones to remind of up-coming meetings. Nonetheless, it is considered profligate.

Information Ecology of Kwadwo Community in Ashanti Region, Rural Ghana

Similarly to the discussion at the Adwoa (anonymized) community, the discussion at the Kwadwo (anonymized) community was organized with the help of extension officers from the district office. The setting selected for the meeting was a local church, which induced a more formal atmosphere into the interactions.

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Church setting

The discussion started by considering recent developments and participants recounted that they did not have electricity until 2008. Nonetheless, as the community has had a surfaced road, its population increased considerably. Immigration into the community was largely due to surface mining activities which take place in the area. Farmers estimated that more than 30 tro-tros (i.e. public mini-buses) visit the community each day. Despite the high level of traffic, there was no newspaper delivery, nor sales in the area. The most memorable adverse event in recent years was the famine of 1983, when many cocoa farms were burnt as a result of the hot weather and absence of rain. Nonetheless, the farms were re-established after the famine was over. In recent years, improved efforts by the public extension office helped improve farmers’ yields. among the remaining problems was black pod disease which still affected yields and the affordability of  fungicide in order to control the disease.

Drawing participatory map
Participatory map

Out of the 13 farmers at the meeting, 9 had access to radios, and they could list more than 20 radio stations which could be received in the area. Farmers tended to use their radios in order to listen to the news. Five out of 13 people in the focus group said they owned television sets but they also said tv signals are not the best. They had access to 4 TV channels: GTV, Metro TV, TV Africa and TV 3. The community had a school but no library. The community had 1 mosque and “uncountable” number of churches. The locations of 4 churches were marked on the participatory map.

Kwadwo information resources

The loudspeaker in the community was known as an ‘information center’, and it served for making announcements about community labour, farmer meetings, funerals and local other information. The fee for announcements (GhC 1) included the announcement being aired twice. Farmers remarked that loudspeakers were often used by salesmen, traveling by car, in order to promote their merchandise (e.g. medicines). The community had no town crier.

Mobile phones were not too common among the farmers in the meeting and only 4 indicated that they own cell phones; out of them had devices with radio functionality. Those who did not own mobile phones made calls from the shared ‘space-to-space’ facilities. These are fixed mobile phone facilities operated by salesmen of mobile credit vouchers. Their location is marked on the map with an umbrella, as they are also known as “umbrella salesmen”.

 

Information Ecology of Adwoa Community in Ashanti Region, Rural Ghana

Our visit to the Adwoa (anonymized) community in the Ashanti region was organized with the facilitation of the local MoFA agricultural extension agents. The AEA organized attendance by farmers and set up the discussion space with plastic chairs available locally.

Group discussion
Group discussion setting

The focus group discussion started with participants introducing themselves and explaining their relationship to the person seated next to them. The explanations provided were in with traditional rural norms and fellow farmers were often recognized as “a brother” or “a sister,” even when there was no blood relation. More qualified descriptions included “father in farming” or “junior brother”.

Farmers considered the living history of their community and noted that the population of the area has increased considerably in recent years. They noted that some years ago they did not know about fertilizer, row planting, pruning and other farm practices  but all these were introduced to them through assistance from development partners such as the public agric extension office. While the community did not even have a school until recently, in 2010 they had a school with a computer lab. Another important technology that farmers noted had been introduced into their daily lives, was the mobile phone. Adverse developments included, water pollution caused by illegal mining activities, floods during the rainy season which often destroyed farms and poor sanitation.

 Discussion organizers and some active participants
Discussion organizers and some active participants

Farmers drew a participatory map of the information resources in their community which included not only mobile towers for Zain (later Airtel) and MTN, but also shared spaces such as the Pentecostal church and the primary school, and shared activities. As productive activities in the communities are largely centered around cocoa farming, the spaces related to those activities included a “cocoa shed”, a “warehouse”; and a “weighing station” where farmers who traditionally use volume units (e.g. bags, bowls, etc.) could measure their produce and estimate its trading value. Farmers considered themselves fortunate to be growing because COCOBOD (i.e. the parastatal cocoa purchaser in Ghana) would always be ready to buy their produce at fixed prices, irrespective of how much is grown. As cocoa farmers, they did not experience market gluts; like farmers of other crops. An interesting element of the participatory map is the inclusions of a “bore hole” which can be interpreted not only as shared space, but also as shared activity (fetching water).

Participatory map of information resources
Participatory map of information resources

Even though the community had a loudspeaker and a town crier, they did not choose to include those on their map of information resources. These resources were used for locally relevant announcements such as communal labour days, immunization campaigns, community meetings, as well as security risks and thefts. Even though they had a computer lab, no adults ever used it because it was part of the school.

Radio was farmers’ preferred source of news and weather, and they tried as much as possible not to miss those broadcasts. They considered weather forecasts to be true most of the time, and used them to decide when to apply fertilizer and to perform other farm activities. 17 out of 18 farmers reported having access to a radio, and 10 reported having access to the radio on their mobile phones.

With regards to mobile phones, out of the 18 participants 13 (10 men and 3 women) had access to mobile phones. They tended to be mid-range phones with LCD displays. On average, they reported purchasing GhC 2.5 of phone credit per week. As the Adwoa community had no access to the electricity grid, farmers tended to charge their phones at the base stations of the two mobile companies (Zain and MTN) which were located within their community. Security staff at the facilities could be persuaded to charge phones for the fee of GhC 0.50. Even though they had no electricity, 3 out of 18 farmers owned TV sets indicating the symbolic significance of TV ownership.

Information Ecologies in Rural Ghana

In the next few posts, I would like to present some findings on the information ecology of rural Ghana, from fieldwork I conducted back in June- September 2010 as IFPRI research fellow. A total of 7 focus group discussions were carried out, following participatory rural communication appraisal methods (Mefalopulos, P., & Kamlongera, C. 2004). The focus groups lasted approximately 2 hours and were typically held in community locations such as churches, schools or other central areas. The table below describes the sampled (anonymous) sites in terms of complementary infrastructure such as motorable roads and electricity; as well as, the number of male and female participants in each group.

Community Region District centre Surfaced road Electricity
Men Women Total
Adwoa Ashanti 45km No No 12 6 18
Kwadwo Ashanti 16km Yes Yes 12 1 13
Abenaa Eastern 51.3km Yes Yes 7 7 14
Kwabena Northern 22km Yes No 25 0 25
Akua Northern 30km No Yes 10 1 11
Kwaku Northern 38km No No 10 6 16
Yaa Northern 30.3 km No No 10 12 22

The field trip was carried out by myself, my research assistant Marian Asamoa and our driver Alfred. We conducted semi-structured discussions of information channels and farming practices, which allowed us to document an ecology of agricultural information channels. The exercises completed by tge groups involved the ‘human web’ (a method emphasizing relationships within the group and interdependencies within the community), participatory mapping of information resources, and ‘problem tree’ discussion of productivity gaps (a method for revealing perceived problems). The next few posts will include material from those discussions.

7 Ways We Can Scale ICT4D Pilotitis

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Below I am reporting an ironic contribution by Wayan Vota of ICT Works on the sustainability of “pilotitis”. I agree with all the points mentioned. I might have ordered them differently in terms of priority. One additional reason why ICT4D efforts persistently fail, without delivering learning, is because of insufficient research and understanding of the underlying problems. My pet hate is how opportunities are wasted on addressing problems which are merely symptoms.

7 Ways We Can Scale ICT4D Pilotitis

Published on: Oct 09 2013 by Wayan Vota

One overarching theme from the recent Mobiles! Conference was the need to get past pilotitis – the too many small projects that never scale, dying the day the original funding dries up. Now how we can do that is a matter of some debate, and there are even folks who say we need more pilots.

Regardless if you think we have enough pilots or not, I know exactly how we can scale pilotitis in ICT4D. After extensive cross-sectoral research in everything from FM radio, to laptops, to mobile phones, here are the 7 simple ways I’ve learned to ensure pilotitis spreads well beyond ICT4D into every aspect of development:

1. Have more hackathons and contests

What says transitory impact more than a one-day hackathon that brings together those not immersed in the real needs of a program to build beta versions of one-off applications without buy-in from end users? Having a low/no prize money contest via Facebook “Likes” so more people can make flashy demo software never meant to scale! That’s the best way to make compreneurs instead of entrepreneurs.

2. Only give out small grants

When you really want a lot of pilots that die the day the funding ends, make sure to start with small amounts of one-off funding with no pathway to future financial support. Grants of $50,000 or less are perfect seed capital that will not give a project enough room to grow into something lasting, especially if you demand that the funding lasts 2 years, require that any revenue generated reduces the initial funding, yet don’t ask for business plans, regardless of grant amount.

3. Focus on small organizations, or no organization at all

Why bother with large companies or organization with international reach and a history of stability – that’s just a nice way of saying “overhead”. Better is to focus on individuals, small companies, “local” organizations, or better yet, start-ups that don’t even have a track record of existence, much less success. That way, you know the idea will die when they get bored or the funding ends.

4. Only fund innovation

Being the second person to fund or work on an idea is no fun. Worse is replicating an idea that already works. There is no fame in implementation. So don’t do it. Real pilotitis can only scale when everyone focuses just on the newest new innovation, the bleeding edge of change – unique ideas launched without any history of prior efforts or existing constituencies to quicken adoption. “Transience” is the new “resilience”!

5. Build new software

Why share code? We can spread pilotitis faster when we make sure that every project builds its own bespoke, proprietary software solution – because we need more software options. Oh, and don’t hire reputable software development firms to code innovative solutions, that’s not building capacity. Recruit inexperienced volunteers or hire lone coders who always brag how they won a recent contest but never seem to show up on GitHub.

6. Evaluate via photography

Why stick around for maintenance, support, or the f-word in development to appear? None of that is sexy. Nor is reading long, boring evaluation reports listing all the lessons (re)learned. The best way of all to scale pilotitis is to evaluate success through pretty pictures of children holding gadgets. That way we can reinvent the flat tire, again, and look good doing it.

7. ___

In honor of Michael Trucano’s Worst Practices in ICT4E, I’ll leave #7 blank for you to fill in. I know you have your own ideas on how to scale pilotitis and I’d love to hear them in the comments below or on Twitter.

Together, we can scale ICT4D pilotitis!

Posted by: Wayan Vota on October 9, 2013

via 7 Ways We Can Scale ICT4D Pilotitis | ICT Works – Mozilla Firefox.

Market Information Systems in East Africa

The recent publication of An Assessment of Market Information Systems in East Africa by USAID, provides critical reflections on the Market Information Systems (MIS) experience in East Africa. By interviewing practitioners from MIS operations in East Africa, USAID were able to identify recurrent issues in implementation.

2013 USAIDThe generation of accurate price data for agriculture MIS in Africa, by monitoring transactions micro-data remains some way off into the future. The suggestion to develop MIS trading modules and commodity exchange integration captures the promise of ‘big data’ and remains a way forward. Still, MIS currently have to rely on pricey and inaccurate market survey results for the generation of price content. Enumeration and the implementation of high frequency market price surveys come at a significant cost. Costs are raised further by data processing operations such as data cleaning and aggregation. The generation of MIS content appears not only costly, but also rife with accuracy problems.

Considering the key findings and recommendations of the report, I think most valuable is the advice to MIS operators to promote value-added services such as advertising and the provision of agriculture-related content. Based on my experience in Ghana, I think that advertising for agricultural inputs can be a viable revenue-generation strategy for the delivery of market information services. Other services, such as the provision of agriculture advisory content allowing small-holders to meet the quality requirements of international buyers, also carry promise for the sustainability of MIS. The generation of revenue from end-user payments does not strike me as a feasible strategy and a realistic sustainability model for MIS. The benefits to end users remain unclear and their incentive to invest in receiving price information remains questionable.