The President's Blog published in e-Agriculture on Driving grassroots wealth formation through ICT4AG

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Driving grassroots wealth formation through ICT4AG | Blog from Kiringai Kamau, member from Kenya

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Kiringai Kamau is a Social Entrepreneur. He has founded VACID Africa as an Africa Wide Capacity Building initiative that promotes networking among development institutions, workers and partners. Watch Kiringai's new interview on the e-Agriculture YouTube channel

Agriculture is, to many African countries, the wealth formation vehicle for rural communities and a direct source of food as well. A lot of focus has been provided for productive agriculture with little focus being on the entire agricultural value chain.

The agricultural fraternity needs to change the agricultural exploits to focus more on value chain linked practices that scale from pre-production to the consumption, integrating the services that accompany the productive activities shown in Figure 1 comprising inputs, production, storage/aggregation, transport, processing, packaging and branding, distribution/retailing and consumption. With a service orientation these services can be formed to become farmer owned agribusinesses which can and are presented here as an interesting paradigm for driving grassroots wealth creation.

The discussion presented here is drawn from experience with the collaborative work undertaken with the University of Nairobi, Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), CIAT/TSBF and KARI. It demonstrates a sector that is too research-farmer based with little focus on wealth creation for the farmer. No doubt the agricultural value chain is mainly driven by agricultural researchers whose main output has traditionally been in publishing new research findings in the area of focus. Their focus on the value chain therefore ends with their critical deliverable, which in this case is the research paper. Some researchers who specialize in agribusiness face similar challenges to what the farmer faces in understanding production as they may lack an in-depth appreciation of businesses modeling which is the vehicle for wealth creation.
The practice is that the wealth creation perspective is left with the extension workers, who in-like manner are challenged in the clear diffusion of the technology as they may be in their understanding of farmer based organizational models that they are expected to help farmers adopt. This then means that the potential for creating earnings from consumer-payments derived from their farm produce procurement is limited.
The challenge in this scenario has been that the farmer puts in so much effort to produce some commodity that they rarely makes enough to persuade them stick with a particular agricultural value chain engagement.
Figure 2 (a research outcome of the author’s work) shows that out of the aggregated earnings of Ksh. 96 per litre of milk paid for by a consumer, the farmer’s reward is Ksh 29 or about 30% of the price. With paltry net earnings of Ksh 12 (13%) from the market, the potential for farmer fatigue; when they know the price that their litre of processed milk fetches is high. This may explain the reason smallholder farmers are always on a migration path to seek new areas of investing their productive time, hoping as they do that the next value chain engagement provides better earnings.
A candid assessment of the agricultural value chain exposes the reality of the agricultural value chain: that the farmers the only parties who engage with the value chain and end satisfied with the role they play in the engagement are researchers, produce brokers, and processors. The challenge with farmers is that a majority of them never get to really master much on their role as value chain actors and that they are driven to undertake production by the knowledge of the brokers who control the consumer-farmer backward linkage. The brokers, who thrive on market information asymmetry, happen to be the main source of information to the extensionists (who advise the researcher), as well as the farmer.
In a time when technology is changing so much of what happens in the continuum of the agricultural value chain, there is need to change the interaction of the value chain layers above research outputs. This should focus more in creating a new model to extension and market linkage so that research can have an impact to the producers that the farmers are, as well as infuse business models to extension that advises the smallholder farmer. Furthermore, if the farmers were to engage in their individual or collective capacity with the market, they would have better control of the interaction with the consumers. Such a model would superimpose an organizational framework that brings farmers to an organizational vehicle that they form to aggregate their produce, provide production and market information, and deliver payments from the market for the aggregated produce.
If this were to be achieved, farmer loyalty in their value chain of focus would be continually be rejuvenated as they practice their engagement with agriculture. The Aquaculture, Value Addition, Agribusiness and Knowledge (AVAAK) model seeks to address this gap by ensuring that agriculture has been touted the solution to growing national incomes achieves that goal. Figure 3 represents the AVAAK model that superimposes the business and organizational thinking to the agricultural value chain.

Using this model, the practice of agriculture to support preproduction activities associated with specific research efforts, farm level inputs, soil fertility and related management will shift the knowledge-based investments of research and agricultural technology support to reach the producers that are farmers through an organizational vehicle that are close to the farmer and which the researchers or value chain knowledge providers can reach. Should the traditional extension vehicle be found necessary for the purpose of feedback and feed-forward in the chain, particularly to provide insights to the policy institutions, then they too will have a locational space to interact with producers or their representatives in a physical space. This will ensure that the productivity efforts that have also received quite some considerable investments from extension funding organs of development organizations, the government as well as research organizations continues to provide the interface for which they have been retained.
The critical support perspective that this model provides is the ancillary technology support which is needed to a minimal level in the productive layers.
Such a change will definitely trigger the necessary innovations within the agricultural learning programmes offered at the curricula level for agriculturalists where too much focus has been put on drilling the learners on the knowledge that drives the lower value chain activity of production and productivity. Such thinking would integrate well with the Knowledge interface of the AVAAK centre which envisages an eLearning platform to offer continuous learning efforts for those already in the field as well as those aspiring to specialize in programmes driven by ICT for Agriculture or ICT4Ag.
This paper ascribes the challenge in the practice of agricultural engagement to the level of attention which has been to too much to agriculture rather than to food. A time now has come when food and nutrition have become the key drivers of national and global policies in matters policy and planning. Unfortunately, much as the integration of value chain activities has become so commonplace in policy discussions, those charged with their implementation are the same actors whose training was and continues to be in productive rather than organizational supportive technologies. That is why the look at the institutional vehicles for automation is such a critical call if agriculture is to become the driver of employment and wealth creation.
The model presented in Figure 3 starts with the aggregation of produce at the local producer level then proceeding to create a market aggregator group. When farmer organizations come to play, processes of enforcing compliance are put to play. In agriculture, the only standard that works is weight. Taking care of a farmer’s produce can only be done through weighing and ensuring that that weight is delivered to the market and paid according to the much a farmer delivered. This is the process the AVAAK centre seeks to achieve. To achieve this, a simple handheld weighing technology driven by customized software (scale firmware) that mimics the produce weighing activities is automated and the scale powered through rechargeable batteries. The scale firmware captures the weight of produce delivered by each farmer. The farmer details are initially downloaded to the scale from the organization’s computer room, a process that is followed every time the scale is being released to the field. The production data from the farmer, whether in large volumes or small are then relayed to the produce aggregator who has another larger scale or produce collection mechanism that compares the total collections with what is received. This forms the records for the farmers and for linkage to the market. With mobile and wireless solutions now available, the communication of the data from the field to the produce aggregation centre may be varied.
The electronic weighing ensures that farmers, at whatever stage of knowledge are not taken advantage of by buyers or produce collectors. The gains from the transparency associated with the produce accuracy which does not round the weights like the manual scales do are used to acquire other processing technologies or machinery. Effort is made to ensure that the AVAAKs use green energy solutions.
To ensure that the benefit of integrating productive processes to the payment realizes intended results, local trainers are trained and used to train local communities on the weighing technology. eLearning platforms are used to train the local trainers who then ensure that we local dialects are used to train communities where communities do understand English, the language used for course delivery. The AVAAK solution has evolved to a technology that addresses the entire value chain from inputs and service delivery to collecting funds through mobile money from the market. Using this model, all value chain actors are made to be value added service providers that interface with service provision and hence value addition, including those whose role was initially broking. Where there is potential for lack of information infrastructure or internet solutions, we ensure that the Knowledge perspective of the AVAAK Centre is supported through telecentres, which are community knowledge and information centers created with collaboration with the global telecentre movement led organization Telecentre.org Foundation. The technology learning programmes are supported with the Telecentre.org Academy which is used to certify local ICT4D trainers. VACID Africa Institute develops and delivers agribusiness and value chain linked programmes. Those with a passion in knowledge dissemination are welcome to join us take ICT4Ag to communities. You are invited to visit our websites at www.vacidafrica.or.ke, www.octagon.co.ke, www.imapafrica.com, and www.af-mip.net to see what we have started doing and we continue to do.
You are invited to visit our websites at www.vacidafrica.or.ke, www.octagon.co.ke, www.imapafrica.com, and www.af-mip.net to see what we have started doing and we continue to do

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