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ICTs and Precision Development: Towards Personalised Development

5 November 2019 Leave a comment

Are ICTs about to deliver a new type of socio-economic development: personalised development?

ICTs can only have a significant development impact if they work at scale; touching the lives of thousands or better still millions of people.  Traditionally, this meant a uniform approach where everyone gets to use the same application in the same way.

Increasingly, though, ICTs have been enabling “precision development”: increasingly-precise in terms of who or what is targeted, what is known about the target, and the specificity of the associated development intervention.  The ultimate end-point would be “personalised development”: interventions customised to each individual.

Elements of digitally-enabled individualisation have already emerged: farmers navigating through web- or IVR-based systems to find the specific information they need; micro-entrepreneurs selecting the m-money savings and loan scheme and level that suited them.  But there is still rigidity and constraints within these systems.

Though we are far from its realisation, the potential for truly personalised development is now emerging.  For example:

  • Personalised Learning: “a methodology, according to which teaching and learning are focused on the needs and abilities of individual learners”[1]. ICTs are integral to personalised learning and technology-enabled personalisation has had a demonstrable positive impact on educational performance[2].
  • Precision Agriculture: though around as a concept for at least two decades, precision agriculture is only now starting to find implementations – often still at pilot stage – in the global South[3]. Combining data from on-ground sensors and remote sensing, precision agriculture provides targeted guidance in relation to “seeds, fertilizers, water, pesticides, and energy”.  The ultimate intention is that guidance will be customised to the very specific soil, micro-climate, etc. parameters of individual farms; even smallholder farms.
  • Personalised Healthcare: diagnosis and treatment may appear personalised but typically involve identifying which illness group a person belongs to, and then prescribing the generic treatment for that group. This is becoming more accurate with improvements in electronic health records that provide a more person-specific history and context[4].  Precision medicine prescribes even more narrowly for the individual; typically based on genetic analysis that requires strong digital capabilities.  Though at early stages, this is already being implemented in developing countries[5].

ICTs are thus leading us on a precision development track that will lead to personalised development.  The promise of this can be seen in the examples above: individualised information on learning level, farm status, or health status that then enables a much more effective development intervention.

It will be interesting to log other examples of “ICT4PD” as they emerge . . .

[1] Izmestiev, D. (2012). Personalized Learning: A New ICT-Enabled Education Approach, UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, Moscow.

[2] Kumar, A., & Mehra, A. (2018). Remedying Education with Personalized Learning: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment in India, ResearchGate.

[3] Say, S. M., Keskin, M., Sehri, M., & Sekerli, Y. E. (2018). Adoption of precision agriculture technologies in developed and developing countriesThe Online Journal of Science and Technology8(1), 7-15.

[4] Haskew, J., Rø, G., Saito, K., Turner, K., Odhiambo, G., Wamae, A., … & Sugishita, T. (2015). Implementation of a cloud-based electronic medical record for maternal and child health in rural KenyaInternational Journal of Medical Informatics84(5), 349-354.

[5] Mitropoulos, K., Cooper, D. N., Mitropoulou, C., Agathos, S., Reichardt, J. K., Al-Maskari, F., … & Lopez-Correa, C. (2017). Genomic medicine without borders: Which strategies should developing countries employ to invest in precision medicine? Omics: A Journal of Integrative Biology21(11), 647-657.

How Whatsapp Strengthens Livelihoods of Women Farmers in Rural Zimbabwe

Whatsapp [1] (icon shown in Figure 1) is improving women farmer’s social capital – facilitating effective social networks in rural Zimbabwe.  We know that mobile technology use leads to information sharing – with the possibility of building social capital and leading to asset creation.  Some even argue that ultimately this can lead to better and sustainable livelihoods strategies.  There is talk, however, to suggest that many rural women in sub-Saharan Africa have not realised the benefits of mobile technology, despite widespread positive outcomes of mobile phone uptake in agricultural settings [2].  This is concerning, so exploring Zimbabwe’s situation is perhaps relevant and enlightening.

Figure 1: Whatsapp Icon

Whatsapp is facilitating access to support networks which better allow rural women farmers to pursue sustainable livelihoods in Zimbabwe.  Support networks (for example informal farming groups, church and savings’ clubs, as well as formal support from local NGOs and extension workers) are prevalent here.  In fact these links are particularly valuable in an environment (vulnerability context) which is typified by four factors.  First there are complex market trends (like flooded livestock markets and price fluctuations).  Then there are confounding financial shocks (like the lack of capital and abundant cash shortages).  Third are the challenging and extreme climatic shocks.  Fourth is the threat of disease (which is usually high and persistent throughout the year)[3].

Such characteristics are compounded by multiple role expectations on these rural women, and multifaceted, often contradictory structural relations.  Inequalities of access and women’s multiple competing roles limit opportunities [4], and so it seems reasonable to argue that social networks are central to mitigating vulnerability, which in turn enhance sustainable livelihoods prospects for Zimbabwean rural women livestock farmers.  In this sense, social media application Whatsapp is being used to [3] (see Figure 2):

a) Solve livestock problems, for example rural women are able to post/ send photos and videos of livestock to Whatsapp group members with common livestock interests, local vets and extension workers.

b) Help out in emergencies, allowing quick access to Whatsapp group forums to warn community members when livestock is stolen/ when disease threats arise, thereby efficiently coordinating emergency visits.

c) Build and strengthen women’s networks whereby women chat to each other and seek advice/ information through Whatsapp group forums.

Figure 2: A Zimbabwean Woman Using Whatsapp [3]

Essentially effective support is garnered through creating Whatsapp chat groups to openly communicate livestock issues.  Granted, some women do not have smart phones (largely due to cost), but it seems normal that an informed connection is never far off [3].  Also, in true Zimbabwean style, more experienced women farmers share experiences and knowledge with younger women farmers, serving as mentoring platforms where strong bonds are often formed through vulnerabilities and hardships.  A strong sense of togetherness and willingness to assist each other through these open channels ensues.

Whatsapp is accepted as a cheaper, useful and effective way of coordinating meetings (see Figure 3 – a photo with a group of livestock farmers brought together using Whatsapp).  A preferred form of communication, it enables rural women to inform each other, keep records of, and forward important (livestock) information.  It is perceived as being revolutionary in transforming communication amongst community members [3].

Figure 3: A Group Meeting in the Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe [3]

Given its apparent prominence in allowing economical flow of useful information, it is permissible to suggest that social networks accessed through Whatsapp are facilitating rural women’s pursuit of (diversified) livelihoods in an otherwise complex and challenging vulnerability context.  It would be useful to explore how the same/ similar mobile phone applications can be used to provide equal/ further access to key influential social and political networks [5] in order to abate the apparent perceived complex and contradictory structural relations and gender differences in such contexts. 

References 

[1]  Whatsapp is a cross-platform messaging and voice over IP service that allows users to send text messages, documents, images, and other media.  It also allows users to make voice and video callsChat groups can also be formed on the application.  Whatsapp (2018). Simple. Secure. Reliable messaging. Whatsapp [Online]. Available at: https://www.whatsapp.com/ [Accessed 28 November 2018].

[2]  Baird, T.D., and Hartter, J., (2017). Livelihood diversification, mobile phones and information diversity in Northern Tanzania. Land Use Policy, 67, pp.460-471.

[3]  Author’s Zimbabwean fieldwork data, August – September 2017.

[4]  Wyche, S., and Olson, J., (2018). Gender, Mobile, and Mobile Internet Kenyan Women’s Rural Realities, Mobile Internet Access, and “Africa Rising”. Information Technologies & International Development, 14, p.15.

[5]  Ruswa, G., (2007). The Golden Era?: Reflections on the First Phase of Land Reform in Zimbabwe. African Institute for Agrarian Studies.

Categories: e-Agriculture, m4d Tags: , ,

Crowdfarming: Platform-Enabled Investment in Nigerian Agriculture

20 November 2018 Leave a comment

Crowdfarming is fast becoming the easiest means of investing in agriculture in Nigeria. On one hand, we have smallholder farmers who have agricultural skills and farmland but lack sufficient finance.  On the other hand, there are individuals who have money to invest but lack agricultural skills and access to farmland. Intermediated by digital platforms (Figure 1), crowdfarming entails sourcing funds from several individuals (the crowd) to invest in smallholder agricultural enterprises. In some cases, investors receive returns in the form of agricultural produce, while in other cases returns are financial – that is, investors receive their initial investments plus profits [1].

Figure 1: Snapshot of a Nigerian digital platform-enabled crowdfarming webpage (source: Thrive Agric, 2018)

There are currently at least seven active (indigenous) digital platform-enabled crowdfarming agribusinesses in Nigeria. These are: Thrive Agric, Farmcrowdy, Growcropsonline, Growsel, Farmkart, eFarms and Agropartnerships. Drawing from research carried out with Thrive Agric, it is understood that investors (also called ‘farm subscribers’) are considered part-owners of farms they invest in. The contractual agreement between the crowdfarming platforms and farm subscribers provides details on the returns on investment per farm enterprise, length of the production/investment cycle (e.g. see Figure 1), insurance cover on funds invested, and secure online payments. Farm subscribers also receive regular information on the farm’s progress through email alerts and notification of final payments at the end of the production cycle. Subscribers can also apply to visit the farms they invest in.

In Nigeria, crowdfarming platforms are tapping into a large pool of financial investors who are mostly educated individuals, located in urban areas in Nigeria or in the diaspora. Thrive Agric’s model has attracted over 3500 investors, located in 10 countries (Figure 2), who have invested in nine agricultural value chains, directly supporting the livelihoods of over 12,000 farmers (Figure 3), since its inception in 2017.

Figure 2: Geographic spread of Thrive Agric’s crowdfarming subscribers investing in smallholder agricultural production across Nigeria (source: author’s field research, 2018)

Figure 3: Geographic spread of Nigerian states where crowdsourced funds are invested by Thrive Agric (source: author’s field research, 2018)

Despite its growing recognition as a means of investing in agriculture, some factors still constrain the scaling-out of the crowdfarming model beyond its current scope. These factors include:

  • Low level of awareness and trust issues: according to the Chief Technical Officer of Thrive Agric, not many people are aware of crowdfarming and its benefits to both investors and farmers in Nigeria. As such, there is still the potential for more people to invest but getting the word out there, cost effectively, remains a challenge.
  • Currency and bank transaction issues: currently, investing in Nigeria’s agriculture through crowdfarming can only be carried out in Nigeria’s currency (the Naira) due to fluctuations in foreign exchange rates. As a result, investors are required to have a Naira account to participate in this space.

Looking ahead: what does the future hold for Nigeria’s agricultural growth through crowdfarming?

Investing in Nigerian agriculture has been described as key to driving the growth of the sector and Nigeria’s economy in general [2][3]. However, the growth of Nigeria’s agricultural sector has been constrained by a myriad of factors especially those relating to low financial investments in infrastructure, agricultural research, high yielding inputs and information delivery [4]. As agricultural production in Nigeria is still largely rain-fed, the issue of timely access to finance, ahead of the rainy season, remains a reoccurring constraint to the socio-economic growth of farmers (ibid). Figure 2 shows that digital platforms are breaking down barriers to agricultural investments in Nigeria by bridging the gap between investors (both home- and diaspora-based) and smallholder farmers.

However, there is still a lot to understand in terms of the long-term impact of investing in agriculture through digital platform-enabled models like crowdfarming. Research is also needed to ascertain the nature of interaction between these platform models and the existing institutional forms that govern agricultural value chains. This will help broaden our understanding and the broader implications for the distribution of value among stakeholders along agricultural value chains that are platform-enabled.

References

[1] Flynn, P. (2015) What is Crowdfarming, Hazel Blog http://blog.hazeltechnologies.com/article-27-what-is-crowdfarming

[2] Izuchukwu, O. (2011) Analysis of the contribution of agricultural sector on the Nigerian economic development, World Review of Business Research, 1(1): 91-200

[3] Udoh, E. (2011) An examination of public expenditure, private investment and agricultural sector growth in Nigeria: bounds testing approach, International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(13): 285-292

[4] Phillip, D., Nkonya, E., Pender, J. and Oni, O.A (2009) Constraints to Increasing Agricultural Productivity in Nigeria: A Review (Vol. 6). International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC

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