October 23, 2010
This is part two of of a two part blog series. If you haven't yet, we recommend you read Part One of his blog post series. In part 2, Jason Hahn describes his day with Esther, a kind-hearted Community Knowledge Worker (CKW), as she asks farmers to register for the CKW program, where they will be able to use smartphones to access CKW Search to access information about the current market prices for crops as well as ask questions about best farming practices.
After setting up my tent in her well-kept yard, I headed out with Esther on her afternoon round to register farmers for the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program. Registering farmers allows us to track how frequently they use our services and see if they change their farming practices based on the information we provide. Part of the registration also involves conducting a baseline poverty survey. We can use the baseline data to see whether or not farmers we are working with are moving out of poverty.
After a few registrations, it quickly became apparent why Esther's community chose her to be a CKW. She gave advice and solicited information in a very friendly manner and it was clear she had a good rapport with her fellow villagers. It would be easy to see her on the city council in a small American town.
Jane Kapsandi was the first woman that we called on. We found her outside her house made of mud bricks and a tin roof. Using CKW Search, a program on Esther's phone, Esther answered Jane's question about what foods will help her cow give good milk. Jane was happy with the advice and agreed to be registered for the CKW program. Chatting with Esther after our visit to Jane, she told me that the easy access to information the phone provides was a real improvement on other sources of information. Before, they would have to wait for an infrequent visit from an agricultural extension agent. Now, they have real-time access to a large body of useful information.
After leaving Jane, we walked along a footpath through a field interspersed with banana and coffee plants to call on Godfrey Mwanga. After registering Godfrey for the program, Esther answered his questions about coffee rust disease. This disease, which appeared endemic in Kewel, markedly diminishes the harvest from a coffee plant. Again using CKW Search, Esther told Godfrey that to cure the disease, the coffee plant can be sprayed with a copper based fungicide. As coffee is one of the chief cash crops of this region, information on protecting the plants is very useful.
During my two days in Kewel, I learned a great deal about coffee, including seeing it for the first time on the branch and watching traditional coffee roasting. What I found amazing was the difference in price between what raw coffee costs, 600 shillings or .30 cents for an amount that would fill a large yogurt tub, and the $3.50 a latte sets me back in Seattle. As the CKW program grows, we will introduce new software and partnerships to enable farmers to capture more of the value of their goods. Learning the price of coffee here brought the reasons we are doing this into sharp focus for me.
As we moved from house to house, I asked Esther how she found using the smartphone. She told me it was a useful but she had recently been asked by the program managers in Kampala to update the software on her phone, but did not know how. When Edward, our field officer, came back the next day, I asked him to update her software. I took the need for automatic updates back to our tech team to look at. By constantly examining how we best serve our end-users, CKWs and their farmer neighbors, we are improving the services that we offer.
While I left Kewel tired in body, as those roosters sure do start crowing early, I was energized about the work we are doing. Easy access to actionable agricultural information can change the life of a farmer. While we have a great deal to learn as we deliver it, I am convinced the CKW program is a viable way to bridge "the last mile" of providing that information to rural farmers living at the base of the poverty pyramid.