Smallholder farmers in Colombia are receiving individualized technological support from a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative that will offer them expertise and guidance to improve their farming businesses.
Smallholders in South American countries often lack access to value chains, credit, and business and technical support. These limitations can prevent them from maximizing the use of mobile technologies to increase agricultural productivity and income.
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), poverty affects more than 7 million people in rural regions of Colombia—many of whom are small-scale farmers. Colombian farmers face a number of challenges—including poor land management and decades of ongoing civil war. Many smallholders have lost their land and other assets to the violence stemming from civil conflict.
According to a study by the University of Los Andes, violence and land grabs related to civil conflict in Colombia have forced many smallholders to abandon more profitable, permanent crops that require more investment—like coffee and fruit trees—in favor of more expendable crops that can be lost at a lower cost.
The Grameen Foundation has recently established a number of e-agriculture initiatives in Colombia that are developing, testing, and designing mobile technology products for rural smallholders, with the aim of improving agricultural productivity.
The CKW initiative—piloted by the Grameen Foundation in Uganda in 2009—uses a network of peer advisors to help smallholders utilize the agricultural data collected by the mobile products to improve their farming businesses. The CKW initiative has been able to reach the most remote regions by employing a network of trusted local advisors—often farmers themselves—who are chosen by their peers and then trained by the Grameen Foundation to provide their peers with informational services.
Using the agricultural databases on smartphone applications, the CKWs share information on weather, markets, and expertise on raising crops and animals with farmers.
In Colombia, CKWs are helping farmers in Tibú and certain regions in Antioquia who have been devastated by civil conflict. Today, a network of approximately 1,100 CKWs serves more than 176,000 farmers in various developing countries.
In partnership with agriculture research organizations and experts, the CKW network has built an agricultural database containing more than 35,000 real-time tips on crops, livestock, weather, market prices, and other relevant agricultural information. CKWs also collect data from rural communities that may help experts identify and preempt potentially widespread disease and pest outbreaks.
The initiative is part of a larger campaign by the Grameen Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to promote sustainable production and food security by improving smallholder access to information and communication technologies (ICTs). The FAO has granted the Grameen Foundation access to the Technologies for Agriculture (TECA) database, which contains details about technologies—for livestock, fisheries and forestry, climate change, and sustainable development—that have been proven to help improve smallholder productivity.
However, the Grameen Foundation recognizes that it needs corporate involvement to research certain factors impacting smallholder access to markets in order to maximize the development and impact of the mobile products for smallholders.
The Grameen Foundation has collaborated on corporate research projects investigating the access that Latin American smallholders have to global markets and value chains. A recent project with the Dow Sustainability Corps and Bankers without Borders evaluated the “farmer-level information gaps that commercial companies face when sourcing from cacao and coffee producers in Latin America.”
Alberto Solano, Grameen Foundation’s Regional CEO for Latin America, says: “Their recommendations are valuable input that will help us improve our field efforts to increase the inclusion of poor farmers in international markets and value chains.”
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