The International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) and the Ugandan government have signed an agreement to expand the Rural Information System programme, which helps farmers to increase their income through ICT-enabled crop-marketing services. So far, twenty-six existing Agricultural Cooperative Enterprises (ACEs) in isolated areas throughout Uganda have become part of the Rural Information System programme over the last eight years. These centres enable local farmers both to send and receive urgently needed production and market information. Now there are plans to expand the programme even further as the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry (MTTI) prepares to build ten new centres in 2010.
The information provided by the ACEs empowers local farmers to sell their produce at more competitive prices. This, though, is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other benefits from taking part in the programme. These include spotting better business opportunities, learning how to enhance crops so that they fetch a better price, receiving up-to-the-minute weather forecasts, and learning how to manage and improve pre-harvest and post-harvest planning.
“In a nut shell, the farmers’ satisfaction with the RIS information centres and the positive impact these centres are having on the rural communities they serve bodes well for the next decade, especially as we will see an expansion of the programme to even more rural areas in 2010”, says Marc LePage.
For more information about the RIS information centres and other ICT initiatives supported by IICD in Uganda and other African countries, please contact Marc LePage, Country Programme Manager Uganda at firstname.lastname@example.org. For background information about IICD’s M&E system, contact Hanna Goorden at email@example.com. Alternatively, visit IICD’s website at www.iicd.org[/callout]
The Power of Partnerships
The programme has been piloted through collaboration dating back to 2002 among the Uganda Commodity Exchange (UCE), the Ugandan Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry (MTTI) and IICD; since 2006, the Dutch non-governmental organisation SNV has also been involved. The expansion in 2010 has been made possible through funding from MTTI, the existing Rural Information System (RIS) Centres, Close the Gap and other funds in Uganda.
Entering a New Phase in 2010
As the RIS programme is poised to enter a new phase, its future sustainability has been strengthened considerably by the involvement of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry (MTTI). Together with the Uganda Commodity Exchange, MTTI will drive the programme and work with existing farmer cooperatives to set up new information centres. IICD will act as project adviser, sharing its experience in rolling out the existing centres and its expertise in monitoring and evaluation (M&E), which will enable the programme to capitalise on its successes and find workable solutions to any obstacles it encounters along the way.
Over the years, IICD has encouraged local farmers to provide regular feedback on the programme through a purpose-built Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system. A survey covering the four-year period from 2005 to 2008 was conducted recently to measure the impact of the RIS project. This has helped to provide a clear and reliable picture of developments over that period of time. A total of 259 end-users participated in the survey: of these 66 percent were male, 56 percent were between 31 to 50 years of age, and 42 percent had completed secondary education.
The impact of the Rural Information System (RIS) programme was measured by asking the farmers taking part in it to respond to a list of statements using a seven-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree) and then combining these statements into five constructs: awareness, empowerment, impact on the sector (i.e. agriculture), economic impact, gender impact and negative impact. The data collected also shows the profile of the end-users, their level of satisfaction and use of the programme. Since 2005, questionnaires have been collected from 259 farmers.
The majority (87 percent) of the 259 farmers who took part in the M&E survey indicated that, as a result of participating in the programme, they have managed to achieve their personal goals. As one farmer put it, “We were able to sell ground nuts at good prices through bulking”. However, it should be mentioned that not everyone was completely satisfied. One farmer commented, “We have not achieved a proper linkage with good markets for our bulked goods”.
Satisfaction with the project’s activities and services was also very high, with seventy per cent of the farmers indicating that they were ‘partly satisfied’ with most of the activities and/or services offered through the project. For example, the quality of information scored 93 percent and 96 percent in 2007 and 2008, respectively. On the other hand, training courses and seminars provided through the project scored 90 percent and 85 percent in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
Whilst the Rural Information System (RIS) programme is undoubtedly having a positive impact on the communities it serves, it also faces a number of challenges, and these should not be underestimated. Technical problems, such as virus attacks, can be a real headache. As a solution, some centres now get local technicians from the area to help them repair the computers. However, it has been suggested that a ‘roaming technician’ who could make quarterly visits to all the centres in the region would be a more effective solution in the long term. In addition, the Uganda Technical Colleges, which are spread around the country, will be providing basic IT maintenance services to RIS centres – thus allowing the RIS administrator to focus on providing service to farmers – rather than fixing computers.
The high cost of the delivery and and collection of information from members is another concern. The information centre in Kayunga ACE, for example, has to cover an exceptionally wide area – one that includes three sub-counties. As a solution, staff members at the centre are now using mobile phones to send text messages to zone leaders who, in turn, deliver the information to the member farmers in their catchment area. Other suggestions for meeting the costs include asking farmers for an annual subscription and identifying other potential sources of income at the centre.
- Better price bargains: Through the project, farmers have learned that it is more advantageous to sell their products collectively.
- Collective bulking and marketing for all centres: Farmers believe that RIS can be successful if all the information centres adopt collective bulking and marketing. That way, they can attract ‘bigger’ and better buyers with high quantities of produce.
- Diversification: At the start of the project, most farmers only produced one type of crop, which they sold to individual customers. Through the information provided by the project, they have now learnt about other marketable crops that they can grow for additional income or as alternatives.
- Better enterprise selection: Direct access to market information has helped members with better enterprise selection. For example, some members of Sheema ACE have successfully started growing apples as a result of accessing information about how to grow and market them.
- Access to business support services: As a group, members of the BUSUI Rural Information System (RIS) centre can now easily get loans because of their image.
- Project Sustainability: Sheema ACE has embedded RIS operations into its day-to-day activities, and other revenue sources are used to finance the collection and dissemination of membership and market information. As a result, Sheema ACE has managed to maintain its Internet connection throughout, while other centres experienced some disconnections due to financial constraints.
- Non-members would also like to receive services reserved for members. To address this problem, Sheema ACE continuously advises non-members about the benefits of RIS to motivate them to join as members.