Sean Paavo Krepp is Uganda Country Director and CKW Program Manager.
Poverty reduction and agriculture are deeply linked in Africa. Most of the rural poor are engaged in some form of agriculture or agriculture related business, so transformation of the sector could be tantamount to transformation of society.
One of the keys to changing the sector is access to and diffusion of knowledge on agriculture production and marketing. This is understood by governments but agriculture extension systems have been under resourced and under equipped to fulfill their mandates of reaching farmers dispersed over large geographies.
In Uganda, each agriculture extension agent has a catchment area of 100-300KM and is required to serve 3000-9000 households. Even if the agent were consummately efficient it would require that each agent would meet with 12-36 households per working day to have met each one in a year’s time – now, if you wanted repeat visits the numbers goes up even further.
We introduced the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in 2010 to address the agriculture extension knowledge gap. Each CKW is selected by their local community at the parish level (5-10 KM radius) to serve 500-700 households.
They are trained to use smartphones, off-grid charging solutions as well as how to serve their communities with actionable and up-to-date farming knowledge at their fingertips as well as how to collect data from their communities to share with other agriculture sector actors.
Because they themselves are local farmers and are trusted by their communities they become hubs of experimentation and diffusion of knowledge to other early adopters within their communities.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a respected research organization, recently tested the effects of CKW knowledge diffusion in a difference in differences study (view report Differences_in_Differences_Study_Report_-_Final_July_5_2012.zip ) and found significant effects of agriculture practice knowledge in communities served by CKWs but perhaps even more importantly, they also found a positive effect of prices received for maize in communities served by CKWs.
We also recently estimated our cost per farmer reached along side one of our partners and found that we were a factor of 15 times less expensive than traditional face-to-face farmer field school meet ups. This could bode well for governments who are looking to have impact at a low cost and are willing to use para-extension workers to ensure broad-based coverage of farmers.
National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAADS) in Uganda has just announced a pilot to test the use of CKW information and communication technology tools and monthly pay incentives as an overlay on their extension system. This is an excellent start as it can bring up to date knowledge to the fingertips of their extension workers, and the performance based pay can ensure extension workers are rewarded for their outreach but it still does not address the human resource challenge of having more feet in the field.
We have always viewed the CKW network, now 800 strong, as a compliment to the agriculture extension system. In fact, we hope that this pilot will form the basis of better understanding where our CKWs can best interconnect with the NAADS system by way of backstopping CKW efforts.
As the government formalizes its ‘shifting’ strategy of less trained officials on the front lines we hope that the CKW model can form an impactful extension to the formal extension system.