We immersed ourselves in agriculture for 3-4 hours yesterday in conversation with visiting colleagues from the University of Alberta, working up a proposal on food security. When asked for a definition of food security, they responded in terms of shorter distances food was transported. I was reminded of the archetypal “bad” food value chain that got much play when there was fire in one of the Swiss road tunnels: potatoes grown in Poland, transported by truck (despite Europe’s vaunted and subsidized railways) to Italy for processing, and then hauled back as French Fries across those same tunnels back to Germany and Poland. It seems common sensical that food that puts on less miles would be better. So what are such value chains in Sri Lanka?
I’ve been asked about how we choose our research topics. Intuition, I answer. Lot of discussion among the team and intuition. How did we choose the case studies for the research on agricultural value chains? Here, the team assembled a lot of data too.
Reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a rite of passage for college students (should still be). The key point I took away from it was the need to focus on quality. My most favorite economics book is Exit, Voice and Loyalty, by Albert Hirschman. Also a discourse on quality. Perhaps because I read Zen at an impressionable age .
The whole point of a public lecture is to catalyze thought and action. It’s been three months and the first evidence I saw of anything being catalyzed was the phone call I got from Bandula Mahanama, the speaker we invited from Polonnaruwa. He had some plans about reducing risks from the Minneriya reservoir and wanted me to come. He and his colleagues from six farmer organizations wanted a Colombo partner. I went with Lakshaman Bandaranayake the CEO of Vanguard Management who has been our steadfast partner on all dam-safety related projects.
Interesting piece in the Guardian on mobile more than voice. What I found most interesting was the emphasis placed by the Community Knowledge Worker on things other than communication, such as the reliable weather information and the cooperatization. To register, a farmer must provide exhaustive details about his farm, household and income, as well as the things he needs most to improve his livelihood. Many in the area still wonder why Grameen isn’t providing them with physical aid, but Simon tells me he is working to change that mindset. “Let someone give you knowledge, then you are rich.
LIRNEasia’s research on agricultural value chains is in the press. Nilusha Kapugama’s response to a feature on one of the most successful rubber smallholder cooperatives has been carried in the Sunday Times. It covers the topics of start-up costs, law and order issues and the high transaction costs that prevent more auctions being conducted (and Padeniya not expanding): Our research included conversations with a key mover in the Padeniya Thurusaviya society, Mr Berty Lionel. We agree that Padeniya is a great success. Where we differ is on the likelihood it can easily be replicated across the rubber-growing areas.
Since 2009, farmers in Sri Lanka, have been able to benefit from a new service called Tradenet which provides agricultural market price information through mobile phones. The service is a joint initiative between Sri Lanka’s largest mobile phone operator (Dialog Axiata PLC.) and a not-for-profit called Govi Gnana Seva (GGS). GGS which means “Farmer Knowledge Service” has since 2003, been collecting and dissemination wholesale agricultural produce trade information. An evaluation of this new service by LIRNEasia found that farmers were able to get livelihood benefits by using this system.
Some of the actionable research done by LIRNEasia, were highlighted at an event organized by the Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority (BICMA), in Thimphu on 9 May 2011. One of the areas of research presented was Agriculture. According to the World Bank, nearly half the labour force in Bhutan is engaged in Agriculture, however as in most South Asia countries, the sector’s contribution to GDP is less than proportional. LIRNEasia’s research on agriculture has highlighted the importance of access to accurate, timely and actionable information improved the efficiency of the agriculture value chains. The presentation looked at the services available for delivering information to farmers in South Asia.
LIRNEasia‘s continuing work on the role of ICTs, and in particular mobiles, in improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, was recently published as a chapter in an IDRC publication called “Strengthening Rural Livelihoods – the impact of information and communication technologies in Asia.” The chapter titled “Price transparency in agricultural produce markets: Sri Lanka” covered the results from a year long study of the livelihood impacts for farmers from using a mobile-based price information service called Tradenet. The chapter was co-authored by LIRNEasia researchers Sriganesh Lokanathan, Harsha de Silva and Iran Fernando.
LIRNEasia Senior Research Manager, Sriganesh Lokanathan was invited by Wetlands International to speak on issues pertaining to the access and use markets and ICTs for livelihood resilience. The conference titled “Building Livelihood Resilience in Changing Climate”, was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 3-5 March, 2011 and brought together practitioners, researchers and donors working on livelihood resiliences issues, eco-systems and disaster risk reduction. Speaking on a panel on the role of ICTs for information, knowledge and innovation to support livelihood resilience, Sriganesh talked about the results of LIRNEasia’s research with farmers. He highlighted how farmers increase their adaptive capacity through improved market signals through the use of mobile phones. He stressed the importance of articulating the needs of the rural poor prior to tailoring interventions.
LIRNEasia Senior Research Managers Sriganesh Lokanathan and Ayesha Zainudeen represented LIRNEasia at a conference organized by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) of the National University of Singapore (NUS), titled “Celling South Asia: The Mobile Phone’s Impact on a Region” (17 – 18 February 2011). Sriganesh made a presentation on “Price Transparency through ICTs – livelihood impacts for small farmers in Sri Lanka” and Ayesha made a presentation on “CellBazaar: A mobile-based e-marketplace”. The conference gathered practitioners, academics and researchers working on the full spectrum of issues related to mobile phones, from policy and regulation to applications, use and socio-economic impacts. The presentation slides can be viewed at the following links: Price Transparency through ICTs – livelihood impacts for small farmers in Sri Lanka CellBazaar: A mobile-based e-marketplace
LIRNEasia has been working on agriculture since 2007; our consultant lead economist Harsha de Silva since 2001. Our focus has not been on the core concerns of agriculture experts, such as high-yield crops and fertilizer, but on how markets can be made to work better, how producers can get more for their labor, how consumers can get lower prices and waste can be reduced. Our colleagues at the Rural Technology and Business Incubator at IIT Madras have been working on a broader spectrum of these issues. It is good to see the key questions getting the attention they deserve in the media. And rural India has far too few temperature-controlled warehouses that could help farmers and the nation build up reserves as a hedge against poor growing seasons.
___________________________________________________ Mobile 2.0 describes the next wave of applications and services – the use of mobiles for more than voice. On the 26th and 27th of April 2010, LIRNEasia together with the PTA co-hosted a successful expert forum in Islamabad, Pakistan. A multitude of themes were discussed over the four sessions, when the experts presented their research and cases to an audience that consisted of those representing regulators, mobile operators, government agencies and the media from nine countries of the Asia Pacific region. Day 1: Opening Session Welcome Speech I: Prof.
LIRNEasia’s Lead Economist Harsha de Silva had a dream. It was that information would reduce price volatility and waste in agricultural markets and that both consumers and producers would benefit from better functioning markets. Unlike Jensen who studied the effects of price information communicated through mobiles on the market for “wild” fish and Akers who studied mobiles’ effect on grain markets (a little more complicated than fish, because the decision to grow or not is now a factor and because transportation costs are not negligible), Harsha picked perhaps the hardest of markets: small-scale production of perishable vegetables and fruits. The studies are ongoing. But we now have the ongoing research being implemented as a commercial service: Sri Lanka’s top celco Dialog Telekom is offering a trading platform based on short message services (SMS) that can help farmers to sell their produce and create a forward market for agriculture produce, officials said.
More food for thought for discussions on whether the emphasis should be on agriculture, which is said to employ the most people, or on services, which has the most potential. Sri Lanka has generated 234,000 service sector jobs in the third quarter of 2009 from a year earlier, though 89,000 jobs were lost in industry, and 240,000 were lost in the farming sector, a government survey showed. The data does not include Sri Lanka’s Northern province, which had just emerged from a 30-year war. The agriculture sector shrank 0.9 percent in the quarter, with paddy production falling 28.
Mobile phone message services like one deployed by the financial news agency Reuters to over a million farmers in India, could help Sri Lankan farmers earn more for their produce, experts said. Ranjit Pawar of Reuters Market Light, India said their SMS (short message service) in India provide farmers timely information and helps eliminate middlemen. “A farmer told me, ‘If I had timely information I could have made 40 percent more money,’ when we launched the short message service in India,” Pawar told a seminar on knowledge based economies. It was organized by LIRNEasia, a regional think tank based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Full story.