In the remote hinterland and highland in Laos, a lack of telecommunication infrastructure in rural communities - due to poor roads and telephone links - has limited smallholder access to production information and markets for small-scale trade of subsistence crops or livestock as well as the chance to get better premiums for some high-value products such as NTFPs, wild honey, mushrooms and tree extracts, which have been increasingly valued by exporting markets. A recent field report by CliPAD gives suggestions to improve an information, communications and technologies (ICT) sharing network in remote areas in Laos.
Julia Moebius, a former intern at the Climate Protection through Avoided Deforestation Project (CliPAD) got some insights into this area after her field work in six villages in the Houanmeuang District, Houaphan Province in December 2013. CliPAD was designed as a development project by the Lao Government and supported by the Federal Government of Germany through the provision of technical and financial assistance for the protection of intact forest landscapes within the REDD+ framework. In her report, Julia identified the need to improve the information network within the target villages. Simple IT solutions were identified in villages with limited or no electricity and no internet connection.
During visits to the villages, Julia found out although there is a good net coverage provided by tele-companies, none of the villagers had access to the internet for lack of the appropriate tools i.e. computer or phone. Most farmers have a very poor understanding of technical devices, which can be linked to the low literacy rate of the farmers as well the fact that many phones come with instruction manuals that are in Thai. They use mobile phones for basic functions like calling, sending SMS or listening to the radio.
Towards the end of her field work, Julia then suggested five solutions to district agriculture staff and farmers in a focus group workshop:
1. Interactive Radio
A local radio station receives calls from farmers talking about their technologies, tricks and ideas. These calls are recorded, stored at the radio station, and made into a radio programme that is then broadcasted.
- Check here for examples of interactive radio for agriculture development projects.
2. Agricultural Call Centre
A call centre can be set up in which telephone operators receive the questions of farmers via phone-in calls. With the help of a computer programme, they can provide advice to farmers. For questions that are not covered by the programme, they can contact agricultural experts who will provide advice later on.
- Have a look at how Kisan Call serves Indian farmers in this manner.
3. SMS-based Support Services
A tele-company can send SMS-based alerts to the farmer, for example, for cattle raising when there is a disease in the district and the farmer needs to vaccinate it.
- Read more about empowering farmers through SMS.
4. Community Knowledge Workers
A farmer in a village is given a smartphone with special functions that allows him to collect and save information for agriculture know-how techniques or measures for certain diseases.
5. Video-based Extension
Farmers who have ideas on how to improve farming practices are filmed, and a short movie is made in which they explain these ideas. These movies are then shown in other villages during farmers meeting. This can make sure the solutions are adapted to the local situation and needs.
- An example from India: Digital Green brings training to farmers via video clips.
Of course, good ideas are out there, but introducing them at the ground level and meeting farmers’ needs always depends on pragmatic issues, such as the lack of funds for district offices to buy enough petrol to drive around to remote villages to show the videos and so on.
If rural communities have a platform for sharing information in their indigenous language, this will help them to gain knowledge and build their capacity to achieve a better livelihood.
This newsblog was adapted from Julia's recent "Report on the visit to Houanmeung District, Houaphan Provice" completed during her internship with CliPAD, Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.