This initiative involves pairing ICT and farmer-to-farmer learning structures to improve productivity and build social cohesion among smallholder cacao farmers in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Led by Clemens Fehr and Graham Savio (one of ConDev’s Program Coordinators in the DRC), farmers and farmer-extension agents are being provided with smart phones through which information can be exchanged with private company extension workers and with other farmer-extension agents.

Spatial data generated by the smart phones will be used to better understand the geographic distribution of specific production issues, while the phones’ image-capture capability will help agents diagnose and properly advise on these and other production issues. Project partner Gourmet Gardens has purchased and programmed the phones with messaging applications that will allow text- and image-based communication with each other and with company management. They have signed an agreement with Airtel (one of the cellular carriers in DRC) for a monthly internet contract, which will allow the farmers and extension agents to use messaging applications as they wish.

The project is also partnering with “Domaine Monts de la Lune sarl” (DML), a purchaser of Organic and Fair Trade cocoa based out of Beni territory in the DRC. DML manages an outgrower scheme with over 700 farmers who are organized as an independent NGO – “Le Jardin a.s.b.l.”

HYPOTHESIS: The experiment hypothesizes that empowering selected farmers and enabling information flows will foster self-confidence and build group cohesion and a sense of ownership of the cooperative.

PROSPECTIVE OUTCOMES: In this environment, farmers with leadership capacity will emerge and the farmers will develop strategies that enhance the ability of the group to operate with less top-down management and more organic communication and organization. Improved organizational capacity and the formation of cohesive groups that bridge gaps between traditionally localized clans and families then has the potential to substitute, to some degreem for the functions of the defunct Congolese state in the local area in question. Improved information delivery will also lead to lower transaction costs for service delivery. As a result, more farmers will be compliant with international standards at lower costs, and DML will be able certify more farmers and pay higher per kilo purchase costs for farmer produce.

A total of 40 smart phones were purchased and set-up to permit internet use and group communication using the “WhatsApp” chat application. A similar number of solar chargers were acquired to permit charging of phones in an environment without electricity supply.

In November 2015, the telephones were given to 3 extension workers and 37 farmers and two training sessions were held. These were organized and executed by the manager of the company. The first training served to train the extension workers, and the second training was used to train farmers in the use of the phones and WhatsApp. In the meantime, extension workers have conducted further training for farmers because the uptake was much slower than anticipated. At this point, the project is in a position to communicate with farmers and does so at regular intervals.

 

POCs: Led by Clemens Fehr and Graham Savio (one of ConDev’s Program Coordinators in the DRC)