Improving the Lives of Poorer in Our Communities Using Social Media in Agriculture Ednah Karamagi Executive Director BROSDI Kampala, Uganda Email: email@example.comAbstractSocial media can be used to improve lives of the poorer in rural communities. It is a commonperception, especially among urban populations that rural people cannot use web 2.0applications, digital cameras, digital radios, and audio CDs, which are ‘still’ alien in rural settings.At BROSDI (http://www.brosdi.or.ug) our focus is to support activities that use thesetechnologies as enablers in addressing concerns of the poorest, with a special focus on farmersand rural communities, with the notion that “information is power”. We use blogs to shareindividual best farming practices in form of text and audio; mobile phones to collect and shareinformation, computers to not only access the internet for information but also to repackagecontent from the farmers and prepare it ably for dissemination. The paper shares theexperiences, success stories and challlenges of BROSDIs support activities and our agriculturalprogramme - Collecting and Exchanging of Local Agriculture Content (CELAC)(http://www.celac.or.ug). During the 7 years of implementing CELAC, we have seen farmersimprove their living style right from applying best farming practices and reaping increasingoutputs to accessing markets and even positive behavioral change and attitude towards life. Theyhave also shared this information using both traditional and modern ICT applications1 Social Media, a growing trendIn the urban areas, I see more people use Social Media with each passing day. If the userfinds comfort in a site, LinkedIn for instance, addiction takes course. Before socialnetworking, many read their emails first thing in the office then proceeded to perform theirwork duties. Today, this trend has changed with many logging onto their networks as well,stay glued to them, and before they know it, it is lunch time. It is for this reason thatorganizations are increasingly banning logging on during work hours. Some even blockaccess to the platforms from their servers. This is because when one logs in, with the funthey present, time passes by so quickly and at the end of the day no work has been done inrelation to the objectives of the organization or company.
The excitement is great with many subscribing to any new platform they hear about and atthe end of the day, abandon it for more famous sites like Badoo for instance. It is not untilthey learn about the use of a site that they return and make better use of it. It is a bee hiveactivity room.Interesting is that more use them for fun purposes. These platforms, especially the socialnetworking ones, present opportunities of meeting new people, many with the option to evenchoose the preferred friend description. Like Facebook for example, using the in-built searchengine, one can relate with old friends and schoolmates from whom are long separated andeven changed location. Flick R or Picasa for instance, will enable one upload the photosonline and retrieve them at will provided there is access to internet. One can even choosewhich to make private and which for public viewing. An interesting addition is that aconversation can be built on each photo by different subscribed friends.Take another example of blogs – a new fast growing wave of citizen journalists issubconsciously mushrooming with people opening blogs and sharing bits of their passionsand lifestyle at will and in a manner they prefer. With all these applications, communication inthe world is moving to another level ……but stop for a moment and ask … suppose the rural persons were able to access thesegadgets and applications just as well? What would they do with them? How would they usethem? Would they find them as interesting? …as addictive?Suppose, with the growing popularity of Social Media, the applications and supportingequipment are easily accessible to the rural person? And that they were using them to sharethe information they have? What kind of information would they share? A quick guess to mewould be: farming practices to include the best and bad; they would shift the night kitchengrandma stories to blogs for instance and probably village scandal and gossip like animaltheft, adultery, co-wife fights, death from witchcraft and their relations would go online as well.Moving to the comments, I am pretty sure that they would be in the line of advice to avoidsuch future scenarios again. From my relation with rural people, they enjoy giving advise; andthey give it using proverbs and/or with examples and lessons of past happenings.The point here is that they would probably share a different type of information. They wouldshare information that would lead to better farm output and positive behavioral change in ourhomes and the community at large.2 Social Media usage and the Rural PersonThat said and done, can the rural person really use social media? Or is this anotherupcoming innovation that stays in a dream state? and never a reality?Unfortunately it is still a common perception especially among urban people that rural peoplecannot use web 2.0 applications, much less for self-improvement. Worse is the need fordigital cameras, mobile phones, radio, audio CDs, and their relations as enablers which are‘still’ alien in rural settings and referred to by many as “for the educated”. Many are left agapein wonder and doubt when they learn about the existence of rural people using social mediato improve their livelihoods. Incidentally, this is BROSDI’s path.
At BROSDI, we have had several visits from people near and afar wanting to relate with thebeneficiaries just to quench their curiosity over the ability of a rural person to use socialmedia in a self and community productive manner. I recall a visit from particularly onegentleman from Europe whose name I do not even remember, questioned the validity on ablog in my presentation - “Rural People is using Web 2.0 to Improve Livelihoods” that I madein Rome, Italy. There, he challenged the presentation and I responded with an offer to takehim around to any of the farmers of his choice that we work with. He accepted and came.While in Uganda, he met with Elizabeth Mpungu and her group, the CELAC Masaka DistrictFarmers network and they showed him what they knew. He said to us that he wanted toprove that we had not doctored whole session and so asked us to move out so that he relateswith the farmers on his own. They later told us that he asked them practical questions, whichthey were to respond using a laptop that we had given to them. When we were still in theroom, he even asked them how to send a document to the printer. I just shook my head inamusement as I watched them show him what they can and what they cannot do; for whatthey could not do, they asked him to teach them. This is just one example among many.Rural people are just like you and me. They have an advantage over the fact that many leavetheir lives under the saying of “practice makes perfect”. They do not have many of theamenities readily available in the cities and so have to make do with what is within theirmeans. I for one find them very creative people and have always called upon them for adviseseveral times. They are even the brains behind our health (http://yohaap.wordpress.com) andeducation programs (http://childrensclub.wordpress.com), agriculture as well.There is a common argument rallied around lack of electricity in rural areas as a hindrance todevelopment. Even where it exists, in case of breakdowns, repairs are delayed. As such,electricity is still limited in the rural areas and both government and private sector are slow atinvesting in this direction. They still leave in the older thinking way that they cannot get backtheir investment because the rural people have no money to spare for the usage. I rememberwhen we opened our office in Mayuge district. We were constrained by lack of electricity togreat lengths. An opportunity presented itself when government allowed to meet part of thecost to install a transformer at our site. We were to meet the bigger portion of the cost. Today,the whole village has electricity and many more are still joining the grid. This is a commonhappening in those rural areas that have been lucky enough to get electricity in their villages.I see them use electricity for housing as well as business related activities.Use of social media calls for electricity for not only charging the equipment but also to run it.3 Using Social MediaFrom time immemorial, we at BROSDI have used Social media to address the concerns ofthe poorer in society. This was even before Web 2.0 and by then, it only covered “use ofICT”. Today the two terms have been married.In using these applications, we are careful not to impose anything to farmers. This is becauseexperience has taught us that it is not sustainable. When you impose, it is your innovationand when you go away, which you will one day, you go away with it and the farmers go backto doing it their older way. This means wastage of resources and time which cannot be
retrieved. It is more lucrative and result oriented if you empower the community with the skilland technology and then let their curiosity, combined with creativity soar them to higherlevels. True, it is time consuming and often calls for a lot of patience but worth it at the end ofthe day.I give an example of one farmer, Mulopi Joseph, 50years plus who we found veryknowledgeable in using indigenous farming knowledge as well as an extremely hard worker.He wanted to learn how to use the computer because he wanted to be termed among the“more learned” in society. We taught him the Office package and also how to use the internetproductively. By then, a cabbage farmer among his other farming activities, was selling eachcabbage for UG SHS 100. He googled for “cabbage market in Uganda”, or something to thatline and managed to get a telephone number of a cabbage buyer. Today, he sells the samesize of cabbages from UG SHS 100 to UG SHS 300 to now UG SHS 500 per cabbage. Thereis a time when his customer fell ill and so he was left with so much cabbage and not wantingto sell for a lower price, went back to the internet and this time googled post-harvest ways forcabbages. Today, he sells both fresh and dried cabbage. He has also contributed to the bodyof CELAC Knowledge by sharing how to dry cabbage in a healthy manner. This BROSDI hasshared with other farmers and yes, some too have adopted the trend. This is such anexample of using technology in a productive way; combined with “necessity being the motherof creation”.Like said before, the process can be very slow but one has to be patient when initiating it tothe rural population. One needs to also be mindful of the stigma that hoovers aroundtechnology usage in rural areas.To get to the level of using social media productively; we first got the farmers in organizedregistered groups. We then shared with them what we knew about the best way to make themost out of a single forum, they gave their view as well and we all then agreed of a projectformat. So, they do the basic packaging of the content shared and send it to BROSDI for re-packaging. They use several ways: by bus, by post, by hand and email.We collect this information, compile it and send to NARO for verification – I give an example:a farmer will say that “if your land is not fertile, it is because there is a night dancer (witch)bewitching your garden. He/she comes in the night and dances all over the garden. To chasehim/her away, plant the lablab weed but be careful to plant it in several places of the gardenfor if you scatter it, the night dancer will dance in those parts where it isn’t and those placeswill remain infertile”. NARO will alter it to read: “if your garden is infertile, plant the lablabweed in several parts of the garden. This is because the leaves act as fertilizers to the soil”.From NARO, we break down the information in differing dissemination modes to include:pamphlets, SMS and brochures. We also engage the farmers in sharing best farmingpractices which are shared on the text and audio project blog. We also use Facebook andTwitter; and of recent, in close partnership with Davide Piga and Pete Cranston, developed awiki – FarmAfripedia (http://farmafripedia.ikemergent.net) where anyone from Africa andbeyond can add indigenous farming content to the platform.
4 ConclusionThe journey has been long but worth it for us even if many still believe that it is wishfulthinking for rural persons to use social media for household development. Use of socialmedia to address concerns of the rural poor has reaps fruits.We have seen farmers build houses from farm output, appropriate take advantage ofplanning for their gardens and soil leading to higher yields; search for better markets;behavioral change while giving preference to issues that matter more, and above all, sharingproductively using social media as the enabler. We share this on our success storyorganization blog: http://successtories.wordpress.comAcknowledgement:I would like to acknowledge and thank Hivos the main project (CELAC) funding partner whobelieved in an idea conceived by rural farmers in a rural town, Mayuge, in Uganda and havecontinued to support them through BROSDI in attaining their goal of improving food securityand household development.Also to the farmers involved in the CELAC Project who are always willing to share theirsuccesses and challenges with everyone; and especially for learning purposes.Of course special thanks also go to several partners, inclusive of the Government of Uganda,Grameen Foundation USA, Google, MTN-Uganda and many more for stepping in at differingstages to also contribute to this common cause.Last but not least, I thank IAALD who gave me the opportunity to share this success from Iknow which many others will learn and probably adopt.It is from all your interventions that I have been able to develop this paper.Contact Information:Names : Karamagi EdnahOrganization : BROSDIAddress : P.O.BOX 26970, Kampala, UgandaTelephone : +256 392 963 527Email : firstname.lastname@example.orgWeb site : http://www.brosdi.or.ug ; http://www.celac.or.ug