Recommendations: Introduction

Agriculture is a challenging sector in which to implement ICT in a meaningful and productive way. Because of the direct physical interaction needed between stakeholders, points of entry for ICT are much less apparent. However, successes in leveraging ICT for agriculture can be found all over the world in low-income countries and settings. From 8villages to iCow to mFisheries, there are numerous examples of ICT solutions for agricultural problems in developing countries that have demonstrated significant impact in the way farmers interact with markets and their trade, in general. This section will explore the opportunities for ICT in Cuban agriculture.


El Paquete for farmers

Many farmers are already connected to the vast network of El Paquete membership and dissemination, whether they buy El Paquete from their local manager or share it with their friends through Zapya. Farmers invest in El Paquete as a form of household entertainment that improves their quality of life and connects them to modern society. Because Cuban farmers represent a large proportion of El Paquete’s distribution network, there is an incredible opportunity to leverage this platform to share agricultural information. The international and local El Paquete content managers could add agriculture-centered news, research, how-to videos, process reviews, lessons-learned from other countries, and more to the weekly subscription in order to maximize the utility of El Paquete in the daily lives of Cuban farmers. Farmers would be able to use this added information on enhanced production, for example, to improve their systems and make decisions about their farms without relying on State-sponsored information channels to provide it.

Apps4Ag

Smartphone applications for agriculture are a growing phenomenon all over the world. Innovators are capitalizing on the fast-paced expansion of WiFi and mobile data networks popping up across all income levels. However, the Cuban setting necessitates a different kind of solution than that which is being implemented in similar contexts, given the scarcity of WiFi hot spots in the countryside and inaccessibility of Internet as a result of pricing. (For more information, please visit the ICT & Agriculture page.) Thus, Cuban app innovators are uniquely positioned to meet this need as a result of their experience innovating to create well adapted offline apps like ConoceCuba and KeHayPaHoy.
Though lines of communication between farmers in the countryside and Havana-based app developers are few and far between, farm-based content applications are a point of entry for offline app developers in Cuba to challenge their skills and create a new information source for farmers across the island. Apps, like Sirrus by SST Software, help farmers in the developed world to optimize production through precision agriculture support and immediate answers to agricultural questions. Cuban farmers need an ICT-based solution similar to Sirrus, but appropriate for their context, to reach their maximum productivity while optimizing resource use to ensure the conservation of their land for equally productive seasons in the future.

SMS Solutions for Agriculture

An SMS-based solution is the most feasible to implement within the current context of Cuban technology. SMS technology can capitalize on the penetration of smart and “dumb” phones across the island. A majority of farmers have personal cell phones, therefore a low-cost SMS-based system that provides instantaneous market information is feasible and has the capacity to dramatically improve inter-farmer communication between cities and the countryside, and from one township to another across the country. However, because of ETECSA’s low capacity and antiquated infrastructure, SMS messages are prohibitively expensive for the user, therefore organizations and companies hoping to use this system will have to work closely with ETECSA and be financed by an outside entity at least in the short term. With a small technological change such as this, farmers will have greater access to markets across the island, and will be able to maximize sales and minimize waste in their production cycles. An SMS platform will leverage the existing social networks of farmers to share information across cities and specialties.
Two examples of successful SMS-based solutions of systemic deficiencies are iCow and WeFarm. ICow, a Kenyan-based organization, strives to provide farmers with immediate responses to questions about their livestock. The platform allows farmers to enter critical information about their livestock and receive instantaneous information back. This information can include instructions from trained veterinarians on animal nutrition, gestation, and disease control. If the farmer still feels that his/her concern has not yet been resolved, the app will connect him/her with a nearby specialist or veterinarian. Farmers in the developing world can now receive instant information to improve their understanding of their production process without having to rely on extension workers that often do not reach the smallholder farmers on the fringe of the agriculture sector.
WeFarm, which markets itself as “the internet for people without the internet”, is a social enterprise based in London that connects farmers all over the world on an SMS platform to share vital agriculture information. A farmer can simply text the local WeFarm number with his/her question and concern. This question will be posted on the WeFarm website and sent via SMS to selected members of WeFarm all over the world. He/she will then receive an answer, translated into his/her native language, within minutes. The WeFarm technology works on all types of phones, which avoids exclusion of farmers based on income-level. This platform is being widely used in the Dominican Republic, which is an excellent example for assessing the feasibility of use in the Cuban agricultural context, given the similarities in agricultural development between the two nations. Though adopting this model is not possible in Cuba currently, given political constraints, it serves as an example of what is possible in a low-income setting.

Constraints

There are obvious political constraints in implementing an ICT solution for agriculture in Cuba. The Ministry of Agriculture controls the amount of information that is spread to farmers across the island, targets certain farms to receive the benefits of extension services, and controls variable price information. For example, fishermen in Trinidad receive a different price for their catch than fishermen in Havana or other beach towns with lower levels of tourism. This is because of the government’s ability to sell at higher prices in tourist areas and to limit transport costs from low-tourist areas to high tourist areas. MINAG is integral to the current operation of the system and tightly controls the spread of information. An effective ICT solution should work within the rules of this system while simultaneously providing farmers with an alternative, rich source of highly demanded information and assistance.

Written by: Emily Sylvia