Kalpona Begum, a rural housewife from the northern district of Nilphamari, knows how to save her and cattle and crops from flood water during monsoon season, as she and her family have been living by the Teesta River for decades and have faced the situation on a regular basis.
Yet, she did not know the cause or remedy for the sudden pest attacks on her green chili and maize fields recently, during an unusual period of irregular weather patterns including rainfall along with heat and cold waves.
The 45-year-old Kalpona still managed to get through the pest attacks and keep the maize cultivation going on her family’s one-acre land thanks to a mobile phone based agri-information service provided by an NGO as a part of their action research.
“We have been cultivating maize for the last few years but we have never seen such type of dry-leaf diseases from the beginning of the season. So I took advice from the call center on how to deal with the problem,” said Kalpona to this correspondent.
“Later I suggested the same remedy to other farmers in my village whose crops were also affected,” she added.
With an aim to raise awareness on technology based agriculture among farmers, Oxfam in Bangladesh, with the support of Monash University, Australia, has been providing the information to the farmers.
“One of the core objectives of our initiative is to ensure adaptive agricultural practices in rural Bangladesh so that the farmers can cope with changing climatic patterns and avoid production loss,” said Tapas Ranjan Chakraborty, coordinator of ICT and Development at Oxfam, Bangladesh.
“The second is sharing the information from technology-based learning with others,” he also said, adding that the services are part of a project named Participatory Research and Ownership with Technology, Information and Change (PROTIC).
As part of the initiative, they have set up call center in Dhaka where several agriculture and livestock experts provide suggestions and advice to farmers over the phone.
In addition, they have been providing tips on seasonal crops and caring of livestock, through text messages to registered farmers.
Regarding this, the Oxfam spokesperson said: “Farmers are otherwise well-informed about their business but they don’t know how to cope with quick changes to avoid losses.”
The project is being piloted in Baro Kuput village on the Satkhira coast and Dakshin Kharibari village in Dimla Charland.
In the pilot, 200 female farmers from the two areas (100 from each area) along with stakeholders in information technology, were equipped with smart-phones on which they get both on-demand and promotional information via text or voice messages.
They have even been sharing their learning on Facebook, among other online platforms, by creating separate groups for the purpose of sharing knowledge on resilient agriculture.
To assess the effectiveness of the pilot, the project authority has a control village and a treatment village in each location. In addition, they are comparing the effectiveness of mobile phone based agro-information with another village where there is no such service.
For the purpose of this research, the control village is one without direct PROTIC support but all other support, including regular and progressive government and NGOs interventions, is as usual.
Oxfam’s development partners Prollisree and Shushilan have been implementing the project activities in Charland and the coast respectively, while Oxfam’s ICT partner has been generating the content of the messages.
In addition, academic partners like University of Dhaka, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, Khulna University and Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University are conducting demand-based research to generate information on agriculture and community resilience. Monash University has also engaged PhD candidates in this research.