Article

Making Smallholder Value Chain Partnerships Inclusive: Exploring Digital Farm Monitoring through Farmer Friendly Smartphone Platforms

Abstract and Figures

Value chain partnerships face difficulties achieving inclusive relations, often leading to unsustainable collaboration. Improving information flow between actors has been argued to contribute positively to a sense of inclusion in such partnership arrangements. Smallholders however usually lack the capability to use advanced communication technologies such as smartphones which offer a means for elaborate forms of information exchange. This study explores to what extent co-designing smartphone platforms with smallholders for farm monitoring contributes to smallholder ability to communicate, and how this influences smallholder sense of inclusion. The study uses an Action Design Research approach in engaging smallholders in Ghana, through multi-stakeholder and focus group discussions, in a reflexive co-design process. The research finds that co-designing a platform interface was significant in improving farmer ability to comprehend and use smartphone based platforms for communicating farm conditions and their needs with value chain partners. Farmers were however skeptical of making demands based on the platform due to their lack of power and mistrust of other actors. This highlights a need for adjusting the social and political dimensions of partnership interactions, in tandem with the advancement of digital tools, in order to effectively facilitate a sense of inclusiveness in partnerships.
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sustainability
Article
Making Smallholder Value Chain Partnerships
Inclusive: Exploring Digital Farm Monitoring
through Farmer Friendly Smartphone Platforms
Christopher Agyekumhene 1, *, Jasper De Vries 2, Annemarie van Paassen 1, Marc Schut 1,3 and
Phil MacNaghten 1
1Knowledge, Technology and Innovation, Wageningen University and Research,
P.O. Box 8130, 6700 EW Wageningen, The Netherlands; annemarie.vanpaassen@wur.nl (A.v.P.);
marc.schut@wur.nl (M.S.); philip.macnaghten@wur.nl (P.M.)
2Strategic Communication, Wageningen University and Research, P.O. Box 8130, 6700 EW Wageningen,
The Netherlands; jasper.devries@wur.nl
3International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, KG 563 St, P.O. Box 1269, Kigali, Rwanda
*Correspondence: christopher.agyekumhene@wur.nl
Received: 2 May 2020; Accepted: 30 May 2020; Published: 4 June 2020
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Abstract:
Value chain partnerships face diculties achieving inclusive relations, often leading
to unsustainable collaboration. Improving information flow between actors has been argued to
contribute positively to a sense of inclusion in such partnership arrangements. Smallholders however
usually lack the capability to use advanced communication technologies such as smartphones which
oer a means for elaborate forms of information exchange. This study explores to what extent
co-designing smartphone platforms with smallholders for farm monitoring contributes to smallholder
ability to communicate, and how this influences smallholder sense of inclusion. The study uses an
Action Design Research approach in engaging smallholders in Ghana, through multi-stakeholder
and focus group discussions, in a reflexive co-design process. The research finds that co-designing a
platform interface was significant in improving farmer ability to comprehend and use smartphone
based platforms for communicating farm conditions and their needs with value chain partners.
Farmers were however skeptical of making demands based on the platform due to their lack of power
and mistrust of other actors. This highlights a need for adjusting the social and political dimensions
of partnership interactions, in tandem with the advancement of digital tools, in order to eectively
facilitate a sense of inclusiveness in partnerships.
Keywords:
collaboration; partnerships; value chains; smallholders; inclusiveness; digital agriculture
1. Introduction
Smallholder farmers in developing countries generally lack access to advanced agricultural
supplies, timely market information, and a full range of financial services [
1
]. Stimulating partnerships,
which include mutual benefits for smallholder groups and value chain actors, is increasingly seen as
a means to improve smallholder access to these crucial services [
2
]. These multi-actor partnerships
leverage collaboration to create services to smallholders [
3
] and therewith reduce the transaction costs [
4
].
Research however notes that such multi-actor partnerships are often driven by power dynamics and
stakeholder interests [
5
,
6
]. Hence, deliberate actions are needed to safeguard inclusiveness for weaker
groups like smallholders [
7
]. Without such measures, partnerships may reproduce extant forms of
marginalization for smallholder farmers [8].
For smallholder value chains, making partnerships inclusive for farmers presents a unique
challenge. In partnerships, smallholders tend to be engaged as a collective, receiving general support
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580; doi:10.3390/su12114580 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 2 of 16
measures such as improved seeds and credit [
9
]. This structure is pragmatic but poses some challenges as
farmers are heterogeneous in nature and face diverse socio-ecological challenges which necessitate more
personalized support than oered [
10
]. At the same time, smallholder farm settings are highly variable
making it essential for farmer conditions to be frequently communicated, understood, and responded
to if their needs would be appropriately met by the support mechanisms oered by partnerships.
Resource limitations and communication diculties that characterize smallholder institutional contexts
however limit the ability of individual farmers to communicate and influence partnership decisions to
align with their needs [
11
]. As such Bitzer and Glasbergen argue that smallholder organizations often
lack genuine representation in partnership arrangements [12].
Tackling these communication constraints is crucial in making partnerships more inclusive for
smallholder farmers. Several studies have highlighted the potential and actual contributions of mobile
technology in enabling this in smallholder value chains [
13
,
14
]. Smartphones, with features like cameras,
internet, and access to global positioning systems (GPS) oer further opportunities in this domain [
15
].
Leveraging these advanced mobile features, smartphone devices could contribute to more detailed
forms of farm monitoring and communication that enhance information flow, mutual understanding,
responsiveness, and accountability between smallholders and partners. This digital approach to farm
monitoring and communication by smallholders, oers a new means of capturing and communicating
locally specific farm information [
16
,
17
]. In this way, smartphone devices could contribute to building
more inclusive value chain partnerships.
Although smartphones have become more accessible in recent years due to rapidly declining costs,
a persisting constraint to their adoption is that most smallholders lack the capacity to navigate their
interface or use their advanced features. Caine et al. reason that to overcome this capacity gap, attention
should be paid to designing digital tools to meet the information needs and technological abilities of
smallholder farmers [
18
]. Such an approach should seek to reflect the local context, user capacities
and the cultural background in smartphone applications, and therewith make digital tools more
user friendly to farmers [
19
21
]. These arguments suggest that a participatory design approach,
adapting digital tools to smallholder needs and capacities, is essential for smallholders to harness these
communicative benefits of smartphones. There is however a knowledge gap on the ecacy of such an
approach in enabling farmer use of smartphones for monitoring purposes. More specific, not much
is understood about how smallholder farm monitoring and communication through smartphones
could influence smallholder inclusiveness in value chain partnerships. This study therefore seeks to
answer two research questions: (i) In what way does co-designing farm monitoring platforms with
smallholders influence farmer capability to monitor and collect farm information via smartphones,
and related to that (ii) how does this influence farmer sense of inclusiveness in value chain partnerships?
We study these questions by focusing on the case of smallholder maize farmers in the Techiman
locality (Ghana). In this case, we reflect on the participation of farmers in a co-designing process for
farm monitoring through online platforms. To this end, we present the theoretical framework for
the study in the next section, followed by our methods and results. In the final section of this paper,
we discuss and conclude on both the reflection on the co-design process and the influence of this
process on the inclusiveness of value chain partnerships.
2. Theoretical Framework
2.1. Value Chain Partnerships and Inclusiveness
Partnerships are defined as collaborative institutional arrangements between actors from various
sectors of society [
22
]. In the context of smallholder agriculture, Bitzer et al. theorize that value
chain partnerships are about the construction of institutions that enable smallholders to participate in
value chains [
9
]. By engaging dierent actors, partnerships have the ambition to leverage divergent
expertise and specialized roles that can complement each other and address the constraints faced
by smallholders.
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In pooling actors, value chain partnerships bring together actors with dierent interests as well as
ways of reasoning and knowing. For instance, value chain partnerships may involve smallholders
collaborating with bankers, insurers, and/or agribusinesses, who tend to be business-oriented in their
thinking and have formalized rules and relationships whereas smallholders are relation-oriented
and rely more on interpersonal relationships. As partners seek to conduct activities according to
their ways of knowing and reasoning, there is an on-going tussle to meet dierent actor interests [
6
].
These dierences mean that although partnerships may be formed with the intention to improve
smallholder circumstances, they may not necessarily be inclusive [
12
], nor do they always result
in beneficial outcomes [
23
], especially for those less empowered or able to speak up. Value chain
partnerships aiming for inclusion, thus, not seldomly result in the opposite, calling for a re-examination
of the inclusiveness of such arrangements.
To do so, Vermeulen and Cotula oer four criteria for determining the inclusiveness of value
chain collaborative arrangements for smallholder farmers [
2
]. These consist of the level of ownership,
voice, risk, and reward that farmers have in the collaboration. Ownership relates to how much of
the key project assets are owned by smallholders. Voice represents the extent to which farmers can
communicate with partners and influence the decisions and actions taken in the value chain set up.
The level of Risk borne by smallholders and the commensurate Reward in the given arrangement are
also argued to be critical measures of how inclusive a value chain collaboration is. These four criteria are
argued to be interconnected as changes in one can lead to alterations in the others, and consequently the
overall level of inclusiveness in the value chain arrangement [
2
]. Enabling inclusiveness in partnerships
thus goes beyond linking farmers to key value chain actors, to enhancing farmer ability to make these
linkages work for their benefit [
24
] by ensuring that partnerships function in ways which improve
smallholder ownership, voice, risk, and rewards [2].
2.2. Smartphone Platforms for Inclusive Partnerships
Vermeulen and Cotula aver that enhanced communication mechanisms help to give voice to actors,
which could make value chain collaborations more inclusive [
2
]. For instance, since smallholders
are heterogeneous and have diverse needs [
10
], allowing farmers in collectives to communicate their
farm-specific conditions would improve partners’ awareness and understanding of farmers’ contexts,
and help farmers to attain more farm specific and timely support services [
25
]. Thus by providing
credible information, smallholders could counter ignorance, distrust, and self-protective behavior of
powerful value chain partners. Transparency creates a public space in which value chain partners
are called upon to reconsider their decision-making. Reducing information asymmetry may enable
farmers and partners to mitigate conflicts by building transparency, accountability, and trust in the
partnership [
12
]. To attain more inclusive partnerships, smallholders need to be able to communicate
their farming activities, conditions and needs in ways that partners can comprehend, trust, and respond
to [
26
]. On the other hand, heightened monitoring for information symmetry could contribute to counter
inclusive outcomes through farmer experiences of surveillance and being controlled [
27
]. However,
by making smartphone platforms more user friendly for smallholders, through an inclusive co-design
process that involves them, farmers could take the lead in farm monitoring and communication that
might enable an accretion of their agency in partnerships. In other words, inclusive partnerships
could be facilitated through smartphones by empowering smallholders with a voice and systematically
increasing their capability to influence change in their context [28,29].
Using these theoretical concepts, we explore how farmer oriented smartphone platforms for
farm monitoring in a specific smallholder context influences partnership inclusiveness. We do this by
developing and reflecting on a co-design process (see methods section for a further elaboration on the
co-design method). In this process, we focus our analysis on farmer views of:
(i)
the extent to which the co-design process enhanced farmer perception of their ability to use
smartphones for farm monitoring and communication in partnership arrangements;
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 4 of 16
(ii)
the extent to which this increased farmers’ perception of inclusion in terms of ownership, voice,
risk, and reward.
3. Materials and Methods
3.1. Study Context
The study was conducted in the Techiman municipal district in Ghana’s Bono East region
(see Figure 1). About 46.2% of the households in the municipality are engaged in agriculture; of these
95.4% are crop farmers. In the rural localities, 75.8% of the households are engaged in agriculture
whereas in urban localities the figure falls to 33%. Maize is a major food crop produced in the area with
the district’s center having one of the biggest market centers for maize trade both within and across
Ghana’s borders [
30
]. Smallholder maize farming in the Techiman area, like most parts of Ghana, is
characterized by rain-fed production, limited storage facilities, poor information flow, powerful traders,
and weak farmer groups. These have historically translated into many experiences of uncertainties,
unfair farmer treatment, strategic defaults, conflicts, and mistrust when value chain actors partner
for collaboration. Farmers generally have limited options for financial and material support from
formal sources, resulting in significant reliance on value chain actors for such needs and a precarious
position in partnerships [
31
]. The study area was chosen as it resembles a prime example of a context in
which multiple actors interact in varying maize value chain partnerships. In addition, several projects
have been implemented in the area to help facilitate value chain development and collaboration
enhancement. These characteristics provided the appropriate conditions for this study.
Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 17
(ii) the extent to which this increased farmers’ perception of inclusion in terms of ownership, voice,
risk, and reward.
3. Materials and Methods
3.1. Study Context
The study was conducted in the Techiman municipal district in Ghana’s Bono East region (see
figure 1). About 46.2% of the households in the municipality are engaged in agriculture; of these
95.4% are crop farmers. In the rural localities, 75.8% of the households are engaged in agriculture
whereas in urban localities the figure falls to 33%. Maize is a major food crop produced in the area
with the district’s center having one of the biggest market centers for maize trade both within and
across Ghana’s borders [30]. Smallholder maize farming in the Techiman area, like most parts of
Ghana, is characterized by rain-fed production, limited storage facilities, poor information flow,
powerful traders, and weak farmer groups. These have historically translated into many experiences
of uncertainties, unfair farmer treatment, strategic defaults, conflicts, and mistrust when value chain
actors partner for collaboration. Farmers generally have limited options for financial and material
support from formal sources, resulting in significant reliance on value chain actors for such needs
and a precarious position in partnerships [31]. The study area was chosen as it resembles a prime
example of a context in which multiple actors interact in varying maize value chain partnerships. In
addition, several projects have been implemented in the area to help facilitate value chain
development and collaboration enhancement. These characteristics provided the appropriate
conditions for this study.
Figure 1. Location of study site.
Figure 1. Location of study site.
3.2. Scope
The study involved farmers who had been a part of a partnership arrangement facilitated
by the Ghana Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) II project.
The project aimed to support smallholder farmer groups by linking them to markets, finance, inputs,
and information through larger farmers and traders. For the study, we purposively selected 6 villages
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 5 of 16
in the Techiman municipality in which farmer groups and collaborative arrangements with value
chain actors had been established under the ADVANCE project. One farmer group was randomly
selected from each village. Five members were then nominated from each farmer group to participate
in co-designing a farmer friendly farm monitoring platform. Each farmer group was provided with a
smartphone on which the finalized platform would be installed for farm monitoring purposes. In total,
30 fields were to be monitored by the farmers via the platform.
3.3. Co-Design Approach
Since the study aims to facilitate the design of a digital platform and understand the influence
of the process and output, we adopted the Action Design Research (ADR) method. The ADR as a
research method looks to utilize a building and evaluation process for garnering relevant knowledge
for eective design in a given organizational context [
32
]. This approach is undergirded by the principle
that information technologies are shaped through actor interactions in relation to their specific context.
In this way, building, implementing, and evaluation are not seen to be iterative processes but an
intertwined process of inquiry in the development of information technologies that both represent
the intentions of researchers as well as the influence of users. The method enables co-design through
three main phases: (i) problem formulation; (ii) building, intervention, and evaluation; (iii) reflection
and learning. Reflection and evaluation however happened though all three phases especially on
anticipated social/technical risks in implementing agreed design decisions and suggested responses
for improvement. Since the co-design process involved diverse groups, dierent communication
strategies were used and reflected on, including narratives, storytelling, interactive games, images, and
prototypes. These strategies were chosen to bridge communication gaps between the researchers and
other stakeholders, and played an integral role in the co-design process [
33
]. Table 1below presents
our data gathering methods for each of the phases. All interviews and discussions were tape-recorded,
transcribed, and translated where necessary. Translation was conducted with key focus on maintaining
content and semantic equivalence in English as possible [
34
]. Afterwards and following our theoretical
exploration, the data were analyzed in terms of ownership, voice, risk, and reward.
Table 1. Data gathering methods for each phase.
Phase Data Gathering Methods Stakeholders Purpose
Phase 1
Preliminary semi-structured
interviews
Multi-stakeholder discussions
Farmer leaders (6),
Traders (3), Agribusiness
representatives (2),
Extension agents (2)
Joint problem definition,
information needs
assessment, mobile phone
perceptions, and experiences
Phase 2
Observation
Focus group discussion
Semi-structured interviews
Farmers (5 per village)
Farmer leaders (6)
Developing context relevant
platform for farm
monitoring
Phase 3 Focus group discussion
Semi-structured interviews
Farmers (5 per village)
Farmer leaders (6)
Traders (3)
Extension agents (2)
Refection on co-design
process and platform in
relation to learning and
inclusiveness
To facilitate the design of the mobile farm monitoring platform on smartphones, we adopted
the Sapelli mobile application. Sapelli is an open-source application which uses highly configurable
icon-driven user interface to overcome literacy and/or language barriers in data collection.
The application allows for configuring icons in a manner which reflects local perspectives and
needs in order to enhance user friendliness [
35
]. Records of data are generated and stored automatically
on the application and presented in an XML or CSV file format. These records can either be downloaded
or sent via sms to another actor. Sapelli was thus appropriate in exploring digital farm monitoring in
the African smallholder context.
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4. Results
The results section describes the outcomes from the co-design process following the ADR method
which was undertaken in three iterative phases: (i) Multi-stakeholder discussion; (ii) building,
implementing, and evaluating the mobile platform; (iii) actor reflections on the co-design process and
output (the platform). As this results section reflects the dierent roles and characteristics of these
phases in the co-design process, each section of the results hold a slightly dierent style.
4.1. Phase 1: Multi-Stakeholder Discussion
For purposes of establishing the contextual frame within which farmers operated, and in particular
the problems impeding collaboration, we deemed it necessary to engage with wider actors within
the value chain as a starting point of the co-design process. To do this, phase 1 centers around a
multi-stakeholder discussion as kick-obetween traders, farmer leaders, and government extension
agents who were partners under the ADVANCE program. The actors explained that their partnership
worked as an out-grower scheme with an agribusiness, called ‘Agricare’, serving as a creditor.
Agricare provides inputs to a farmer group and receives predetermined quantities of maize from
each farmer as repayment. This repayment was done through the traders who served as middlemen
between the farmer group and the agribusiness, and signed contracts with the agribusiness to
guarantee the supply of a given number of bags from the farmers in repayment of the credited inputs.
Agricare expected the traders to work with the farmer leaders to monitor production and ensure that
the contract terms were met. This was because Agricare deemed the traders and leaders to be better
placed to ensure that farmers provided the required maize since they had better relations and more
frequent interactions with the farmers than the agribusiness. The farmer group members agreed to
share joint liability in the event of defaults.
During the meeting, we sought for a joint identification of the main problems impeding the
partnership. Most of the collaboration challenges raised by the actors were related to crop yields
and production output. Since the partnership revolved around a reciprocal relationship of inputs
for crops issues regarding crop failures, that is, the emergence of diseases and pests, failure of seeds
to germinate, fertilizer application, or the onset of drought/overly wet periods, were highlighted as
sources of tension in the partnership. One trader expressed a perspective that was felt among traders,
that crop failure was used as a major excuse by farmers to free ride and avoid repaying partners who
support them: “For some farmers, all they want is a little excuse so they can blame their defaulting
on crop failure, so we need to monitor various things” (trader). This assertion was consented to by
the other traders as well as the Agricare representative. The farmers did not dispute this claim but
argued against the generalization of this perspective. Farmers argued that only a few recalcitrant
farmers seek to default, however for the majority, crop failure was a genuine problem which occurs
due to farmers lacking support for appropriate and timely response to farming challenges. This was
countered by Agricare who intimated that most of the farmers are experienced farmers and if they
undertake the right farming practices, barring unknowns like drought and novel diseases/pests, they
should be able to respond adequately to farm challenges. Information asymmetry in relation to crop
yield and production was as such a source of conflicting viewpoints and contention in the partnership.
Following an inquiry whether improved information flow regarding these issues would be relevant for
addressing the conflicts in the partnership, Agricare armed this position, arguing that this could help
farmers gain some reasonable support for timely resolution of problems when necessary or at least let
partners gain awareness of developments. Farmers and traders also agreed with this claim. On the
issue of what to monitor, the traders and Agricare indicated that key observations that were necessary
for conflict reduction included regular descriptions of the state of farms in relation to agricultural
practice, pest, diseases, and the weather. One trader suggested monitoring of harvesting, de-shelling
and storage as also important for tracking maize produce to prevent losses from improper handling or
side selling activities. Based on this, we highlighted these issues as key information needs with choice
and decision-making implications in the partnership in the following steps of the co-design process.
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 7 of 16
Following this, we sought to understand actor perceptions on mobile devices and whether/how
they had been used previously in attempts to address such information related conflicts. In general,
the actors had a highly positive perception about mobile technology and its role in facilitating their
collaboration. One trader mentioned that he and a farmer had tried to use a camera phone to help them
work together: “There was one farmer I worked with who had a smartphone, so sometimes he will take
pictures of the crops and show it to you so that you will see what is going on”. Mobile devices were
deemed to be very important by the traders but mainly used for interpersonal verbal communication
with farmers but not explored for farm monitoring purposes at group level. This was due to the fact
that most of the farmers did not have such smartphones and were unfamiliar with using the devices.
Farmers also shared this concern: “We farmers we don’t have those kinds of phones. Also those
phones; most of us cannot use it, so you have to teach us” [leader]. “We know there’s so much you
can do with phones but with farmers it will be dicult for them to use” [trader]. There was therefore
consensus on the potential utility of smartphones for collaboration purposes but challenges of access
and capability were seen as major barriers to adoption.
To further open up the discussion on the possibility for using mobile devices, we asked the actors
to imagine that farmers had been given smartphones that they could easily operate to share images
of their farming situations with the other actors and what concerns they would have if this were
possible. This framing of the issue allowed actors’ discourse to move away from perceived barriers
to smartphone use. From this angle, the conversation very quickly centered on the authenticity of
information provided such as images. Interestingly, the first actor to raise this concern was a farmer and
not the traders as we expected. This farmer was the only farmer who indicated owning a smartphone
and as such his experience may have contributed to his insights: “But what if a farmer is taking
pictures of someone else’s farm because I can go anywhere and take pictures”. Thus, we noted that for
information to be eective in improving collaboration, its trustworthiness was crucial. To enhance
perceptions of trustworthiness, a trader suggested that if farmers were to undertake monitoring
through user friendly platforms, it would be best to begin with farmer leaders as monitoring actors,
instead of perhaps a rotation of a smartphone among farmers. This was because the leaders were
already trusted by traders and farmers alike to monitor and keep farmers in check.
Based on these responses, stakeholders were asked to reflect on the possible approach of farmer
leaders monitoring farms with smartphones and anticipate potential issues/risks which could emerge
from such an approach. Through this anticipation process there were some concerns about the use of
farmer leaders for this detailed monitoring. A leader raised the issue of superstition and suspicion in
relation to their presence on the farms of other group members. A key concern was that some farmers
may associate certain negative developments on their farms as emanating from their farm visits:
“Some farmers believe that some people can do something in the farm which will aect their farm’s
productivity. As for me the leader, now they trust me but people are people so we have to be careful”.
This concern was backed by another leader who highlighted that this could be an issue particularly
when a farmer was not on very good terms with the leader. From this perspective, leaders noted
that such circumstances could generate some conflict between leaders and certain group members.
To address this issue, leaders suggested that farm visits should involve farm owners as often as was
possible. In addition, one leader suggested that to introduce such an approach, initial farm visits
should include the researchers, together with the farm owner, to get farmers used to the idea of these
farm visits by the leaders. This extra level of transparency was to serve as means of maintaining social
relations while altering the configuration of interactions, and added in phase 2. Table 2presents a
summary of key findings from this phase of co-design.
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 8 of 16
Table 2. Summary of findings from multi-stakeholder discourse.
Farm Information
Needs of VC Partners
Smartphone
Perceptions Anticipated Risks Suggested Response
State of farm in relation
to GAPs
Pest/disease presence
General weather
condition
Harvesting, shelling and
storage
High utility potential
Non-complex interface
needed for farmers
Needs verifiable outputs
False information
provision
Suspicion and conflict
with farm monitors
Use of trusted actors
(leaders) for information
collection
Transparent processes
needed
4.2. Phase 2: Building, Implementing, and Evaluating the Farm Monitoring Platform
Building on phase 1, another meeting was organized to deliberate on the digital platform. This time
only the 36 farmers and farm leaders were participants. This discussion was meant to transition
interactions towards the designing of the platform. We began by revisiting the information issues which
had been agreed upon at the multi-stakeholder meeting as relevant to monitor (Table 2). Based on
smartphone perceptions that we found in the first phase, we concluded that a simple non-text platform
with an image based interface would best suit the local context and foster inclusion. Therefore, our
co-design process centered on using a participatory process for selecting images to use on the platform
as representative icons for each of the information needs that needed to be monitored. Other design
issues like layout and structure were constructed by the researchers. We had printed a collection
of images, which we believed could provide good pictorial cues of the key issues which needed
monitoring. The image that most farmers associated with an issue was to be adopted as that issue’s
icon on the platform. We presented this association activity to the farmers as a game to enable them
participate in the abstract design process. We reframed the issues that had been identified as questions,
for instance, ‘are there any pests on the farm?’. While doing so we would raise an image, go through
the questions and ask farmers to mention what issue/question they assumed fitted best with the raised
image. We allowed open discussion about the image when farmers had dierent views to see if
consensus would emerge. We played this ‘game’ for three rounds, dropping images that were dicult
for most farmers to agree on. By the third round, there was at least one image that farmers generally
agreed to associate with each issue/question.
Building upon this, we introduced the farmers to another aspect of the game. This time,
farmers were to respond to the questions posed by the images with another set of printed images.
These responses were to be provided using colors printed on A4 sheets. We adopted a color scheme
which most of the farmers were familiar with: the trac lights. We explained that based on the trac
light color scheme, red represented danger, amber showed emerging/developing danger, and green was
an all-clear. Farmers were to use these colors in response to the questions/issues they had associated
with images earlier. Farmers were taken to random farm plots in the community where they were asked
to give their individual assessment of the farm plots using these colors. The process was non-verbal.
At each point, researchers simply raised an image corresponding to an issue and based on this, farmers
assessed the farm and responded using their colors. After farmers responded, we inquired of the
reasoning behind their responses to determine their comprehension of the associated question and
the evaluation task. Farmers were generally successful with this task and in this way the game was
eective in creating an abstract representation for monitoring real life situations.
Following these activities, we uploaded the selected images unto the Sapelli interface as icons.
The platform interface was a simple linear process where a user selects a farmer profile from the
home page and proceeds to monitor each of the issues as prompted by their associated images being
displayed. To simplify the interface, we focused on only monitoring issues related to on-farm activities,
excluding post-harvest treatment and storage. To provide an assessment of each issue, a user selects
from the red, yellow and green colors. Each assessment is followed automatically by a camera screen
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 9 of 16
for farmers to capture evidence of their assessment. These pictures are automatically geo-tagged and
stored. Figure 2presents the Sapelli interface adapted to the farming context. Screens A, B, C, D,
and E represent the farmer profile, farm state, weather state, pest state and disease state respectively.
These are evaluated using the color scheme and photographed where applicable.
Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 17
question and the evaluation task. Farmers were generally successful with this task and in this way
the game was effective in creating an abstract representation for monitoring real life situations.
Following these activities, we uploaded the selected images unto the Sapelli interface as icons.
The platform interface was a simple linear process where a user selects a farmer profile from the
home page and proceeds to monitor each of the issues as prompted by their associated images being
displayed. To simplify the interface, we focused on only monitoring issues related to on-farm
activities, excluding post-harvest treatment and storage. To provide an assessment of each issue, a
user selects from the red, yellow and green colors. Each assessment is followed automatically by a
camera screen for farmers to capture evidence of their assessment. These pictures are automatically
geo-tagged and stored. Figure 2 presents the Sapelli interface adapted to the farming context. Screens
A, B, C, D, and E represent the farmer profile, farm state, weather state, pest state and disease state
respectively. These are evaluated using the color scheme and photographed where applicable.
Figure 2. Co-designed platform interface.
After developing the platform, farmers were taken through training over a period of two weeks
on how to use the co-designed platform. We found that some people developed proficiency with the
software very quickly, as early as on their first try whereas others required more familiarization. Most
had however gained significant mastery over the application within half an hour of use. By practicing
the use of images as metaphors for inquiry and the use of colors for response, the farmers were ready
to transfer the concepts to the smartphone application, facilitating speedy comprehension: “Because
from the beginning we went through some question and answering where we used some pictures to
represent the problems we talked about before. So since they were the same pictures it was easy to
remember”.
From this perspective, the use of games and images in the co-design process was significant for
farmer learning how to use the digital platform. This also meant that processes which could not be
Figure 2. Co-designed platform interface.
After developing the platform, farmers were taken through training over a period of two weeks
on how to use the co-designed platform. We found that some people developed proficiency with
the software very quickly, as early as on their first try whereas others required more familiarization.
Most had however gained significant mastery over the application within half an hour of use. By
practicing the use of images as metaphors for inquiry and the use of colors for response, the farmers
were ready to transfer the concepts to the smartphone application, facilitating speedy comprehension:
“Because from the beginning we went through some question and answering where we used some
pictures to represent the problems we talked about before. So since they were the same pictures it was
easy to remember”.
From this perspective, the use of games and images in the co-design process was significant for
farmer learning how to use the digital platform. This also meant that processes which could not be
practiced through the co-design process but remained an abstract concept on the platform posed some
diculty for some. For instance, a challenge for some farmers was in comprehending the concept of
going back in the application using the back arrow. Most were more comfortable with the step by step
process and not when one needed to navigate backwards and forward in the app. This aspect of the
interface took more time to grasp for some farmers. On the other hand, most of the group leaders more
easily remembered abstract icons such as crosses and ticks. There appeared to be some familiarity
with these common symbolic conventions on smartphones. We attribute this to the fact that most
farmer leaders had some form of basic education which meant that they could appreciate concepts
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 10 of 16
such as a tick implying correct and a cross indicating wrong. Age of the farmers was no impediment
to comprehension as most of the farmers were above 45 years and still were able to grab the concept
of the application fairly quickly. During practice, some farmers had their children present who were
more conversant with smartphones to serve as a helpful assistant when they forget the required action
on the platform.
Following the training, it was agreed that farmer leaders would monitor the farms every 2 weeks.
This time period was deemed as optimal for monitoring changes in the farms and also to allow leaders
collect data without much stress. In the first month, leaders were phoned to remind them when
monitoring was due. Farmer leaders were observed and assisted by researchers as they monitored the
farms during this period. A few challenges were observed at this stage regarding leaders’ handling of
the smartphone device. The first issue was that some pictures were a bit blurry due to the leader’s
hands being a bit shaky while capturing images. This was due to nervousness in handling the devices
and reduced after a few farm visits. Again, during use of the platforms, some leaders inadvertently
pressed the side buttons on their phones. When the power button was pushed, resulting in the screen
going o, leaders became confused as they thought something was wrong. In addition, when selecting
icons on the platform, the touch screen presented some frustration to farmers as selected options were
not always eected on the first attempt due to callouses on their fingers. Finally, on occasions when the
GPS locator delayed for a while in establishing the geo-location of the image, leaders were uncertain
on what to do next or how long to wait. These experiences needed further discussion to better guide
use of the digital platform.
After the first month, leaders were allowed to follow the protocols without researchers being
present for the next two months. All the leaders were consistent with their farm visits even when the
reminders ceased. After the two months, farmer leaders had successfully captured farm photographs
for the period via the platform. Farmers were asked at key points during this period to recount
the processes involved in using the platform as well as the meaning associated with its images.
Most of the farmers were able to provide satisfactory explanations and descriptions over the period.
This demonstrated general comprehension of the platform throughout the season: “as for now no fear,
now we can do it on our own...it’s not dicult”. Assessment of the images generated showed that
farmers faced a few challenges in the process. The first diculty farmers faced was in reporting on the
general condition of the farm. Farmer leaders faced diculty remembering how to get a good wide
view photo of the farms. Some often took portrait shots when landscape images would have been
a better option. Furthermore, as the maize crops grew, finding a good position to stand to capture
wide view of a farm became more dicult in some farms where farmers had only narrow paths to
stand on between fields. This gave limited space to move back for wider pictures. In terms of picture
quality, the images were generally in focus. The main challenge faced here was with the timing of the
photographs. Some leaders monitored farms around dusk when there was limited lighting. This led
to some pictures being unclear. It was necessary to have some further discussion on best times for
capturing farm images.
After using the device over the period some leaders identified an issue which needed to be
anticipated and addressed regarding the protocols of the digital approach of data collection. The agreed
protocols for farm data collection was that each of the 5 farms would be visited every two weeks.
However, during implementation, leaders had questions about how to eectively collect data should
the group numbers be increased. For instance, if the group size were to increase to 10, leaders would
have to do twice as much work which would claim more time. Leaders noted that even though they
were motivated to help with monitoring, the approach would need to find ways of addressing such
challenges. A key suggestion which some leaders had explored was engaging local motorcycle users in
the community during their monitoring activities. This enabled monitoring to be undertaken rapidly
and also provided the opportunity for covering more farmers. This could have cost implications. If this
option is not available in a given community’s context, farmers suggested that other group members
could be trained and recruited to assist leaders. It was noted however that this would result in some
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 11 of 16
degree of trade owith the trust which the leaders oered. Table 3presents a summary of key findings
from this phase of co-design.
Table 3. Findings from building, implementing, and evaluating the platform.
Observations During Information Collection Via The Platform Anticipated Risks Suggested Responses
Positives Challenges
Farmers demonstrated recall of
icon/issue association
Farmers were able to follow protocols
without assistance
Abstract concepts
Calloused fingers
Understanding of basic
photography dynamics
Time costs of monitoring
Diering picture
standards
Use of locally available
motorcycles
More training and familiarity
with phone photography
4.3. Phase 3: Reflecting on the co-design Process and the Farm Monitoring Platform
At the end of the season, the farmers were brought together again to reflect with the researchers
on their experience in using the digital platform and their perceptions on the co-design approach.
The reflexive process aimed to review farmer perceptions and experience vis-a-vis our assumptions
and observations on (i) the linkages between the co-design process and farmer capability to use
smartphones for farm monitoring and (ii) the link between enhanced communication and a sense of
inclusiveness, described here as a sense of being able to influence change in ownership, voice, risks,
and reward. In the discussions, the following subjects were brought up:
On the first issue, farmers discussed what factors they thought contributed to their ability to
follow the protocols in the use of the platform. The simplicity of the platform was identified as an
important reason for this. By providing a simple and intuitive platform based on issues they could
identify with as well as icons they had participated in selecting, farmers felt they were able to quickly
feel a sense of competency without much supervision or facilitator present: “It is not complicated
so we just follow one step after the other and you are done. And it is also our issues that we talked
about so it is straight forward” [leader]. The ease of use oered by the interface meant that farmers
felt ownership over the platform and confidence to use the smartphone application was high after
trying the platform a couple of times. Leaders indicated and demonstrated that they were confident
they could use the platform on their own eectively. By this, farmers confirmed that co-designing
and using the platform for monitoring their farms had positively influenced their perceptions on their
capacity to use smartphones for farm monitoring.
On the second issue, whether enhanced communication via the smartphones could aect farmer
sense of being able to influence change, the farmers had two positions. First, farmers highlighted that
the use of pictures could help them alleviate the challenge of describing conditions they encounter
on their farms. This took away earlier feeling of risk that was associated with sharing information as
misunderstandings were less likely to occur and that it was easier to voice up their point of view to
traders. An extension agent confirmed this with an example: “there was this farmer, she spent so much
money on dierent chemicals, more than 1500 cedis ($300) dealing with the fall army worm, so later I
went to look at what chemicals she had been applying and she was using fungicides! She says that’s
what the chemical shop gave her after she described her problem” [extension agent]. By capturing and
viewing images from each other’s farms, farmers indicated that they felt ownership over the platform
and better positioned to interact with traders and other farmers on farm issues, increasing their position
to voice their perspectives and interests. In addition, one trader stated in an interview that with
the farm images he would be better placed to help the farmer make decisions on what measures to
take given the specific conditions identified: “If I am just explaining to him is dierent. But if I can
add picture then that one it will be clear”. Additionally, the trader indicated he could contribute to
bridging the extension agent–farmer gap by sharing the farm images with extension ocers within his
network. It was indicated by an extension agent that some extension agents already use WhatsApp
groups to interact and seek information from each other concerning field conditions. Thus, some of
the farm pictures could be shared on these platforms by partnering with extension agents who were
already present on these WhatsApp platforms. Based on the outputs from the digital platform, traders,
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 12 of 16
extension agents, and the farmers perceived opportunities for better extension support and tailored
advice through digital communication.
The farmers however had a less certain position on their ability to influence responsiveness from
partners when the response would involve material support from value chain partners in general.
This was due to certain experiences with partners in the past. For instance, some farmers indicated
that in a previous season, they discovered during de-husking that the fall army worm had decimated
the maize cobs. They attempted using photographs of the harvest to convince the agribusiness to
delay their debt repayment due to this unforeseen predicament. These photographs were however
ignored along with their request. Farmers therefore distrusted partners and had concerns on their being
inflexible with the contract agreements that guide their collaboration. In this way farmers were pointing
to the overarching socio-political frame within which their contractual agreements were implemented,
which is characterized by mistrust and a sense of lack of power to push for responsiveness from more
powerful actors in the partnership. Farmers agreed that if farm monitoring via the platform was to be
accepted by partners as a mutually agreed process for responding to farmer needs, and integrated into
their contract agreements, they would feel more confident of using the platform to influence material
support. In present contexts, where there is mistrust and power inequalities between collaborators from
dierent backgrounds, improving communication appears but a first step to building and reconfiguring
relationships towards more inclusive partnerships.
5. Discussion
Our results show that the participatory process for co-designing a farm monitoring platform was
eective in enabling the successful development of a farmer friendly smartphone platform which
facilitated rapid farmer learning and capacity to use. The success of the process was significantly
influenced by the use of story narration, images, games, and prototypes. These activities and artefacts
served as eective bridging mechanisms for linking actors from dierent social worlds, e.g., farmers
and researchers; traders and credit institutions, in the co-design process [
33
]. By this we contribute
to a growing literature on co-designing digital platforms through such bridging mechanisms by
showing further evidence of the ecacy of the design approach [
36
,
37
]. In addition, our findings
show that aligning digital platform design with the capabilities of farmers as well as focusing directly
on their key needs enabled farmer comprehension, ownership, and ease of adoption of the platform.
This finding is in line with theory on information technology acceptance [
38
40
] as it demonstrates
how perceived usability and usefulness of farmer oriented platforms motivated and influenced speedy
farmer understanding and engagement with the platforms.
Reflecting with farmers on whether the co-designed farmer-oriented platform could make
partnerships more farmer inclusive, we found that farmers had positive perceptions about the platform
as a communicative tool that could bridge the communication gap between them and other actors.
In particular, the platform was perceived as an eective mechanism for breaching the information and
knowledge dierences in smallholder partnerships. Farmers felt empowered to influence change in two
main ways. The first was in their ability to share farm information with partners for specific extension
advice either from extension agents or traders. Secondly, farmers felt empowered to demonstrate
transparency in transactions as a means to enhance trust with partners. In line with Vermeulen
and Cotula’s criteria for inclusiveness in value chain collaborations [
2
], we argue that through these
communicative roles, farmer-oriented platforms contribute to inclusiveness by enhancing farmer voice
and ability to influence partner decisions and actions that relate to extension support and accountability.
By so doing, the platform further contributes to smallholder risk reduction as it helped mitigate
farming risks which emanate from lack of extension access. Moreover, actors also indicated that the
co-design process resulted in a stronger feeling of ownership and fit of the platform to the local context.
In this way, farmer-oriented platforms enable a more inclusive partnership arrangement for farmers by
improving conditions of farmer voice and risks.
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 13 of 16
On the other hand, farmers were less certain about using the platform to get other partners
to support farmer needs that require further commitment of resources or flexibility with terms of
agreement. This is because in this scenario, partners would take on more risks by their additional
investments or flexibility. The predominance of mistrust between actors due to past negative experiences
makes them cautious about taking on further costs and risks [
41
]. Since other actors tend to be more
powerful than the farmers, the farmers were less confident about using the platform to influence
partner response in such scenarios. This situation shows that even though farmer oriented platforms
help to level the communication field between farmers and other actors, the power relations between
them generally remained the same, aecting farmer perception of ability to influence change via the
platform when conflicting interests arise. In essence, negative past experiences and power dierences
contributed to path dependence and perceived resistance to the institutional changes being introduced
by the digital platform [42].
From the perspective of Vermeulen and Cotula’s criteria for inclusiveness [
2
], we interpret this
development to mean that farmer voice in negotiating risks and costs with partners through the digital
platform was limited by the existing power inequality and mistrust. This was possible because although
the platform contributed to one aspect of the voice criteria of inclusiveness, which is the provision of a
means to reduce information asymmetry, other aspects of the criteria such as improving farmer weight
in decision making or a clear process of review and grievance addressing against more powerful actors
were not contributed to. Prowse argues that asymmetrical power relations between commercial actors
and smallholder farmers skews negotiation power significantly away from farmers [
43
]. Even though
farmers perceived the platform as an eective means for communication with partners, farmers sensed
little empowerment to enforce their communicated needs when there was conflicting interest with
more powerful actors. This situation suggests that eectiveness of digital platforms for inclusiveness
in partnerships may be constrained in such instances by power dierences.
Thus, there is a crucial role for governing the development and implementation of smartphone
platforms for farm monitoring, especially in negotiating trust, interests and power dynamics. There is
a need to focus eorts on developing platforms to empower farmers and farmer groups not just from a
communicative perspective, that is, through user friendly platforms, but to look critically and more
broadly at how the platform’s functioning is influenced by its contexts and potentially influences its
context, including existing structures and relations. To begin to facilitate this, attention needs to be
turned to partnership agreements and contracts, which usually serve as mechanisms for governing
interactions between farmers and partners [
9
]. For partners to be more responsive to farmers through
the use of the platform, our results suggest that contractual agreements need to acknowledge and
indicate the role of intended farm information that would be provided via the platform. This implies
that in order to empower farmers, digital platforms must work together with contract agreements.
For instance, clear guidelines and criteria for conducting digital monitoring as well as the protocols for
response by partners must be negotiated and integrated in contractual arrangements in partnerships
with farmers.
From this perspective, there is the need for more in-depth reorganization and transformation of
partnership processes and practices, through the establishment of new practices in which contract
agreements capture and integrate the role of information output from farmer led platforms, so as to
empower farmers and make partnerships more inclusive. This re-echoes arguments on the need to
combine technological innovation together with institutional innovation particularly when power
inequities and diverging political agendas are present [
44
,
45
]. In making partnerships more inclusive
for smallholders, then, there is a necessity for critical political considerations of stakeholder practices
and interests in smallholder partnerships, and the processes by which these may be re-negotiated
and re-organized in relation to technological innovations such as farmer oriented platforms. Further
research is therefore needed to address this knowledge gap.
Sustainability 2020,12, 4580 14 of 16
6. Conclusions
In conclusion, our study sought to understand the extent to which smallholder value chain
partnerships could be made more inclusive for smallholders through enhanced communication
between farmers and other stakeholders in the value chain. In this, we focused specifically on farmers’
perceptions on inclusion in the process of design and usage. Our findings show that a participatory
process of co-designing a simple platform interface was significant in improving farmer ability to
comprehend and use smartphone based digital platforms for monitoring and communicating farm
conditions with value chain partners. Through the use of context relevant stories, game activities,
and field testing, an image based and non-textual interface was developed, which enabled smallholder
use of smartphones for digital monitoring. Concerning the extent to which the farmer oriented platform
enabled inclusiveness of farmers in value chain partnerships, we found that farmers were empowered
through the use of the platform to bring attention to their farm conditions. This was particularly
deemed helpful in enabling them gain access to specific extension advice as well as demonstrating
individual accountability to partners as a trust building mechanism.
On the other hand, farmers did not feel empowered to use the platforms to push for material
support or flexibility from partners in response to emerging farm conditions such as pest and disease
outbreaks, particularly since this would involve further costs and risk to the more powerful partners.
As such farmers saw the platforms as a means to appeal to the benevolence of partners by building
trust through transparency, without a sense of empowerment to engage further with these partners.
Even though the digital platform improved farmer ability to communicate with partners to an extent,
we found that on matters where conflicts of interests were expected to arise, unequal power relations
reduced expectations of the platform’s eectiveness at enabling inclusiveness. This highlights a need for
critical consideration and adjustment of the social and political dimensions of partnership interactions,
in tandem with the advancement of digital innovations, in order to eectively facilitate inclusiveness
and equality in partnerships. Such consideration might include advancing the power position of
smallholder farmers in specific contexts in order to move away from existing power inequalities that
show a strong path dependency. As the growth of digital innovations rapidly accelerate in smallholder
contexts, it is necessary to commensurately rethink, renegotiate, and reorganize the structure of
value chain partnerships in order to progressively make actor interactions more inclusive through
digital tools.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, C.A., J.d.V., and A.v.P.; data curation, C.A.; formal analysis, C.A.;
investigation, C.A.; supervision, J.d.V., A.v.P., and P.M.; writing—original draft, C.A.; writing—review and editing,
J.d.V., A.v.P., M.S., and P.M. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding:
This study is part of the EVOCA project. The research received funding from INREF-Wageningen
University and Research and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) under the CGIAR Research
Program on Maize (CRP MAIZE) with support from CGIAR Fund Donors (http://www.cgiar.org/aboutus/our-
funders/).
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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... This type of trust is based on soft relational aspects such as shared values, emotions, and identities. Such forms of trust develop after repeated interactions and shared experiences (Agyekumhene, De Vries, Paassen, Schut, & MacNaghten, 2020;Rousseau et al., 1998a). As such, relational trust is often viewed as a stronger form of trust, in which repeated interactions have resulted in the favourable state that the reason to trust is less clear cut (as with calculative forms of trust) but based on a strong shared relationship or identity. ...
... In such cases, calculative trust 81 moves to the background and relational forms of trust start to dominate as relationships develop. However, trust development is not a linear process (Agyekumhene et al., 2020), but is dynamic as it is subject to constant change under the influence of new interactions, experiences and actions of both the trustor and the trustee (de Vries et al., 2019). Trust is thus dynamic and often re-assessed, which means it can increase or decrease, gain a more calculative or relational character, or may even develop into distrust (Lewicki, McAllister, & Bies, 1998b;Mayer et al., 1995). ...
... Digital services are expected to improve productivity in value chains, in the management of diseases, the efficient use of resources, and the reduction of labour. A surge in public and private enterprises in digital services is providing access to capital, market, weather, extension, and insurance services, mostly through mobile technology (Agyekumhene et al., 2020, Nyamekye et al., 2020, Evans, 2018, Munthali et al., 2018, Fabregas et al., 2019. Many of the proposed benefits of digital agriculture hinge on increased efficiency using precise mechanisation, automation, and improved decision-making. ...
... Following Agyekumhene et al. (2020), however, the pursuit of trust and information symmetry on the side of service providers could be counterproductive given that farmers, due to limited inclusiveness in design, interpret this as surveillance and control. Also, Nyadzi et al. (2019) point to knowledge integration in dealing with substantive uncertainty due to information asymmetry. ...
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With digital agriculture as a path to transforming the agricultural sector in the Global South, there has been a rise in digital service provision. To counteract potentially negative ethical, social justice, and environmental impacts of digital agriculture, Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has been offered as a possible solution. There are, however, scant accounts of RRI in the context of digital agriculture in the Global South. To this end we consider Esoko, a leading social enterprise in Ghana which provides information services to smallholder farmers. The question arises of how the innovation process adopted by Esoko can allow for designing actionable and scalable digital solutions for targeted food systems amidst a variety of uncertainties whilst addressing issues of inclusion and responsibility. The study presents an analysis of whether and how RRI occurs under such conditions of uncertainty by studying how Esoko designs digital services that enable actionable knowledge creation in food systems. The study explores how three objects of uncertainty (strategic, institutional and substantive) impact Esoko’s capability to engage with RRI (characterised by inclusiveness, anticipation, responsiveness, and reflexivity). Our findings point to evidence of how substantive, strategic, and institutional uncertainties impact the inclusive, reflexive, anticipatory, and responsive character of innovation processes undertaken by social enterprises such as Esoko.
... Few critical studies on digital agriculture focus on LICs , and those assessing ethical and governance challenges and responsible innovation in smart farming concentrate mostly on Western countries (Bronson, 2018(Bronson, , 2019aRose & Chilvers, 2018;van der Burg, Bogaardt, & Wolfert, 2019). The influence of digital interventions on knowledge, power dependencies, and inequalities, or alterations to rural livelihoods in LICs has largely been ignored (Agyekumhene, de Vries, Paassen, Schut, & MacNaghten, 2020). This is problematic since farming communities in LICs are specifically vulnerable to potential negative consequences of digital technologies, with fewer resources to react to changing livelihood conditions (Dearden & Kleine, 2020)and because the design of digital agriculture technologies affects smallholder"s digital rights, as we elaborate later. ...
... socio-cultural issues, infrastructural limitations, and problems in agricultural production systems. Human-Centred Design (HCD) approaches like participatory design and codesign (Steen, 2011) respond to the desire to design digital agriculture technologies (in LICs) for the user (Krell et al., 2020) and together with stakeholders (Agyekumhene et al., 2020;Kenny & Regan, 2021;Steinke et al., 2020). Anticipated product users get the role of "expert of his/her experience" and This article is protected by copyright. ...
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Human-Centred Design (HCD) approaches are adopted to develop digital agriculture interventions inclusively and responsibly. Whether these approaches indeed lead to responsible designs remains unclear, especially for Low-Income Countries. Using a Rwandan case study, we contribute to debates on inclusive, participatory, and responsible design by developing a framework for operationalizing HCD and responsible innovation in practice and studying the process of designing a digital agriculture intervention for banana disease management. The four dimensions (inclusion, anticipation, reflexivity, responsiveness) of responsible innovation and our own framework of digital rights served as analytical lenses. Findings show that power relations and digital capacity negatively affect user inclusivity in design. The context in which HCD is deployed hinders anticipation, reflexivity, and responsiveness, resulting in design decisions that do not fully respect digital rights and thus in potentially irresponsible digital technologies. Broader, long-term consequences of digital technologies should be a central consideration in design processes, while responsible innovation theory needs to become cognizant of the complex realities in which digital innovations emerge. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
... Digital services are expected to improve productivity in value chains, in the management of diseases, the efficient use of resources, and the reduction of labour. A surge in public and private enterprises in digital services is providing access to capital, market, weather, extension, and insurance services, mostly through mobile technology (Agyekumhene et al., 2020, Nyamekye et al., 2020, Evans, 2018, Fabregas et al., 2019. Many of the proposed benefits of digital agriculture hinge on increased efficiency using precise mechanisation, automation, and improved decision-making. ...
... Following Agyekumhene et al. (2020), however, the pursuit of trust and information symmetry on the side of service providers could be counterproductive given that farmers, due to limited inclusiveness in design, interpret this as surveillance and control. Also, Nyadzi et al. (2019) point to knowledge integration in dealing with substantive uncertainty due to information asymmetry. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter discusses the nature and role of evidence in advocacy by civil society organizations (CSOs) in the context of international development. It focus on CSOs’ efforts at the direct influencing of policymakers. The chapter show the important and diverse roles of evidence in CSO advocacy, while problematizing the supposed objective quality of evidence and its usage. It identifies the ways in which evidence creation and usage is shaped in relational dynamics between CSOs and the policymakers they target, and between CSOs that are differently positioned in power relations. Charting the political dynamics involved in the relations and interactions involved, the chapter calls for a recognition of the implications of these for inclusion, ownership, representation and legitimacy, and presents ways forward drawing on these insights.
... Digital services are expected to improve productivity in value chains, in the management of diseases, the efficient use of resources, and the reduction of labour. A surge in public and private enterprises in digital services is providing access to capital, market, weather, extension, and insurance services, mostly through mobile technology (Agyekumhene et al., 2020, Nyamekye et al., 2020, Evans, 2018, Fabregas et al., 2019. Many of the proposed benefits of digital agriculture hinge on increased efficiency using precise mechanisation, automation, and improved decision-making. ...
... Following Agyekumhene et al. (2020), however, the pursuit of trust and information symmetry on the side of service providers could be counterproductive given that farmers, due to limited inclusiveness in design, interpret this as surveillance and control. Also, Nyadzi et al. (2019) point to knowledge integration in dealing with substantive uncertainty due to information asymmetry. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter advances a perspective that recognizes diverse epistemic resources that engage with gender in international development. Rather than assuming that knowledge is exclusively produced through a decontextualized academic viewpoint, the chapter highlights the entanglement of knowledge with the material conditions in which it is produced. Building on insights from feminist epistemology, the chapter examines the situated knowledge about the notion of ‘gender equality’ in the CGIAR according to three different sites of knowledge production: institutional documents, gender specialists, and men and women from rural communities. The chapter identifies potential opportunities of embracing a transdisciplinary perspective on gender mainstreaming by expanding the treatment of gender equality into one that acknowledges its contested and context-specific nature. The chapter concludes by highlighting pathways for gender transformation in agricultural research for development work.
... Digital extension services promise to contribute to e.g. increased crop production, reduced pest and disease pressure, better insight into soil health conditions and, ultimately, improved livelihoods through better and more inclusively accessible information (Agyekumhene et al. 2020). They are also seen as potentially disruptive (Eastwood et al. 2019b) as their potential to increase connectivity and transparency among those who have relevant applied knowledge (Fielke, Taylor, and Jakku 2020) may radically change the way in which agricultural extension is organised. ...
... Generally, digital device ownership or access is considered indispensable for delivery of digital content and advisory services to farmers, and this is often used as the sole benchmark for assessing digital connectivity (and divides) along rural-urban gradients, age classes, gender-classification, or socio-economic status (Trendov, Varas, and Zeng 2019;Agyekumhene et al. 2020). Our case study results, however, show a strong contrast between near-universal access of farmers to some digital devices (radio and basic phone) on the one hand, and very poor access to other devices (such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) on the other hand. ...
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Purpose Digital extension is widely embraced in African agricultural development, promising unprecedented outcomes and impact. Especially phone-based services attract attention as tools for effective and efficient agricultural extension. To date, assessments of digital extension services are generally ex-post in nature, thus consideration of users and broader systems occurs once an intervention is broadly identified. However, early understanding of user needs, readiness, and relevant context is a prerequisite for successful adoption and sustainable use of digital extension services. We conducted an ex-ante assessment of user readiness (UR) for phone-based services. Design/Methodology/Approach We developed an ex-ante framework to assess UR, considering capabilities, opportunities, and motivations of targeted users. The case study of Rwandan banana farmers served to verify the UR framework, using survey data from 690 smallholder farmers. Findings Findings demonstrate limited capacity to access and use phone-based extension services, especially those requiring a smartphone, and a mismatch between expected UR and actual UR, current capabilities and opportunities. Findings provide entry points for designing suitable digital extension projects and interventions, suggesting a need for capacity building. Practical implications The UR-framework provided understanding about current limitations in farmer readiness for digital extension. This ex-ante approach to explore UR before designing digital interventions for African farmers is recommended. It points at the importance of embedding digital technologies into existing practices and creating blends of ‘digital’ and ‘analogue’ or 'high-tech' and 'low-tech'. Theoretical implications The UR-framework provides a structured approach to developing pre-intervention insights about users and use-context, supporting informed strategizing and decision-making about digital extension. It is a relevant addition to existing readiness frameworks, participatory design methods, and ex-post intervention performance assessments, as part of a balanced readiness level assessment. Originality/Value This is the first ex-ante assessment of UR for digital extension services in an African context, and the first attempt to analyse Rwandan farmers’ readiness for digital extension services.
... Increase stakeholders' resilience [63,66,68,72,79,84,90,98,107,112,121,152] Leadership collaboration Improve performance through collaborate strategic plan [78,110,124] Strengthening Public-Private partnership mechanisms ...
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Collaboration in a supply chain continuously proves its role in increasing the performance of supply chains, which attracts the attention of both academia and practitioners, specifically, how to generate higher impacts of collaborative partnership on the performance of supply chains and measure them. In cold supply chains of agriculture and foods, the vital need for collaboration becomes even more significant to improve the performance. Therefore, this paper reviews relevant articles derived from the Web of Science and Scopus databases. Via the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA), the research team classifies the types of collaborative partnership in cold agriculture and food supply chains, issues of the literature when analyzing collaboration impacts on the performance of CSCs of agriculture and foods, and finally, the opportunities for the future research to boost the collaboration practices in these cold chains. Following this sequence, 102 articles were eventually extracted for the systematic review to identify themes for not only addressing the review questions but also highlighting future research opportunities for both development of partnership integration and performance of the cold chains of agriculture and foods.
... Expanding on the initiatives of open data ecosystem readiness and the ability to identify the different ways in which stakeholders share data, build sustainable practices and systems is crucial to the successful adoption and implementation of innovation. Successful integration of sustainability aspects into innovation requires the collective participation of different stakeholders, matching objectives among stakeholders, and also their expertise as well as specialized roles for clear transfer of added value within the ecosystem [68,70,71]. ...
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The successful adoption of digital innovations in agricultural production systems is based on the proactive participation of all stakeholders and represents an important step in establishing resilient agri-food chains and creating sustainable value. The key tool for the creation of sustainable value is integrating the nine aspects of the business process (cooperation; inclusion; financing; diversification; communication; policies; knowledge with entrepreneurship; and production) by re-using of open governmental and public endeavours data as well as by the contractual sharing. The objectives of this research are to identify stakeholders in the Croatian agricultural system, and to explore their roles and their potential for data supply and needs for data uptake. Open access repositories were queried to identify stakeholders. Direct observation methods and semi-structured conservational qualitative interviews were used for stakeholder characterisation and data flow detection. Stakeholder importance with respect to current data supply was analysed. Underdeveloped data flow relationships in the agricultural data ecosystem in Croatia could be built in a spontaneous process following the data opening of the Research and Consumer group of stakeholders and promoting data sharing initiatives of the early adopters in the Supplier group. In that way, data opening would be the driver of the effective cooperation creation required for sustainable value creation but also the adoption of the best management practices, sustainable solutions and digital development.
... precision farming equipment, robotics, and blockchain) under the influence of digitalization . The information is provided through devices such as smartphones, via applications (apps) or short message services (SMS), and possibly in both forms of generic information and advice tailored to farmers' specific situation (Agyekumhene et al., 2020;Baumüller, 2016Baumüller, , 2017Eichler Inwood & Dale, 2019;Munthali et al., 2018). Also, information is exchanged via social media (Chowdhury & Hambly Odame, 2013;Kaushik et al., 2018). ...
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In the context of emerging digital advisory services that can make a potential difference in sustainable farming practices, this article analyzes the connection between on-farm human interaction and digital advice. Based on an experimental case from China's largest ever national research initiative on reducing agrochemical use in agricultural production, this study found that introducing university facilitators to promote ICT-based advisory services is conducive to site-specific fertilizer use. Through interactions with farmers, the facilitator complemented digital advisory services to achieve optimal N-fertilizer use in maize production. Digital service providers favoured large farms and usually would not service smallholder farmers, thus limiting the potential of digital advisory services. A main theoretical implication is that digital technology should not be completely relied upon because it may only give part of the answer. A human facilitator still plays an important role in integrating new technologies in interaction with farmers. Human advisory services can interpret or translate data to improve farmers' decision-making, going beyond the advisory capacity of ICT technology. This is an important policy implication for China regarding its national research policies on agricultural sustainability and digital advisory services, and also calls for further research on interactions between digital and human advisory services.
Article
This study is aiming for evaluating the resulting carbon footprint from the farmsheeppartnership endeavor without usury as well as givingalternative recommendationsfor farmsheep activity to breeders and partners. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) identification on impacted environment using SimaPro 9.1.1 softwareutilizesbaseline CML-IA V3.06/EU2method. Evaluation on carbon footprint performed on three form partnership, namely (1)Investors provide sheeps going, while cattle managers provide cages, feed, livestock care workers (not integrated agriculture and to be used as comparison ) called SDK1, (2) Investors provide cages, land for the location of the cages, sheep seeds, and feed, while the cattle manager as livestock care workers (integrated agriculture ) called SDK2.3 , and (3) Investors provide land as the location of the cage, while the cattle manager provide feed and livestock care staff called SDK 3.Assessment results show that the carbon footprint value observed on SDK3 partnership provides the highest donation of emission carbon when compared with SDK2.3 and SDK1. However, the value of emission carbon on SDK2.3 and SDK1 partnerships also donates emission carbonlower compared to SDK2.3 and SDK3 partnership. The emission carbon on the third form of partnership is due to the existence of dirt cage and the use of fuel on transportation activity. When the recommendation is implemented, the value of emission carbon in each form of partnership experiences dropwith the highest percentage drop happens on SDK2.3 partnership, which is 59.14%, followed by the form of partnership SDK3 (49.14) and SDK1 (39.45%). Partnership form of SDK2.3 donates emission carbonlower compared to SDK1 and SDK3 partnership.
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Agri-environmental schemes have been introduced in numerous countries to combat biodiversity loss in agrarian landscapes that are important for both food production and biodiversity. The successful operation of such schemes depends strongly upon trust between actors involved, as well as trust in institutions that govern these schemes. However, the interplay between interpersonal and institutional trust in the context of collective action for agri-environmental management is not well understood. To address this question, we explore the case of agri-environmental management in the province of Drenthe (in The Netherlands), where a new policy model was implemented. This case shows how both institutional design and institutional performance critically influence trust dynamics. Under the old policy model, farmers struggled with auditing and control, which fostered mistrust and hampered collective action. Under the new model, a landscape approach, more responsibilities were delegated to farmers, and more room was created for interaction, which fostered trust both between actors and in institutions. Based on our findings, we conclude that institutional designs that reflect trust in the actors can foster interpersonal and institutional trust that, in turn, facilitates collective action. However, old arrangements can also create path dependencies that limit trust development and impede collective action for agri-environmental management.
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While there is a lot of literature from a natural or technical sciences perspective on different forms of digitalization in agriculture (big data, internet of things, augmented reality, robotics, sensors, 3D printing, system integration, ubiquitous connectivity, artificial intelligence, digital twins, and blockchain among others), social science researchers have recently started investigating different aspects of digital agriculture in relation to farm production systems, value chains and food systems. This has led to a burgeoning but scattered social science body of literature. There is hence lack of overview of how this field of study is developing, and what are established, emerging, and new themes and topics. This is where this article aims to make a contribution, beyond introducing this special issue which presents seventeen articles dealing with social, economic and institutional dynamics of precision farming, digital agriculture, smart farming or agriculture 4.0. An exploratory literature review shows that five thematic clusters of extant social science literature on digitalization in agriculture can be identified: 1) Adoption, uses and adaptation of digital technologies on farm; 2) Effects of digitalization on farmer identity, farmer skills, and farm work; 3) Power, ownership, privacy and ethics in digitalizing agricultural production systems and value chains; 4) Digitalization and agricultural knowledge and innovation systems (AKIS); and 5) Economics and management of digitalized agricultural production systems and value chains. The main contributions of the special issue articles are mapped against these thematic clusters, revealing new insights on the link between digital agriculture and farm diversity, new economic, business and institutional arrangements both on-farm, in the value chain and food system, and in the innovation system, and emerging ways to ethically govern digital agriculture. Emerging lines of social science enquiry within these thematic clusters are identified and new lines are suggested to create a future research agenda on digital agriculture, smart farming and agriculture 4.0. Also, four potential new thematic social science clusters are also identified, which so far seem weakly developed: 1) Digital agriculture socio-cyber-physical-ecological systems conceptualizations; 2) Digital agriculture policy processes; 3) Digitally enabled agricultural transition pathways; and 4) Global geography of digital agriculture development. This future research agenda provides ample scope for future interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary science on precision farming, digital agriculture, smart farming and agriculture 4.0.
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Healthcare is increasingly permeated with digital platforms supporting cooperative care involving both caregivers (i.e. nurses and physicians) and also patients. New mobile technologies allow for patients to continuously monitor and document their symptoms and gather data that can increase self-care and support the nurse’s decision-making process. A design process of such platforms calls for new design approaches involving heterogeneous conditions and goals. Our research is conducted at a clinic that supports cancer patients in their struggles with treatment induced illnesses. The methodological approach is design ethnography that draws from two years of following a design process that resulted in a digital platform to support the care provided by the clinic. The aim of the paper is to analyze how the boundary objects are engaged in the design phases, both concerning what type of boundary objects as well as how they play a role in the different stages of design and we show how boundary objects in design can be used as a mediator for different users’ needs and conditions. The research question that this paper explores is: what type of boundary objects can be used, and how are those boundary objects engaged in different design phases during healthcare platform design? We show how different boundary objects come into play during different design phases, from rich narratives, to conceptual formulations and finally into concrete prototypes of the platform. We argue that using boundary objects actively as design tools can inform and forward the design of healthcare platforms and that the approach can guide future design processes, where co-designing with boundary objects can be especially useful as a design approach when doing design with heterogenous user groups in complex settings, such as healthcare settings.
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Farmers can manage their crops and farms better if they can communicate their experiences, both positive and negative, with each other and with experts. Digital agriculture using internet communication technology (ICT) may facilitate the sharing of experiences between farmers themselves and with experts and others interested in agriculture. ICT approaches in agriculture are, however, still out of the reach of many farmers. The reasons are lack of connectivity, missing capacity building and poor usability of ICT applications. We decided to tackle this problem through cost-effective, easy to use ICT approaches, based on infrastructure and services currently available to small-scale producers in developing areas. Working through a participatory design approach, we developed and tested a novel technology. GeoFarmer provides near real-time, two-way data flows that support processes of co-innovation in agricultural development projects. It can be used as a cost-effective ICT-based platform to monitor agricultural production systems with interactive feedback between the users, within pre-defined geographical domains. We tested GeoFarmer in four geographic domains associated with ongoing agricultural development projects in East and West Africa and Latin America. We demonstrate that GeoFarmer is a cost-effective means of providing and sharing opportune indicators of on-farm performance. It is a potentially useful tool that farmers and agricultural practitioners can use to manage their crops and farms better, reduce risk, increase productivity and improve their livelihoods.
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Smallholder farmers play a critical role in supporting food security in developing countries. Monitoring crop phenology and disturbances to crop growth is critical in strengthening farmers' ability to manage production risks. This study assesses the feasibility of using crowdsourced near-surface remote sensing imagery to monitor winter wheat phenology and identify damage events in northwest India. In particular, we demonstrate how streams of pictures of individual smallholder fields, taken using inexpensive smartphones, can be used to quantify important phenological stages in agricultural crops, specifically the wheat heading phase and how it can be used to detect lodging events, a major cause of crop damage globally. Near-surface remote sensing offers granular visual field data, providing detailed information on the timing of key developmental phases of winter wheat and crop growth disturbances that are not registered by common satellite remote sensing vegetation indices or national crop cut surveys. This illustrates the potential of near-surface remote sensing as a scalable platform for collecting high-resolution plot-specific data that can be used in supporting crop modeling, extension and insurance schemes to increase resilience to production risk and enhance food security in smallholder agricultural systems.
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Maize production is of critical importance to smallholder farmers in Ghana. Various factors limit the productivity of smallholder maize farming systems undergirded by the lack of capital for critical investments both at the farm and at national policy levels. Using a value chain approach, this diagnostic study explains how a complex configuration of actor interaction within an institutionally and agro-ecologically challenged value chain leads to the enduring absence of maize farming credit support. We find a cycle of credit rationing resulting from value chain challenges such as agro-ecological uncertainties, inadequate GAPs training, weak farmer groups and market insecurity. This condition is sustained by an interplay between mistrust, insufficient information across the value chain and inadequate control strategies in the maize credit system. We argue that Digital Platforms (DPs) show potential to help overcome some information and communication gaps and related uncertainties that impede traditional value chain credit arrangements. This is promising in terms of aiding awareness and coordinated responsiveness to agro-ecological farm conditions and the development of farming records databases. Thus, DPs could generate new networks and forms of cooperation in the maize value chain in this regard. As a tool for mediating trust in value chain credit cooperation, strategic use of these DP contributions could help initiate an entry point for recalibration of trust perceptions. Significant considerations and improvements are however needed to harness DPs effectively in mediating trust for maize credit provision, not least being farmer digital inclusion in DP implementation, effective intermediation and network governance arrangements and digital contributions towards cost-effective agro-ecological controls in the erratic maize farming context. This approach to trust building should therefore not be viewed as a quick fix but as a process of trial and error, and learning by doing.
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Smallholder farmers are increasingly exposed to weather extremes but lack access to affordable insurance products for catastrophic crop damage. This paper analyzes the feasibility of Picture-Based Insurance (PBI) as a low-cost tool to improve coverage. PBI verifies insurance claims using smartphone pictures of insured plots, taken by farmers themselves, to minimize asymmetric information and costs of claims verification, while reducing basis risk compared to index-based insurance. A pilot implementation in the rice-wheat belt of India speaks to PBI being a feasible and valuable innovation to reduce downside basis risk in index insurance: nearly two-thirds of trained farmers took at least four pictures (roughly one per growth stage), which was considered sufficient for loss assessment; severe damage was visible from smartphone pictures in 71 percent of affected sites; and this was a significant improvement over alternative index-based products, which identified severe damage in at most 34 percent of affected sites. Keywords: Risk and insurance, Mobile technology, Basis risk, India, JEL classification: G220, O13, O16, Q14
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The empirical literature on farmer cooperatives is now fast emerging and developing in the areas of performance, ownership and governance, finance, and member attitude. We discuss 56 peer-reviewed publications to illustrate the main findings and conclusions while outlining challenges and opportunities for future research. Generally, cooperative membership is found to positively impact price, yield, input adoption, income, and other indicators of member performance, yet there is growing evidence of an uneven distribution of benefits for small and large producers. In terms of structure, evidence of a causal relationship of ownership and governance to performance has been elusive, yet there are now many findings of inherent equity and long-term debt constraints, often in the context of consolidation to drive scale and scope economies. Further inefficiency is observed to be driven by increased heterogeneity in member attitudes and objectives, in particular in terms of commitment and participation. Thus, overall, empirical work portrays farmer cooperatives as flawed and complex business organizations which nonetheless have a strong positive impact on its members. While applied research may progress in various directions, a general improvement in empirical methodologies is needed to allow robust analysis of mixed objectives in dynamic environments.
Article
The widespread growth of information and telecommunication technologies (ICTs) in rural areas of developing countries offers new opportunities to provide more timely and low-cost information services to farmers, as well as assist in coordinating agricultural agents. Over the past decade, the number of public and private sector initiatives in this space has increased substantially, with over 140 deployments worldwide in 2015. While there is substantial potential for such services to address farmers’ and traders’ information and credit market constraints, economic research suggests that the impacts of such services on agricultural adoption, behavior and welfare is mixed. While this can, in part, be explained by the degree of the information asymmetry and the presence of other market failures in different contexts, research from other disciplines provides additional insights into these findings. In particular, work in the domain of human–computer interaction (HCI) focuses heavily on users’ interaction and experience with a given technology, thus explaining why users may not fully engage with ICT-based agricultural interfaces. Furthermore, sociological and anthropological approaches study the provision of information and trust and how these may be altered by ICT platforms. Drawing upon these disciplines, we suggest that future ICT for agriculture initiatives should first seek to better understand the information and complementary market failures in a given context, in order to better understand whether information is a binding constraint. Second, even if information is missing, the information services provided should be of high quality and from a trusted source, which can be a challenge with some ICT platforms. Finally, such services should be delivered via platforms that build upon local ICT access and usage, paying particular attention to the gender digital divide.