"Most ICT experts develop apps without really understanding the challenges on the ground," said CTA's ICT4D Programme Coordinator Benjamin Addom. "So we created the Peer Assist session to bring the two stakeholders (app developers and agricultural specialists) together."
The event involved presenting an agricultural challenge, and inviting ICT innovators to develop an effective response.
Ugandan agricultural researcher Abel Atukwase went to the Peer Assist session in the hope of finding an ICT solution for a daunting problem. Keen to help peanut farmers and other value chain actors to avoid aflatoxin contamination, he and his colleagues sought a way of delivering information quickly and effectively. Specifically, Atukwase wanted to introduce Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) into the peanut production chain. HACCP can identify procedures and practices along the value chain that are likely to expose crops to mycotoxin contamination. Once these have been pinpointed, Critical Control Points (CCPs) can be set up at specific stages of the chain so as to eliminate or reduce the risks. CCPs for peanut production may include checking procedures at various stages, such as seed selection, planting, harvesting, drying, sorting and storage.
The stakes were high – aflatoxins, which are highly toxic mycotoxins common in peanut and other host crops – cause devastating health and economic damage each year. It has been estimated that more than 5 billion people in developing countries are at risk of chronic exposure to aflatoxins through consumption of contaminated foods. The primary disease associated with aflatoxin intake is liver cancer.
"We wanted to find a way of getting the message out at the various points in the chain in a cheaper and more effective way. We had printed a manual, but it was not very effective because many farmers are not able to read and write," explained Atukwase, a lecturer at Uganda's Makerere University who is working with Vredeseilanden, a Belgian NGO that supports value chain development in developing countries. "The challenge is, I am not an ICT expert, and nor is anyone else in my team."
During the Peer Assist Session, the group got in touch with a U.S.-based TotoIT group, TotoAgriculture.org, which develops innovative ways of increasing access to agricultural knowledge in the world's poorest areas. The Toto IT team is now helping Atukwase and his colleagues to design a mobile phone app, to deliver messages to farmers and other players in the peanut value chain. The two parties have signed a Memorandum of Understanding and are working together to discuss possible features of the app, such as SMS, audio recordings and animation for farmers who cannot read or write.
The plan is to later connect farmers with buyers, who will pay premium prices for peanuts that are free of aflatoxin. In the future, the service may be adapted to reach farmers of other crops vulnerable to aflatoxin contamination, such as maize and rice, as well as crops that are contaminated by other mycotoxins.