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Learning from failure in ICT for agriculture

May 5, 2016

CTA has published a new book with lessons for sustainability in the application of ICT solutions for smallholder farmers. Lessons for Sustainability - Failing to Scale ICT4Ag-enabled Services is a brave attempt to look ICT failures straight in the eye, to learn what went wrong and find out why. CTA launched Failing to Scale together with another publication, Innovate for Agriculture, at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2016 (WSIS Forum 2016) in Geneva, Switzerland on 5 May 2016.

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, said that "it's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure". This rationale underlies CTA's approach in Failing to Scale. Acknowledging that there should be no shame in experimenting and failing, especially with new communications technologies, CTA analyses nine initiatives in ICT for agriculture (ICT4Ag). These initiatives, based in Africa and the Caribbean, showed early promise; however, all failed to flourish once the initial funding came to an end. The nine initiatives covered a range of ICT applications. For example, one project in Kenya aimed to provide an SMS service to help farmers choose maize varieties suited to their environmental and climatic conditions. In Trinidad and Tobago, software developers planned to release a mobile phone app to provide information on crop germination and growth, pests and diseases, and pesticides and fertilisers.

Providing lessons for the future

According to Michael Hailu, CTA Director, "ICTs have undoubted potential to boost agricultural production and value chains in ACP countries. But many efforts to introduce ICTs for this purpose have not been sustainable". To address this problem, Failing to Scale provides nine overall lessons to inform the design of future projects on ICT4Ag. These lessons derive mainly from the case studies described in the publication, but also draw from other sources such as the World Bank's ICT in Agriculture Sourcebook.

In brief, the nine lessons are:

  1. Consult with farmers, traders and extension workers to accurately assess demand
  2. Work with extension workers and other existing service providers
  3. Provide services in local languages and be aware that women are sometimes denied access to technology
  4. Decide who will implement the service in the long term
  5. Do not pre-commit to a specific ICT solutionKeep projects simple – scale up can always happen later if a pilot is successful
  6. Develop a viable business model
  7. Make sure project costs are sustainable, and not simply led by initial donor support
  8. Do not ignore the costs of providing training and promotion.

Sharing through interaction

CTA is keen to receive feedback on Failing to Scale. Is the book's approach useful? Does it help in the design of new ICT4Ag projects? In addition, we would like to hear about other projects that have faced challenges and failed as a result. If you would like to enter into the debate, or can provide a case study, please join the DGroup community around ICT4Ag in English and French.

Stay connected

• Follow CTA on Twitter @CTAflash and Facebook
• Join the online debate on Dgroups in English and French
• Follow the Twitter debate with hashtag #ICT4Ag

Find out more

Promoting the application of ICTs for value chains development and ARD policy and strategy processes