Saturday, October 31, 2009
CAMLINK Farmers Club
Partner of producers and consumers of the agricultural sector
By James Achanyi-Fontem
WHO IS CAMLINK?
CAMLINK is a not-for-profit and non governmental organization for empowering the farmers and consumers to bring about a mutually benefiting relationship and to protect their interests and rights. The head office of CAMLINK is in Grand Hangar – Bonaberi, Douala City neighbourhood, Littoral Region of Cameroon.
CAMLINK strives to achieve Millennium Development Goals No. 1, 3, 7 and 8 by researching on the problems faced by farmers and consumers in Cameroon, and seeking durable solutions to overcome the regularly occurring difficulties.
It uses Joint Community Effort, Information and Communication Technologies (World Wide Web and SMS) to mitigate and eradicate difficulties faced by farmers.
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS?
“The Farmers' Plight” is a problem. This is wangled with exploitation from middlemen, illiteracy, hostile climatic conditions, inaccessible farm to market roads, high cost of transportation, pest attacks, lack of transformation machinery, poor farming techniques, ill health, inadequate finance, lack of preservation facilities, insecure and unstable market trends, large price fluctuations and having to deal directly with fewer consumers amongst others.
Women constitute a majority of the farmers in rural areas, where the problems of gender inequalities are very visible in the distribution of gains. CAMLINK Farmer Club believes that the missing piece in the puzzle can be found in information made available to farmers and consumers through the use of Joint Community Effort and the ICT (World Wide Web and SMS).
The mission is to connect, coordinate, and inform stakeholders in the agriculture sector (farmers, consumers, civil society, government authorities, etc.) with the use of ICT (World Wide Web and SMS) to seek solutions to food shortages, poverty and gender inequalities.
CAMLINK Challenges the ideas that underadvantaged people should continually depend on aid packages. It buys the idea of the Chinese proverb, "Give a man fish, and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime". It also buys Farm Radio International policy of sharing ideas and finding solutions. CAMLINK seeks to replicate this idea within farming communities. The organization strives to achieve by giving rural peasant farmers simple tools that inform and empower stakeholders in agriculture.
It recognizes that the government has done a lot already and is still willing to do more to help combat “The Farmers' Plight”, and this project aims at giving the government a phase lift by making:
Cameroon a major exporter of farm produce,
Farm produce are regarded with such high esteem as their counterparts in the fashion industry,
Create supermarkets for farm produce,
Eliminate waste in the agricultural sector, etc.
Promote Gender Equality through information, education and communication
The project outcomes are enormous and exhaustive:
Promote and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) n° 1, 3, 7 and 8
Expand Cameroon's Agricultural Markets
Reduce Scamming in Cameroon and Secure the Markets
Foster price stability in the Markets
Reduce Waste in the agricultural sector
Enforce food safety
Enhance Food Preservation
Provide financial Assistance
Producers and Consumers time savings
Foster Just-In-Time Harvesting
Reduce Transportation costs
Foster Exchange of ideas amongst farmers
Enforce Coordination in the Agricultural sector
Encourage local consumption
Provide new employment opportunities
Encourage agricultural Livelihood
Promote efficient use of existing infrastructure
Reduce Rural-Urban migration
Develop a global partnership for development
AGRICULTURAL MARKET INFORMATION SERVICES PROJECT
CAMLINK is a not-for-profit and non governmental organisation working with farmers and consumers for the protection of their rights. The organisation’s objective falls in line with Millennium Development Goals No. 1, 3, 7, 8. CAMLINK researches on the problems faced by farmers and consumers in the rural communities of Cameroon and seek durable solutions together for overcoming regular occurring difficulties. In some parts, seasonal roads make it impossible for agricultural field workers to make frequent trips to monitor farmers' activities, while in other parts it is the hostile climatic and environmental conditions that hinder good yields. The use of ICT is relevant for circulation of frequent alerts on the positive and adverse situations throughout the country at all moments, to up date farmers before, during and after the planting season.
This project is hinged on the premise that the lack of access to immediate information is the reason why farmers and consumers alike fall short of satisfying their quests. African farmers on the one hand strive to increase the continent’s food production and make economic gains for themselves through farming in the expectation that consumers would just “stumble” upon their products “with pockets full of money”. Unfortunately this has not been the case, as farmers work hard and end up either destroying their ecosystem through uninformed farming practices thereby unwittingly destroying their dreams to prosperity on the one hand, and on the other hand depriving consumers “with pockets full of money” the opportunity to avail themselves of these products, stay clear of famine and contribute towards fulfilling the farmers’ quest to economic posterity.
This project is about delivering educative and informative SMS messages to farmers and consumers that would enable them connect directly and do business. It is intended to seek funds and expertise that will enable the team fulfill the wishes of the rural populations within some enclave isolated English speaking communities in Cameroon.
The rural communities in question are dominantly peasant farmers and consumers within localities close to South West and North West region. Information and education on the use of pesticides has been found to be lacking and this is vital for the health of their crops and up grading the soil. These farmers also need information about available markets and consumers demanding their products.
This approach aims at improving their economic situation, reducing the poverty level and promoting responsible farming practices in areas not readily accessible by agricultural field workers.
The strategies and approach applied in CAMLINK has been used in the banking and transport sectors in Cameroon with great success, and there is no doubt that it will be productive to replicate it. Associating the strategy with existing infrastructures of mobile communication, the simple tools of Information and Communication Technologies would positively affect farmers and consumers as well.
The advent of the internet, websites and satellite technologies though very effective as tools of modern communications fall out of the range of these actors for two reasons: either farmers and consumers do not know how to exploit them, or that they cannot afford the cost of getting connected and finding the information they need. The proliferation of websites that document information about farm products and consumers therefore does little or nothing to remedy this situation. Therefore, this proposal reposes entirely on SMS messaging to all actors involved because it is more instantaneous than other applications in use.
Outreach Field Research
CAMLINK has already undertaken an intensive field research on in puts. The results point to the need for a Market Information Service for Cameroon’s rural populations with low income earning power. Exchange working sessions have been organized with authorities of the agriculture public sector and leaders of other partner NGOs involved in the collection of useful data to be provided to farmers and consumers.
CAMLINK interviewed the petit traders interested and willing to collaborate once the service becomes operational. These middle men are mostly those who look for market outlets that farmers scout on permanent basis..
Before take off of this service link with farmers, workshops have to be organised to capacitate staff and stakeholders of the project. To lay the foundation, CAMLINK already discussed with experts in mushroom and snail farming. These experts have accepted to share their knowledge with us and farmers during planned workshops. These partners are only waiting the announcement of take off dates for the training.
The data collected so far shows the extent at which CAMLIK Farmers Club project would serve as a potential employer of many school leavers to serve as relay and community education agents at different levels. The out come will be the reduction of rural exodus and the current massive rural-urban migration.
GENESIS OF CAMLINK Farmers Club Project
It all started with a keen observation of what is happening around us.
If you go to the urban towns and cities, where a majority of inhabitants are employed by some industry or state-run corporation, you are likely to see a handful of individuals who practice farming as a hobby. Every week-end, they go behind their houses, and tend after their small gardens of assorted vegetables, etc. In case some pests or fungi attack their farm, they walk down the street to a cybercafé and Google out information about this unusual occurrence that threatens their gardens. Sometimes they receive information that enables them solve the problem .Yet they do not depend on those small gardens behind the house for subsistence. It is just a hobby. So when they receive their salaries, they go to nearby markets to buy food from farmers whose agricultural activities provide food for them all year round.
A majority of inhabitants in the rural areas practice agriculture as their only profession to earn a living. Cut off from daily information by bad roads, and the absence of modern tools of communication, they blindly work their way through dense forests, turning them into farmlands, and rely on the whims of nature for a good harvest. A majority of these farmers are ignorant of existing opportunities, lack the knowledge of good planning and do not receive information that enables them contain pest outbreaks. They are not even familiar with sustainable farming methods. Training workshops to boost food production hardly take place in the villages. These peasants invest their energy and money on vast acres of farmland with the expectation that a bountiful harvest will enable them sell their produce to city dwellers, enrich themselves, send their children to school, or pay for a visit to the doctor when they fall sick. When disaster that could have been averted through information strikes their farms, everyone in the family and community is affected directly or indirectly. Children drop out of school; the city dwellers do not receive their regular supplies and suffer through price hikes brought about by food shortages and scarcity. Life becomes difficult for everybody and the stage is set for new idle farmers' families and hungry city dwellers to engage in whatever activity it takes to make provisions for them.
A Hungry Man is an Angry Man
Today it is fishermen turned pirates off the coast of the Indian Ocean. They wreck havoc, take hostages and demand huge ransoms. These criminal acts undermine the authority of their state and destabilize the socio-political institutions. They disrupt the peace and harmony not only of Somali People, as the impact of their lawless pursuits is attracting and having global impact. This is not right. Tomorrow, it might be the farmer anywhere in rural Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe resorting to lawless acts because their once cherished profession no longer yields them the benefits expected. To have hundreds of thousands of disenchanted farmers and consumers taking the easy way to riches through lootings and other criminal acts paints a very grim picture of our world. Yet these hard working men and women would not engage in deviant behaviour if they were not hungry. Yes, angry consumers will not become lawless in these times of economic recession if they received information about sources of abundant food supply that would make them spend less and live better. Farmers or consumers become angry when they can no longer satisfy their basic needs. Something needs to be done about the current situation for us to live in peace.
VISION OF CAMLINK
CAMLINK Challenges the ideas that under advantaged people should continually depend on aid packages. It buys the idea of the Chinese proverb, "Give a man fish, and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime". CAMLINK seeks to replicate this idea within farming communities. This, the organisation strives to achieve by giving rural peasant farmers simple tools that inform and empower them. CAMLINK is conscious of the fact that access to internet offers a broad range of opportunities though it is not ignorant about the huge costs involved in procuring these computer jewels that facilitate Information and Communication exchange. It is for this reason that CAMLINK proposes direct instant SMS messaging to the mobile phones of farmers because these are the very tools the farmers themselves possess.
Develop a global partnership for development - Develop an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, including a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction-nationally and internationally.
The project team is going to be dealing with people who are advanced in age in most cases and are parents. We need all the subtlety the situation demands as we strive to meet the needs of the different farming communities.
We shall also need to learn public relation techniques that enable people to meet the different stake holders within Government and Civil society in Cameroon.
The farmers will subscribe for a token to receive SMS and this shall be used for a start to buy SMS credits to sustain the project. As other farmers and stakeholders get the impact of the initiative, there is no doubt many will respond to the invitation to subscribe to the service and benefit from SMS information and education system. If the project receives small financial support, the information to the farmers will be free of any charge.
Obtaining funding for community based projects has been a major obstacle to the expansion of the work of Cameroon Link. Getting the institutions that represent agriculture, trade and industry to cooperate with CAMLINK has also been a challenge. We believe that the recognition and endorsement of our idea as reflective of efforts to eradicate poverty and reduce dependence shall enable the Cameroon government and international funding institutions to give us the needed support.
There was a field study in Melong, a typical farming community to discuss this project.
CAMLINK acquired SMS credits online to send messages to farmers, and this warmed the hearts of the project team to continue research for sustainability. Now as a team the ambition is to expand the SMS coverage to reach at least 5000 farmers weekly. For this to happen, we need funds to purchase SMS credit and also to create a feedback data base through internet networking. Funds are needed to remain connected by internet permanently. CFA 25.000 is needed every month to remain connected 24/24.
Project Assessment Staff
These are people with knowledge of farming and agriculture. They will provide the farmers with necessary modern farming techniques and teach them best farming practices. There are quite a number of trained agricultural technicians and CAMLINK only needs to allocate a small allowance to compensate them for service rendered.
Food Processing Engineers and Experts
These are people with knowledge in food processing. They will provide information on effective food handling, processing and conservation methods. They will also carry out quality control of the food put on sale in the markets or for exportation. Quite a good number of trained food and nutrition experts exist in Cameroon and CAMLINK needs only to compensate them for service rendered with the allocation of an allowance.
People in this category will take care of ICT channels and facilities. They will be required to develop Soft wares, websites, etc. to be used by the various operational task force of the CAMLINK Farmers Club Project. Soft ware Developers exist already and CAMLINK needs only an technical allowance to compensate them for service rendered.
From day one of execution of the CAMLINK project, permanent internet connection at various sites and offices of the project is needed. The internet links will serve to connect sites, villages, towns and cities within Cameroon first and also connect the CAMLINK project to markets in countries abroad. Internet connection will enable web access to the CAMLINK Project website to serve as the main advertising task force of the Project. The importance of a web site presence cannot be over emphasized. To start, funds have to be scouted to get connections operational linking a few key offices of the CAMLINK Project.
The CAMLINK project will be unable to guarantee that every participant will have net access and computer. But most participants already possess mobile telephone sets. The project therefore takes advantage of this to provide instant messaging service to participants-farmers especially - informing them on possible disaster outbreaks, possible market outlets, buyers/sellers at home and abroad with updates on project activities. CAMLINK is scouting for funds to purchase more appropriate ICT computer servers and communication credit for the computer room in its Douala office.
To effectively market the project idea and its produce (farm produce), the project will need digital cameras for uploading samples, adverts, shows, documentary, etc. CAMLINK needs the best cameras and cost effective tools for this service.
Community Offices in Villages, Towns and Cities
For permanent presence and impact, the project needs to set up offices at various sites around the country. To get the peasant farmers more involved, CAMLINK is depending on community farmers’ cooperatives and local radio stations as the focal points in the villages. To enhance this partnership, CAMLINK will assist population during election of their farmers cooperative peer leaders and motivate them with small allowances during training for their installation. This will mean organizing peer education training on the functioning of the system.
Farm Produce Distribution Points in Villages, Towns and Cities
The project will set up distribution points around the country to ease exchange and distribution of produce from the farms in the farmers’ cooperatives. This will facilitate safety and handling. Here is the McDonald idea! If this is the case, we depend on the community, rents, subsidies, and grants to make this possible.
The project will not need to set up financial houses, but use the farmers’ cooperatives as the Peasant Farmers’ Financial House. This will ease money transfer processes and prepare the farmers for project activities ownership. This will mean selecting members of the community for training on project management and accounting. This system will promote gender and equal opportunities with sharing of tasks between the men and the women. It will encourage peace and unity and consolidate marriages within communities.
The farmers’ cooperative unions or organizations will hold meetings regularly to evaluate progress and farmers can start reducing small loans to expand their activities.
Consumers have four (4) different ways of placing their orders: Use of internet website, phone calls, Mobile phone SMS and visit at the distribution point. Individuals not using private web access will have to turn to the cybercafés. Cybercafés will be installed in villages with large populations and farm out puts.
The project is in need of the services of transporters and transport vehicles to move farmers’ produce from their farms to the cooperatives for those who require this service when the roads are accessible. The produce will later be moved from warehouses to distribution points, from distribution points to consumer homes, from warehouse to warehouse, distribution point to distribution point, warehouse to exportation points. We can make use of the existing cooperative transport system but to avoid regular vehicle break downs and maintenance and delivery problems the project needs vehicles and transport services dedicated for its use alone.
Computers and Accessories
The project will require computers for each office or distribution point to collect data. For the beginning not all points will be computerized. Small holder schemes will be treated manually and processing at the offices and sales points would be centralized. However, computers will greatly facilitate communication and processing of order, requests for supply, registration and book keeping.
Furniture and Equipments
The offices, sales and distribution points will be equipped with furniture. These will include tables, chairs, cupboards, fans, etc. Weighing equipment, balances, loading cranes, trolleys, etc. will be placed in warehouses.
Warehouses around areas of mass production
Warehouses will be located in areas of mass production. These will serve as areas for early preservation and temporal food storage location. Farmers will deposit food items for sale in the ware houses to reduce their transportation problems. The community will provide space for the ware house in each locality as their moral contribution to the project. But the project will construct specialized warehouses where there will be need.
Like warehouses and distribution points, the project will construct or rent good storage facilities to handle delicate and perishable food items, without which handling becomes a serious problem.
For an effective take off of the project activities, funds are needed for community awareness and installation of the initial facilities. For sustainability we require community support, grants, and subsidies including profit derived from the services provided by the project, charity and personal sacrifices.
There is a need for a legal advisor to backup the project activities to make sure each phase is guaranteed and covered by law. A lawyer will be hired for rendering legal advice and legal procedures services. The project will make payments for service is rendered by legal advisor.
Administration & Good Governance
The project will employ a good governance administrator to check cheating, stealing, etc. at all levels of the project. The good governance administrator will work in partnership with the required government services for processing transit documents.
Management and Staff
The project will recruit staff based on merit and equal opportunities will be accorded both sexes. Project descriptions will be made public and advertized before selection through tests and interviews.