What is the best time to go for a walk in the woods? Why would you sell your golden necklace preferably directly after a price surge? Why does a farmer harvest his crops when a storm is forecasted? And what do these questions have in common?
The answer is simple: information about assets around us allows us to consider and reconsider our practices. Against a background of a quickly developing IT sector, such information is becoming increasingly available to the general audience. Both in the developed and developing world, many of such services have already been designed and implemented.
That is also the case in Khulna, a city in the southwestern coastal region of the Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries worldwide. The peri-urban areas (mixed urban and rural areas) of this city are currently facing a variety of challenges, ranging from an irregular water supply and strong urbanisation process, to a range of natural and man-made emergencies. Agriculture, often referred to as the backbone of a nation’s economy, is practised by thousands of farmers in these areas. Weather forecasts and other relevant information have the potential to assist farming communities in improving their climatic risk management or striving for social and economic benefits; a feature recognized by the WaterApps project. Still, no research relating information services to farmer decision-making has been conducted for the peri-urban areas of Khulna, and an overview of existing services is lacking.
An agricultural extension officer disseminating information to female farmers in the Batiaghata upazila, May 2018 (Photo: Vincent van der Linden)
In an attempt to fill this knowledge gap, almost 200 information services potentially relevant for the agricultural sector have been identified as available in peri-urban Khulna. They are categorized in weather information, agricultural advisories, emergency warnings or market data. Spreading information mostly goes via one or multiple mass media, agricultural extension work, and internet (for example: browsing, social media, and mobile applications). Eight information services have been analysed more deeply by means of interviews with both their developers and users. Interview output has been used to establish which factors (relating to either user or service) would lead to changed agricultural decision-making.
Results indicate changes in decision-making can be attributed to the combination of two causal conditions: (1) information should reach the user via a personal approach or via television, and (2) the services should include a user feedback system, enabling users to transmit their feedback, observations or other comments to the service provider. Only extension services related to agricultural advisories and emergencies, and the agricultural television program Mati o Manush (Soil and Man) were considered to do so. Data also indicate developers tend to overestimate the impacts of their service by assuming farmers use it for their decision-making, mostly without having a monitoring or feedback system in place. Developers design their services mostly top-down and often do not target farmer subgroups. On the other hand, farmers are more skeptical about using services: they often lack access to (digital) technology, tend to rely on traditional knowledge, and have no experience translating weather forecasts into farming decisions. They are seldom given opportunities to provide feedback and, although information is provided free of charge, they have to pay for network or electricity costs. Additionally, young farmers can benefit from smartphone functionality more easily than their older colleagues.
The results can be seen as indicative for the way agricultural information services in peri-urban Khulna operate. It can be concluded that farmers in peri-urban Khulna could take advantage of many more opportunities than they do now by using available technology. Also, developers could increase the impacts of their services by adding a user feedback mechanism.
A workshop of the PICSA project (Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture) in the Batiaghata upazila, May 2018 (Photo: Vincent van der Linden)
This article has been written based on a MSc thesis written by Vincent van der Linden, a MSc student International Land and Water Management at Wageningen University, who conducted this thesis research in Khulna as part of the WaterApps project. For more information on this thesis, its methodology or results, please contact WaterApps team.