BROSDI encourages farmers to think outside the box in Uganda

The Busoga Rural Open Source and Development Initiative (BROSDI) have been working successfully with poor communities in Uganda for the past twelve years.

Ednah Karamagi, executive director of BROSDI says ‘open development’ is the driving force behind the organization.

“The best way to understand open development is to first understand open source software, which most people understand. You pick it and manipulate it to benefit yourself. When you move to the development side, it is the same thing. How can each of us take advantage of our environment to benefit us without spoiling it for the future generations?”

Karamagi says BROSDI has been using open data for the past 10 years. Initially, the organization mobilized farmers together from fourteen districts. Now, those farmers mobilize their own colleagues.

BROSDI collects indigenous knowledge and rather than providing farmers with money, or instructions to follow, they empower them to form communities that can drive their own development.

“We don’t spoil the community by giving them money. Instead, what we do is that we tell them we can help design a platform and give advice. We can teach you how to look for information and we can teach you how to use this information productively, and in a progressive manner,” says Karamagi.

They teach them to look at the opportunities in their environment, and how they can leverage those to improve their livelihoods, without spoiling the environment for future generations.

BROSDI has over 300 farmers in their network and they work in groups under a strong network of social accountability; monitoring each other’s finances to make sure money is spent in appropriate ways.

The communities hold regular meetings, they discuss their agricultural problems and possible solutions, and they invite in local experts on growing particular crops.

All of this information is recorded by a secretary, in a local language or English, and is passed onto BROSDI.

Brosdi edit it slightly, to make it more readable, and then they pass it to NARO, the National Agriculture Research Organization, a government agency. NARO remove where necessary the myths, the stories farmers tell about why certain things work, and replace them with the science.

Once NARO has validated the information, it is returned to BROSDI and is disseminated throughout the communities in various ways – ways in which the information becomes available to everyone in the community.

It is all open, it is all shared, and so farming best practice is disseminated and people are able to lift themselves out of poverty.

BROSDI teaches community members how to use technology to expand their business.

Karamagi tells the story of one man who sold cabbages at 100 shillings each. BROSDI taught the man how to look for markets for his cabbages on the Internet, and now the markets come to him, picking up cabbages from his home at 300-500 shillings each. The man taught others to grow cabbages, sell them to him and he acts as their middleman, making a profit.

“He doesn’t have to go through the labour of growing cabbages to fill a truck. He gets other people and buys from them and makes some money out of them as well. Win-win situation,” says Karamagi.

Thinking outside the box

“We approach the farmers by telling them, yes you can do it if you put your minds to it, if you put your hearts to it, if you sit down as a group and think, you will do it,” says Karamagi.

For example, Edna talked about one woman who had come to a workshop and who was given a small amount of money for transport back to her village so that she wasn’t travelling back in the dark and missing out on the necessary evening activities of her household.

This woman persuaded a neighbour to give her a lift, and so saved the money, and spent it instead on a tablespoon of tomato seeds. A year later, she had five acres of tomatoes to sell.

Karamagi says, “we tell them – plant a mango tree. Plant a jack fruit tree. Plant a paw paw tree. In other words, plant trees which we shall benefit from not only the shade, but financially, that’s money. If you tell me, I have nowhere to plant trees, plant them at the edges of your farm.

Disseminating the information

“We used to use the national radio; we’ve stopped. Because we realised we are not achieving what we wanted.

“We sent an SMS to our farmer’s databases. [It turns out] over 90% were not listening to the radio programme.”

BROSDI says the farmers preferred the national FM stations because they are localized.

“The information is disseminated in the local language. And they know the presenters. They relate to the presenters every day, every moment, every time. So they preferred to deal with that.”

BROSDI has also tried to disseminate information through knowledge fairs, brochures and blogs to varying states of success.

BROSDI’s projects worked with the poorest of the poor – people who are only able to afford one basic meal a day.

Twelve years on, these farmers are no longer poor, they have money, they are eating three meals a day, they are helping others in their community – always looking for win-win scenarios that are sustainable, rather than relying on handouts or kindness.

They are using technology for the things they need – email, marketing, finding information via the internet, SMS to disseminate information.

Following an evaluation of Brodsi’s work it became apparent that their successful focus on basic food security had neglected the nutritional aspects of agriculture, and that their communities were suffering from malnutrition-related diseases.

Brosdi came to GODAN’s workshop “Creating Impact with Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition” in The Hague in November 2015, having found their way to GODAN by Googling for information on nutrition.

They have been able to discuss the nutritional goals for their projects at GODAN meetings, and have found meetings useful for networking with other GODAN partners and for looking for funding to take them to the next level.

This has allowed them to expand their the data they distribute within their communities so that it covers not just soil preparation, planting, pest and disease control, but also adds in the important details of post-harvest handling and the best ways to improve the nutritional benefits of the crops that are being grown.

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GODAN area: Food security
Keywords: Open data