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The economy of Bangladesh
The economy of Bangladesh is primarily dependent on agriculture, and over 60 percent of total rural population depends on it. Agriculture plays a very important role in the economy of Bangladesh, and directly or indirectly engages about 84 percent of the total population in different agricultural activities. Crops, forests, fisheries, and livestock are the main elements of the agriculture sector in Bangladesh. The crop sub-sector contributes 71 percent, forest 10 per cent, fisheries 10 percent, and livestock 9 per cent of the agricultural GDP.
Despite being the single largest contributor of the economy, rural population are the ones who are the most neglected, and exploited in Bangladesh. Lack of advanced agricultural techniques, and lack of appropriate infrastructure are the two main obstacles in the development of rural Bangladesh. The aim of this research is to find out what the rural agro-based population need, and what are the potential opportunities that will empower overall farming attitude through ICT innovation at an affordable, culturally situated, contextual, and integrated manner.
This project will study present situation on agriculture information flow in Bangladesh and will suggest a proposed information system while considering information technology infrastructure, and other socio-demographical factors in Bangladesh.
1. 1 Proposed projected area
According to D, Just (2002), agriculture requires to obtain, and process financial, technical, climate, socio-demographical, and regulatory information because it is a knowledge intensive sector. Farming, seed supply, pesticides, fertilizer, other agrochemicals, firm machineries, and many other such things are included when the agriculture is defined generically. In third world countries like Bangladesh, which earns around 32% of national GDP from agriculture sector, lack of adequate agricultural information is the limits the development of agriculture (R Amin, 2005).
Not only on the subject area of agriculture, but this research will also focus on the production, storage, distribution, and marketing of agriculture products related business of Bangladesh. The other area of this project relates to information systems, and technology and how it can make necessary agricultural information more accessible to stakeholders while considering socio-demographical, and infrastructural constraints involved in doing so, the project will emphasize on,
- Study of existing information systems in use today as well as the source, provider, and users of agriculture information.
- This project will also study different agriculture information systems, and communication models are in practice in different countries (e. g. India, Nigeria, and Vietnam), and will suggest any potential idea that can also be helpful to agriculture in Bangladesh.
To accomplish the above tasks, this project will identify eligible cultural, and demographical information barriers to a flawless information flow in Bangladesh agriculture. The project also needs to consider the availability of information technology service, and devices e. g. telephony, computer, internet etc in rural areas in Bangladesh.
1. 2 Aims of the project
This research project aims to suggest an easily accessible information system to the farmers, farm owners, agribusinesses, researchers, information providers, and decision makers with the help of information technology for agriculture of Bangladesh. Moreover, this research suggests the accessibility of information in a timely fashion keeping in mind the socio demographical functionsfrom different dimensions.
1. 3 Deliverables of the project
C. Kenny (2001) found a direct relation between poverty, and lack of access to information, and communication technology. By carefully identifying the requirements, process, and tools for the proposed information systems, and by evaluating expert's reviews of relevant field, this project will determine the problem, and will look for necessary solution regarding the information flow of that system.
At the present time, land, labour, and capital (money) is not enough in the production of agriculture. Information has become a basic requirement in the field of agriculture. Unfortunately, urban areas of the developing countries always get the first priority of new information technologies whereas urban areas are pushed to the side.
With a total cultivable land area of 8.44 million hector, and a high density of population (total population size in over 140 million), Bangladesh is a developing country in the northeast of south Asia. Although, Bangladesh is an example for its incredible growth in food production (Dept. of Agriculture Extension service website last visited on 10.08.09), it still needs back up of e-technologies, and information systems in the production of food. Along with the traditional agriculture information management system, agriculture technologies are invented every day to feed this huge population. However, these technologies are not disseminated properly for which farmers don't have access to necessary information in a timely fashion.
This project will identify existing information technology infrastructure, and suggest an integrated agriculture system to support all the stakeholders of the agriculture domain. Drawbacks of present information flow need to be identified when designing such a system. Some of the examples are given below:
- In-time information for e. g. market product price, bulletins about pest infestations etc may be difficult to access.
- Farmers often face difficulty in understanding the written format of the information due to the minimum level of literacy.
- There is barely an option to share experience, and knowledge within the community other than face-to face contact.
- Storing or documenting indigenous knowledge for future generations is nil.
- Level of services for the field or agriculture extension workers are hampered due to limited information on the population they are serving.
- Bottom to top-level information flow is not strong. As a result, decisions often don't match with the rural needs that come from top level.
Present ICT infrastructure needs to be identified to overcome above limitations, and to design a system. A, Islam, and A, Rahman (2006) stated that due to high price, and lack of awareness mass population started using PCs in late 90s although, first main frame computer was introduced in Bangladesh in 1964. Computer education has been made compulsory in high school level mainly because of its importance, and drop in its price level. This will provide rural population a better chance to use emails, social networks, web interface of any agricultural database, and other such modern communication technologies.
The most promising, and popular communication technology in Bangladesh is mobile phone. At the end of June 2009, the number of mobile phone active subscribers has reached at 46.69 million (BTRC website, last visited at 10.08.09). Call, and SMS charges are reasonably cheap so rural population largely depend on this device to make their distance communication. In addition, internet over GSM through mobile phone is very popular nowadays especially in sub-urban, and rural areas where no broadband internet connection is available. Before February 2006 an analysis claims that, nearly 370,000 Bangladeshis had access to the Internet through their mobile phone(R, Samarajiva, 2006). But now the number is expected to reach more than million. Bangladesh Telephone Shilpa Sangstha is going to launce first local made cell phone in the market in next year which will significantly reduce the price thus, allow more people to use this technology (N Islam, 2009). This high availability of mobile phone will allow this project to think about voice, and SMS service to disseminate agricultural information.
Bangladesh is the first country to use fiber optic network in Asia in 1986 for Bangladesh railway. Later on Grameenphone Bangladesh used this 1800 Km optical fiber backbone to connect different parts of the country into their network. In 2001 ten additional STM-16 fiber links has been established by BTTB to connect north south of Bangladesh (S A Bashar, 2002). This fiber optic network is currently supporting inter-district telecommunication network, and can be a great supportive communication media for proposed information system to connect regional offices to the head office or where ever a high bandwidth is necessary.
There are 15 TV channels currently broadcasting in Bangladesh of which two owned by the government. Agricultural programmes on nationally broadcasted TV channels are very popular in rural areas (source http://www.mediabangladesh.net/tv.php). A survey on 15 farmers, and retailers of agro-products revealed that 13 of them posses a TV in their house hold, as it is less expensive than a mobile phone. Rest 2 has access to TV programme, and news by their neighbor or in community club in the village. Information on audiovisual media can easily understandable and can deliver to mass people at the same time.
Due to the cheap price Radio is very available, and popular in rural Bangladesh. Even farmers listen to radios while they are working in the field. There is 14 government owned radio stations broadcasting in medium wave length in the country, and number of FM radio station is more than 20 (Source: http://www.asiawaves.net/bangladesh-radio.htm).
Agriculture extension services in Bangladesh is very effective so far as the production of food In 1971-72, during the birth of the country total food grain production was 10 million tons (1.05 tons/hector), where in year 2005-06 it grows up to 31.3 million tons (2.64 tons/hector) (Dept. of Agriculture Extension service website last visited on 10.08.09). Now it's the time to e-power agricultural extension facilities for more crop yielding.
To improve the barging power of farmers, and retailers in Bangladesh marketing information of agricultural product must be available on a need to know basis. Often middlemen took the benefit of farmer's labor, and effort farmers don't have the right price information for their commodities. Depart of agricultural marketing Bangladesh under the ministry of Agriculture develop a web portal (http://www.dam.gov.bd) providing price, and supply information of wholesale market on more than 1000 verities of 326 commodities from all over the country. Though this portal is interactive, it seems to be less user friendly for demand side stakeholders because
- It does not use 'Bangla' (native language) which is difficult for less educated people to interact with.
- The country has less internet use facilities in rural areas.
Government, developing partners, NGOs researchers, and related to the information domain for agriculture working hard to disseminate agro-information in an effective way but only use of information systems, and technology can fulfill this goal.
3. 0 Introduction
Illiteracy, reluctance in adopting new technology, ignorance, poverty, etc. are the few problems that the Bangladeshi farmers are facing. As a result, designing an information system with such drawbacks is quiet complex, and require an in depth analysis.
3. 1 Interviews
Both qualitative, and quantitative approach is required in this research to effectively identify the population needs as Bangladesh has a diverse nature of target population. Not only traditional agricultural knowledge is needed to take into account in implementing a human centered ICT solution rather a primary interview has been carried out in 'Bangla' among several farmers, retailers of agro-products, and extension workers over the phone mainly to understand, and construct the problem space for farming people in Bangladesh. The main focus of these interviews has been present crop management system, identifying current source of agro-based information, and the accessibility of necessary information when needed.
3. 2 Research questions
Starting from a structured data collection this project will mainly focus on desk research because of both the time, and resource limitation. The structured data collection will include the agriculture of Bangladesh as well as cultural, and demographical constraints towards a flawless information system. The research will then look into information technology services in Bangladesh, which will include infrastructure, and internet accessibility. According to Miah (1997), to make agricultural information more accessible to its users by looking at both the present, and new information, the proposed project will suggest all the necessary steps.
In doing so, it is mandatory to answer the following questions:
- Who are the users, providers, and source of information?
- What the information users require?
- Who to provide this information?
- What is the nearest information access point for users?
- How long it takes to get necessary information?
- Is the provided information adequate, authentic, and in time?
- Is the provided information in right format to understand for users?
- How is the present technological infrastructure as well as internet accessibility in Bangladesh?
3. 3 Research findings
Several facts were revealed after Interviewing 15 farmers, retailers of agro-products, and extension workers. Farmers who participated in the interview were selected through personal connections, and acquaintances, and they own around 6 to 15 acres of cultivation land. Most interviews took place for about 30 minutes to an hour.
3. 3. 1 Literacy, and language efficiency
Most of the farmers have completed their primary education. However, they received further training by compulsory government adult education program. Although, they can read and write their native language, which is Bangla, but possess a very minimum level of English language competency.
3. 3. 2 Familiarity with technology
8 out of 11 farmers regularly watch Bangladesh Television (BTV), a nationally broadcasted channel by using outdoor antenna. Few of them even have access to satellite TV cable as they live in the suburban area. Usually, those who don't own a TV, watch programs like news or dramas in their neighbours house. Participants didn't forget to thank the organizers for organizing different agricultural shows aired on the national channel as these shows help them in farming related matters. VCD players have also reached the villages of Bangladesh, and 7 of the farmers use VCD players to watch movies. Radio is another common mode of entertainment, and it seems that all the participants regularly follow radio programs than those who live in the urban area.
Now a days mobile phone has become a common element in rural areas. As can be seen, almost all of them (9 out of 11) own a mobile phone, which they use mainly to send text messages, as it is much cheaper than making a call. Other than that, they also use it to communicate with the retailers in nearby towns for agricultural related information.
However, other than the extension worker who has internet connection in his office, internet is still inaccessible to all the participants which is very unfortunate as it is a vital element to compete in this hi-tech world. 2 or 3 owners of the retail stores check their emails by using internet through their mobile phone service provider's network but complains about its slow speed.
3. 3. 3 Farming methods, and Information access
Farmers of Bangladesh grow various different types of crops such as rice, jute, vegetables, spices etc. Because of the diversity of crops, problem area is diverse as well. Local retail stores who sell farming-related products provide primary crop management information to the farmers, which help them in growing crops. Traditional farming practices are still in use as farmers rely on oxen, and wooden ploughs. To increase productivity, farmers use increased level of chemical fertilizer in their crops. Social gathering is a place where farmers exchange their views, and experiences. Exhibitions, symposiums, conferences, and other similar events are arranged in a nearby town by the agriculture extension workers, which provide various informations to help farmers. Newspaper, and newsletters published by department of agricultural extension services, national radio, and TV are important sources of agro-based information such as weather, crop diseases, major disasters etc. Till now, rural farmers are still in dark about any significant ICT implementation in the agricultural information flow in the country, they are hardly familiar about the agricultural marketing, and production web portals of Bangladesh ministry of agriculture.
Information, and Agriculture
4. 1 Introduction
V N Ozowa (1995) stated that because farmers are facing new, critical, and rather complex problem everyday, Information need as a knowledge intensive sector is endless in agriculture, nobody can claim to categorize all the necessary information. Farmers are mostly looking around for solutions for the problems like seed, and fertilizer availability, chemical measurement, pest hazards, weed control, soil fertility, moisture insufficiency, farm micro-finance credit, soil erosion, and so forth.
4. 2 Role of information in agriculture
In every realm of agriculture, information systems, and technology has proven to be efficient in facilitating farming, and related activities to become more productive. Information on agricultural resources (land/soil, water, and climate), inputs (capital, labor, seed, fertilizer, pesticides/insecticides, equipment, etc.), and outputs (preservation, and marketing) are included in the agricultural information. Farmers' welfare personnel, and organizations are always facing a challenge in disseminating this information. Impeccable flow of potential, and in-time information has always backed new technologies for production of crops, livestock, and fish, new management techniques for agribusiness, safe disposal of agricultural wastes etc. In the context of agriculture, information participates both as a direct contributory tool for agricultural productivity, and as an indirect tool to empower farmers to take informed, and quality decision which facilitates a positive impact towards agriculture, and allied activities (Mittal, 2005)
4. 3 Precision agriculture
Precision agriculture is a new form of agriculture, which has currently become very popular in developed countries, and relies on infield variability. Infield variability means doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way by being backed up with new technologies such as global positioning system (GPS), Geographic information system (GIS), satellite images etc. Agricultural inputs such as optimum sowing, using right proportion of fertilizer, and to more accurate foretelling of crop yielding can now be determined precisely by different variations of modern technology like remote sensing, soil science etc. These technologies are used to increase the overall agricultural outputs. W Maohua (2001) said that Success of this new trend of agriculture reasonably leads developing countries in introducing new technologies, and information systems in their agriculture.
4. 4 Stakeholders for agricultural information
The aim of this project if to improve the capacity of accessing, and exchanging information, and to convert it into useful knowledge, and therefore, it needs to identify all the stakeholders for agro-information system. Since, researchers view, and the purpose of the research vary the definition of stakeholders; identification of stakeholders is not straightforward in management, and information systems domain (Pouloudi, 1999). Rather, stakeholders can better be defined as an individual or group who has extensive interest towards a specific process or purpose. According to Buschanan (Boddy, D., Buchanan, D. A, 1986) Information system stakeholders are "all those who have a practical concern for the effective application of new technologies, and who are in a position to take or to influence decisions about why, and how they are used. " Both the supply, and demand side stakeholders will be in the proposed case of agriculture information system. These are then sub-divided by primary, and secondary categories. Producers, retailers, wholesalers or any entity who need to use provided information as necessary are the demand side stakeholders. On the other hand, supply side stakeholders will be any entity who is responsible for providing information using varied e-medias including government, and development partners, policy makers and media. Below the table shows a list of stakeholders:
Source: M. Sirajul Islam and Åke Grönlund, Agriculture Market Information E-Service in Bangladesh: A Stakeholder-Oriented Case Analysis.
There is a two-way relationship between demand, and supply side stakeholders. Supply side provides, and facilitates necessary information to their counterpart, demand side, at the same time, keeps informing their problems and necessity to their counterparts for effective policy making. From supply side, researchers require up to date information for their research purpose, thus they participate from both sides. Demand side stakeholders, on the other hands, use these new knowledge provided by the supply side as a source/supply of information.
4. 5 Definition of agricultural information systems
Defined by Rolling (1988), agriculture information system is a system in which agricultural information is generated, transformed, transferred, consolidated, received, and feedback in such a manner that these processes function synergistically to underpin knowledge utilization by agricultural producers.
Information plays a huge role in agriculture research, development, and extension services where it is an essential input. According to Zaman (2002), different users of agriculture information system require different type of information for different purpose. Among others extension workers, farmers, policy-makers, planners, programme managers, government decision-makers, researchers, teachers, and students are the potential users of this information system. However, in order to make informed decision or to cope with modern agriculture technologies, the users of the agriculture information system must have all the necessary information available.
Following figure give us an illustration on source, and users of Agriculture information system.
4. 6 Information needs of Farmers
A great change in agriculture production, and an efficient, and rapid transfer of advanced know how, and knowledge to farmers was due to the dramatic appearance of technology in agriculture after World War II (D Birkhaeuser, RE Evenson, G Feder. 1991). Farmers need to be aware whenever a new agriculture technology or know how emerges. Otherwise, an inaccurate or misleading perception about the cost, and benefit of the technology will lead to less dissemination of information. Therefore, it is necessary that correct attributes of new agricultural technologies should be available to the farmers because farmer's decisions are based on their perception. Again, after introducing the new technology or know how farmers need more advanced knowledge for deployment.
V N Ozowa (1995) said that agriculture, like all other business, involved in movement of commodities from production to consumption. In the context of price, transport, and distance, selling of agricultural commodities is always a crucial decision for farmers. To enhance the marketing practice, Department of Agriculture Marketing (DAM) Bangladesh, following the lead of Indian government, undertook a similar e-government initiative to facilitate crucial agricultural market information to farmers, government, researchers, traders, and other stakeholders. The website is used to navigate the price of different commodities in different markets. DAM's website (http://www.dam.gov.bd/jsp/index.jsp) also enabled information system on agriculture marketing to collect, and disseminate data on daily basis. As a result, farmers, and traders can make informed decisions, and increasing their bargaining power when selling their goods. On the other hand, this information system enables policy makers, researchers, and government to undertake extensive analysis of market behavior, and pattern of agricultural products that could be considerably valuable.
4. 7 Information needs of agricultural extension workers
The most strategic position in agriculture production cycle is taken by the agriculture extension workers. L. O. Aina (1991) stated that between farmers, and researchers, and between farmers, and policy makers, extension workers act in middle as linkage. The quality of information they provide to common farmers can be enhanced if the information is supplied on a need to know basis. Researchers, and policy makers use this important group of people in agriculture production cycle as source of field level information. Extension workers are the most potential users of modern information technology, and systems at bottom level, especially in the developing countries, where common farmers are likely to be illiterate, and less aware of technical knowledge. Following table is an example of required information frequency (how frequently information is used, where height use assumed 100%) in Kenya in the year 1986, which provides an idea that how, and what different kind of information is needed by agriculture extension officers. In recent years, however, this requirement is more versatile.
Agriculture in Bangladesh
Bordered by India on the east, west, and north, Myanmar by southeast, and the Bay of Bengal on south, Bangladesh is in the Southeast Asia with 147,570 sq. km (56,977 sq mi) of total land area, and with a population of about 140 million. Bengali is the national language of Bangladesh spoken by more than 98% of the population, whereas, English is considered as a second language. Per capita income is 554 US$, and GDP growth rate is 6. 21%. The country comprises of 6 divisions, 64 districts, 508 police stations/upazila, 4466 unions, 86,000 villages, and 25,490,822 households (Website of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, last visited on 20. 09. 09).
Agriculture Census, 2008 of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics revealed the following key findings (source: http://www.bbs.gov.bd/dataindex/Pre-report-Agri-census-2008-Final.pdf):
- Total number of households (dwelling households): 28. 67 million
- Urban households: 11. 56%
- Rural households: 88. 44
- Compound growth rate of dwelling households: 2% per annum
- Total number of agriculture farm households: 14. 72 million
- Total number of agriculture labor households: 8. 93 million
- Urban area: 0. 27% is in urban
- Rural areas: 30. 86
- Number of landless households: 4. 48 million (of which)
- Households engaged in hybrid Boro (a hybrid rice invented by Bangladesh rice research institute) cultivation: 2. 77 million
Ø Rural area 3. 261. 22 million
Ø Urban areas 1. 22 million
The Role of Agricultural Extension
Defining the term 'Agricultural extension' is not only difficult may also be vague because it has different meanings at different times, in different places, to different people. The role of agricultural extension is to help farmers make efficient, productive, and sustainable use of their land, and other agricultural resources, through the provision of information, advice education, and training.
In the context of Bangladesh, the following definitions have been adopted:
- agricultural extension is a service or system which assists farm people, through educational procedures, to improve farming methods, and techniques, increase production efficiency, and income, better levels of living, and lift the social, and educational standards of rural life (Maunder, 1973, Agricultural Extension Manual, Rome, FAO);
- agricultural extension is assistance to farmers to enable them identify, and analyse their production problems, and to increase their awareness of the opportunities for improvements.
To help accelerate technological, social, and economic development, agriculture extension is an extremely important process. In particular, effective extension system helps farmers:
- by identifying, and overcoming production, farm management, and marketing problems at farm level through the exchange of information among farmers, extension staff, input suppliers, credit agencies, and marketing agents;
- by making better use of existing technology;
- by introducing new technology, such as new breeds, new varieties, new crops, and new equipment;
- by providing information to agricultural research institutions on farmer's production constraints so that appropriate basic, applied or adaptive research can be carried out to address them;
- by helping in the successful creation of opportunities or situations in which farmers gain the abilities, and skills necessary to meet their needs, and interests in such a way as to attain continuous improvement, and self-satisfaction;
- by helping farmers learn to put information into use in ways that result in improvements in their living standards;
- by helping farmers gain a clear vision of what can, and should be done, and encourages farmers to improve their pattern of living, and helps them develop the necessary skills to so.
5. 2 National Agriculture Extension service, and allied organizations in Bangladesh
Many agencies provide extension support to the farmers of Bangladesh. Besides deploying decisions form policy makers, to support farmers, agriculture extension officers work at the field level. Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has always been supported by several government organizations, such as Ministry of Agriculture, Agricultural Information Service, Ministry of Environment, and Forest, Ministry of Disaster Management, and Relief, Department of Agricultural Marketing etc.; non-government organizations such as PROSHIKA, and Bangladesh Rural Advance Committee (BRAC); ,and international organizations such as International Rice Research Institute (IRRI),International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Poverty Elimination Through Rice Research Assistance (PETRRA), Food, and Agricultural Organization (FAO) etc. Together, all these partners can be seen as comprising the National Agricultural Extension System.
Agriculture Extension at DAE
Only by establishing agriculture as a profitable sector, the elimination of poverty, and improvement of rural life in Bangladesh can be ensured. Under the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Department of agricultural extension (DAE) is responsible to train, and inform extension workers as soon as a new knowledge is available in market. DAE mainly aims to
- Meet the national consumption requirements by helping, and motivating farmers to adopt new technologies for increased production.
- Provide farmer the latest result of research for socioeconomic betterment.
- Train local leadership for organized group action.
- Provide channels for service, and information from ministry of Agriculture and its different department to recognize problems, and the needs of farmers that require national lever of intervention.
- Develop the linkage between research stations, and field level on both directions means to ensure the flow of new technologies towards farmers, and the problems, and needs of farmers towards research.
- Serve as liaison agency between farmers, and other supporting organizations (NGOs, development partners, and others.)
Under the supervision of MOA, extension service contributes in the optimum use of chemical fertilizer, use of hybrid seeds, increased recommended soil tillage, irrigation practice, plant protection practice, and so forth.
Agriculture Information systems, and service in Bangladesh
6. 1 Introduction
Majority of people in developing countries live in rural areas, and fighting with poverty every day. Despite increased urbanization, information to the rural people is still not easily accessible. Government of Bangladesh along with several non-government organizations are working to make agricultural information readily accessible to farmers.
6. 2 Types of information
Each information user has different viewpoint in terms of information need. Agricultural information can be categorized as:
- Information for agriculture input
- Information for extension education
- Information of new technologies
- Agricultural credit
- Agriculture marketing
6. 2. 1 Agriculture input
J L King (2001) stated that higher crops yielding lead farmers to use less inputs but more production with the development of different seed varieties, and effective pesticides by agricultural biotechnology, and generic science. Farmers are adopting genetically engineered seed, which is rapidly becoming popular. Quality fertilizer, plant protection chemicals, pesticides, agriculture, and irrigation machineries etc are other agricultural inputs.
Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC) was the only distributor of all inputs such as fertilizers, seeds, irrigation equipments etc across the country until 1989. However, in present times, to establish a sustainable system for importation, distribution, and use of above inputs, an increased level of privatization of major agro-inputs sales, and distribution can be seen.
An improved, and integrated system is required for maintaining, and distributing inputs because the agriculture input industry is growing at a fast pace. In November 1995, a project named Fertilizer Distribution Improvement (FDI) developed Bangladesh Market monitoring, and information system (MMIS) under the Ministry of Agriculture. Although, statistical data on fertilizer used in past years, and a guide line on the proportion of fertilizer to use on per crop basis is provided by the website for MMIS, it is not user friendly, and doesn't provide sufficient information.
6. 2. 2 Extension education
From the early age of civilization, farmers are continually adopting new technology, assessing the result, and sharing their experiences with others in the society. Usually, most of the communication used to take place either verbally or through practical demonstrations. But the changing pace of technology is changing information systems, and technology faster. As a result, dissemination on new knowledge in the field of agriculture has become more complex, and people started relying on government, and extension services.
To educate farming community, and to improve their life style through better dissemination of knowledge is the goal of agriculture extension service. According to M N Uddin (2008), to increase production efficiency which generate more income for farm people, useful information such as techniques, technologies, and know how are needed. Farmers, public, and private sectors, NGOs, research, and academic institutions, and other developing partners are included in the agriculture extension system, which mostly involves in technology transfer. Haga (1999) affirmed that information in agriculture extension service flows from two directions, one is from researchers to farmers, and another from farmers (production sites) to the researchers. In reality, between researchers, and farmers, extension workers act like middlemen in communication.
6. 2. 3 Information of new technologies
Research stations usually provide information on new agricultural technologies. Under the supervision of Bangladesh agricultural research council (BARC), ten research institutes together form the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) of Bangladesh. Not only these research institutes work under the supervision of different ministries, but different universities, and organizations also have a casual working relationship with BARC. Below there is a listing of research, and educational institute, which are involved, in agricultural interventions in the country.
1. Research Institutes
- Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI)
- Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI)
- Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI)
- Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA)
- Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI)
- Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI)
- Bangladesh Sugarcane Research Institute (BSRI)
- Bangladesh Tea Research Institute (BTRI)
- Bangladesh Forest Research Institute (BFRI)
- Soil Resources Development Institute (SRDI)
2. Educational Institutes
- Bangladesh Agricultural University
- Sher. E. BangIa Agricultural University
- Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agriculture University
- Hazi Md. Danesh University of Science, and Technology
- Patuakhali Science, and Technology University
- University of Rajshahi
- Sylhet Agricultural University
- Chittagong Veterinary, and Animal Science University
6. 2. 4 Agricultural credit in Bangladesh
Starting from farm planning to marketing, agriculture needs investment in every step. Farmers feel that in certain period, particularly in Boro seasons, they have to have to have credit support, although rich, and middle class farmers are able to produce sufficient surplus production after maintaining their living (Jaim, and Rahman, 1985). Poor farmers need higher level of credit facilities to invest in their farming as they have limited amount of land. The formal or institutional sources of credits are
- Bangladesh Krishi Bank (BKB),
- Rajshahi Krishi Unnayan Bank (RKUB)
- Grameen Bank (GB),
- Nationalized Commercial Banks, NGOs.
Since, government targeted credit disbursement cannot be distributed fully, credit information is not available, and excessive formalities, farmers often borrow from informal sources, and pay high interest rate (K Miha, A Alam, A Rahman 2006). Following table shows the details:
6. 2. 5 Agriculture marketing
There are innumerable small farmers spread all over the country, where marketable surplus or marketed quantity of the crops they grow is very small. This fact resulted in a complex Agriculture Marketing System in Bangladesh. Not only costly, collection of these widely dispensed, and small-marketed quantities is also insufficient. In Bangladesh, the trade in all agricultural products is largely handed by the private sector except a few activities, which are performed by the Public Food Distribution System (PFDS), and the Government. To allow free play of the market forces in determining the price, and encourage larger participation of the private sector are the general agricultural marketing policies made by the Government.
However, very low internet use facilities, and PC penetration couldn't dampen the interest for e-marketing of agriculture product in Bangladesh. To develop a modern agro-market information system, Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM) Bangladesh has taken an initiative. This information system needs to be justified by the farmers, retailers, and wholesalers who are the demand side stakeholders.
Market information system at DAM
Under the ministry of Agriculture, and through the Department of agricultural marketing (DAM), the government of Bangladesh has taken steps to disseminate agricultural market information to concerned stakeholders. From June 2002 to December 2003, the government of Bangladesh with the aid of FAO (Food, and Agriculture Organization) initiated a pilot project named 'Agricultural Market Information Improvement' (AMII) in 10 of 64 districts in Bangladesh. The primary goal of the project was to enhance food security by
- Providing effective, and faster knowledge of price movement of agricultural commodities to policy makers.
- Building capacity of the traders to identify excessive or short supply-demand chain in advance to take appropriate trading opportunities in particular markets.
- Making the farmer more able to take informed, and market oriented decision about what to produce, when to produce, and when, and where to sell it. Thus help farmers to maximize their profit, and minimize post harvest loses due to over production.
As a review of existing market information system (MIS) AMII was a pilot project designed as with the detailed steps to necessary changes towards more effective MIS, which includes
- Train both field level, and head quarter's staff for more effective data collection, handling, processing, analysis, presenting, and disseminating.
- Automation, and computerization of DAM's MIS section.
- Train staff to use Microsoft Windows based PCs, and customized FAO 'Agrimarket' software programme.
- Facilitate better communication between projected field area, and market place to determine the price difference.
- Measuring the gaps between the performance, and the training provided to field level, and headquarter staffs.
- Collection, and dissemination of international agriculture information for achieving the users need, and at the same time to accumulate information for policy making.
- Creation of a website at headquarter, and dissemination information through radio, and TV as well.
DAM under the ministry of agriculture initiates a web portal (http://www.dam.gov.bd), following the success of AMll project, through which marketing information is accessible on per crop, and per market basis. The information will allow users to download, and manipulate necessary data as it is in different formats including single, and multiple column report or as an Excel worksheet. Field workers collect retail, and wholesale price to update the portal on a daily basis and store at district office computer. This information is later uploaded to the head office as email attachment where a database is compiled, and published on the portal to satisfy the queries of the stakeholders.
Moreover, price, and supply information of wholesale markets are provided by the DAM web portal on more than 1000 varieties of 326 commodities from all over the country. For demand side stakeholders, however, this interactive portal seems to be fewer users friendly because it uses English, not Bangla which is the native language of Bangladesh, making it difficult for less educated people to interact with. Secondly, internet facilities are less accessible in rural areas.
In the context of data collection, and processing, and dissemination, currently DAM organized their web portal significantly. DAM claims that more than 1000 markets have been provided with internet connection. Using customized software, 64 district offices manage data in a prescribed format, and upload it to the DAM website. Finally, head office compiles the collected data, and publishes it on the portal.
Information technology (IT) infrastructure in Bangladesh
7. 1 Introduction
It comes as little surprise that we are using many different ways such as voice, data, facsimile, e-mail, image, and video to communicate conveniently with anyone, anywhere, and at any time, and all this at an affordable cost, too. As a result, information exchange has experienced an enormous explosion reducing the modern society to a global village effectively. Not only in the developed countries, information technologies like Computer, telecommunications, and microelectronics etc has become very popular in developing countries like Bangladesh.
However, information infrastructure is the key factor when designing an information system within the country. This chapter will focus on information technologies available in the country, and the relevant infrastructure to support proposed information system.
7. 2 PC Penetration
In 1964, the first main frame computer came to Bangladesh, but lack of awareness, and knowledge made it popular much later. However, recent survey shows that almost 90% of the computers are in the capital city, Dhaka. Bangladesh has an extensive interest in IT, and likes to develop this sector at faster speed. According to P Tija (2003), currently there are around 200 major software farms, and data entry centers (most of them are supporting foreign businesses), thousands of formal, and informal IT training institute operating in Bangladesh. Fall in the price, and no import duty of computer, and computer-related accessories has made computer affordable to general communities.
In addition to these, Government has made computer education compulsory in high school level. Therefore, within a few years, the children of the farmers will hopefully be able to use computer.
7. 3 Access to internet
Internet has a significant positive role in accessing information from different sources. The Internet came late in Bangladesh, with UUCP e-mail beginning in 1993. In June 1996, government of Bangladesh allowed private entrepreneurs to operate as Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Internet protocol (IP) accounts with a 64 Kbps internet backbone speed replaced VSATs (Very Small Aperture Terminal) for a few Unix-to-Unix Copy Protocol (UUCP) accounts in the country, which was used initially (Bangladesh Computer Council, and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 1999).
Due to the lack of necessary IT infrastructure in rural areas of the country, demand of internet access didn't increase compared to the size of population.
In april 2000, there was a sharp rise in the uses of internet mainly due to low cost of bandwidth, and withdrawal of taxes on VSATs by government to enhance the use of computer.
Presently, only in urban, and suburban areas have more than 150 ISPs operating with the available seed rate of 64Kpbs to 2Mbps. (website of Internet service providers association Bangladesh, http://www.ispabd.org/ , last visited 25. 08. 09)
With the connected submarine cable (SEA-ME-WE4 cable which is the highway of world internet communication), whose in-country infrastructure is still in progress under Bangladesh Telegraph, and Telephone Board (BTTB), upon completion, this high-speed internet facility will be very supportive for proposed information system.
7. 4 Telecommunications in Bangladesh
As a means of communication, mobile phones have become the most popular in Bangladesh, as it is both cheap, and reliable in its own way. Currently, there are six licensed private cellular-phone network operators in Bangladesh namely Grameen Phone, Banglalink, Aktel, Teletalk, Warid, and Citycell. Most of these were established in collaboration with foreign telecom companies. Not only to the business users, and city dwellers, mobile phones also serve a large number of populations of both the rural, and remote areas due to the lack of availability of landbased networks in the country. One of these operators has leased dark fibers from the Bangladesh Railway to serve as the backbone for their domestic mobile phone communication network.
Reasonably cheap calls, and SMS tariffs of mobile phone operators have increased the number of active mobile phone subscribers to 46.69 million at the end of June 2009 (BTRC website, last visited at 10. 08. 09).
Recently, people are using internet over GSM network through mobile phone more, and more due to cheap tariff, and availability. R. Samarajiva (2006) claims that before February 2006, nearly 370,000 Bangladeshis had access to the Internet through their mobile phone whereas now the number is expected to reach more than million.
7. 5 Optical fiber network
In 1986, Bangladesh is the first country in Asia to use fiber optic network for Bangladesh railway. Later, to connect different parts of the country into their network, Grameenphone Bangladesh used 1800 Km optical fiber backbone. According to S. A. Bashar (2002), ten additional STM-16 fiber links has been established in 2001 by BTTB to connect north south of Bangladesh. This fiber optic network is currently supporting inter-district telecommunication network.
Designing an information system
8. 1 Introduction
Availability of information results in the agricultural success. Government, and several organizations are facilitating farmers to get necessary agricultural information. However, the users should be able to use this information easily, for which they need to be in a common place, and in a format easily accessible. Other stakeholders such as decision makers, researchers, manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers of agro-products etc are the other users of agricultural information, apart from the farmers. Several factors should be taken into account when designing an information system for such diverse population.
8. 2 Limitations of Information technology
In the field of agriculture, information technology can offer a great range of opportunities, which is not enough. Actually, IS/IT is a tool that helps to provide better distribution of knowledge. Like every other technology, IT in agriculture has also some limitations.
The following things should be considered in order to receive best results of IS/IT
8. 2. 1 User's behavior
Better decision making with the help of Information system or technology needs adequate information flow, and the ability of the users to use that information properly. Therefore, new information system implementation often requires structural change.
8. 2. 2 Training, and development
Not only users, stakeholders of any information system require some sort of training when changing a system from manual to automatic. They need to build up their capacity of using the system.
8. 2. 3 Information management
In developing courtiers where IT is less introduced, there is a perception 'If it comes from a computer, it's always right. ' This needs to be avoided because any information system is comprised with both good, and bad data. Owners of the system should have the ability to use quality data, and discard unnecessary ones. An information management is needed to identify, and understand the user's information need.
8. 2. 4 Human involvement
IS/IT not only provide faster dissemination of information, and knowledge, but also brings value in extension services. However, human involvement is necessary, and can't be replaced fully. For example, certain communication has to be done face to face as they can't be judged over internet or phone. On the other hand, in face to face training, ICT involvement acts as a supplement to traditional system, and it can be complemented by IT or vice versa.
8. 2. 5 Use of technology
Not technology driven, but information systems should be need driven. According to W Zijp (1994), often IT becomes a painful headache because it is used without knowing why, and how it should be used. Both the equipments, and technology should be chosen at optimum level. Before determining the system requirements choosing hardware, and devices is a common problem. Sometimes system cost significantly increases due to the unnecessary use of higher technology. An online interface usually makes the use of database expensive, and increase the maintenance level. On the other hand, users of the rural areas in developing countries do not have the necessary technical ability to use the database over internet.
8. 3 Some significant issues
8. 3. 1 Effective participation
Two aspects of lack of user participation in proposed information system can be found:
- First, and foremost are the users (esp. farmers). They are either ignorant about the system or at least unwilling to use it. Government should try to resolve this matter by taking initiatives such as advertising through different medias.
- Lack of feedback from field level farmers without which the information flow remains incomplete. Users should grow two-way communication with the system.
Better linkage between farmers, rural institutions, NGOs, agricultural research centers, marketing organizations, private firms, and government agencies can be established through an effectively designed information system. This helps the field level farmers to better decision-making, and make them feel the ownership of the system.
8. 3. 2 Direct access to information
Farmers can have direct access to information by sidestepping unnecessary middlemen or agents by using information technology, and by implementing an integrated information system. In Philippines, for example, by using fax, and telex to communicate directly with researchers of their choice, and with market representatives, a group of pineapple farmers specialized in the sector, and bypassing complicated government supports (Willem Zijp, 1994). Another example, to better negotiate with local banks 'campesino' federations in Mexico used computer to monitor national bank's agricultural credit facilities (F. W. Young, F. Bertoli, and S. Bertoli, 2004).
8. 3. 3 Test of traditional wisdom
Traditional farming techniques, and methods can be compared with a newly invented method so that farmers have better perception to adopt or reject new techniques. For example, in Indonesia, Farmers used computer to compare the traditional water rotation schedule for irrigation with the modern one recommended by experts, and finds traditional method more effective (Hanna, 1991).
8. 4 Agriculture information flow in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, ICT does not support the dissemination of agricultural information, and agricultural technology. Generating new agricultural technologies, and importing new knowledge from international level is the main responsibility of National Agricultural Research System (NARS). From the public sector, Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), Department of Fisheries (DOF), and Department of Livestock services (DLS), and among the private sectors, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), and different development partners are engaged in transferring the proven technologies, and knowledge (Source: Operational Manual For Agricultural Research Component, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, 2008).
For primary information, farmers usually rely on retailers of agricultural products. Marketing representatives appointed by the companies, who produce or import seeds, pesticides, chemical fertilizer etc, describe the details of their products to wholesalers or retailers. These representatives are given a short training on company products so that they can further provide information regarding the amount these chemicals, and seeds should be used to retailers. Retailers can then pass this information to farmers when needed.
To generate new agricultural technologies, different research institutes, and universities are operating in the country. However, to bring the research findings to common farmers is the responsibility of the Dept. of agriculture extension service who works under the ministry of agriculture. Not only that, extension service also collects feedback from field level, and passes it to policy makers who make the guide lines for research stations. Other development partners, and NGOs are working at the same time to aid farmers regarding different health, and farming issues.
8. 5 Implications of Information system
The following implications must be considered when designing an information system:
- Before farm planning, farmers need real time information for crop management.
- Lack of information makes the farmers less self confident for which they cannot take individual initiative. To maintain their professional needs, a collective network backed up by extension services may support each other.
- Necessary information should be both accessible, and inexpensive.
- When choosing ICT solution, easy, simplistic, and culturally situated technology should be used, and design should satisfy illiterate, semi-literate, and literate population.
- Farming community, and researchers should be able to share knowledge, and experience using the proposed design.
- Farmers should be able to do a comparative study on available agricultural inputs like seeds, chemicals, fertilizers etc using the system.
- Not only existing mobile, and telecommunication technology in rural areas, but information system should also leverage radio, and TV broadcasting.
- Farmers should be able to receive notifications of upcoming agricultural symposium, conference, exhibitions, training in nearby areas through the system.
- Audio, and audio-visual methods such as radio, TV, and mobile phones should be prioritized when disseminating information mainly because they are the most commonly used technological communication devices in rural areas. Moreover, farmers are more comfortable in using them as they are either semi literate or illiterate.
- Extension workers should be an expert user, and be able to upload, and download information as necessary.
- Mass Medias can be used for spatial information like weather forecast, natural calamity etc. through a linkage with weather station to aware farmers.
- A web-enabled interface should be available for internet users of the system. Internal email facilities can be provided if possible.
- Information should be in an easily understandable format so that it can be used without any complications.
- System should be having provisions for further expansion for which it needs to be as integrated as possible.
8. 6 Proposed information system
Three major areas in the proposed system are information inputs, information base, and information output. Figure 8. 4 depicts the details:
8. 6. 1 Information Inputs
Generation of information into the system is primarily done by the supply side stakeholders of the information system. Databases will be maintained to store, and disseminate necessary data. Not only that, information from all sources will be categorized according to their nature.
I. Farm management information
Before farm planning, farmers need information. Different databases will be used to include, and manage this information in the system. Different datasets are comprised in each database.
1. Crop Variety Database
Keeping in mind the drought, salinity, toxicity of the soil, and flooding conditions of different parts of the country, research institutes are developing different high yielding seeds (Bangladesh agriculture research council website). A new rice seed has been introduced, for example, which can grow in the low level fields where water comes earlier in the rainy season, and gets logged. This allows farmers some extra time to cut their crops.
Proposed information base will contain following information about different crop variety:
- Variety name
- Botanical name
- Commodity, and Commodity group
- Name of the institute which has developed the variety
- Year of release
- Origin of the variety
- Pedigree number
- Ecological requirement
- Agronomical requirement
- Special feature such as seed rate, spacing, 1000 grains weight, fertilizer, etc.
- Yield at research station
- National yield
2. Insect, and pest control database
Presently, farmers sometimes find that old insecticides, and pesticides have almost no effects on the insects, and pests as they have high adoption power. Even common insects of different crops, and vegetables seem to have more resistance power against insecticides. As a result, farmers are using insecticides at an increased level, which has a devastating effect of rural health, and environment. Feromon trap, for example, is an organic method for controlling insects in vegetables (this trap use female insects flavor to attract male, and traps them into the soap water inside) and has been introduced in southern part of the country, which has been a great success in growing healthy vegetables (the daily Ittefaq, Internet Edition June 20, 2009). For better pest management, proposed information system will contain a database containing following datasets:
- Crop name
- Possible insects, and their description
- Symptoms of infection
- Name of the insecticides
- Measures to use
- Time of use
- Alternative methods if available
3. Irrigation database
For improving the irrigation management, appropriate information on need, and availability is a pre-requisite (N. Jiracheewee, G. Oron, V. V. N. Murty, and V. Wuwongse, 1999). Both the manual recording, and retrieval of irrigation-related information should be replaced by the proposed information system. This will lead to an optimal solution cropping pattern, and water allocation. Not only this database can be used as a pre-season planning guideline for irrigation, and water allocation authority, but also at the same time, it should allow farmers to choose the right irrigation methods, and techniques for right crops. The irrigation database should contain following datasets:
- Corp type
- Current soil moisturizer
- How much water is required, and when
- Crop daily water use
- Local irrigation schedules
- How much water was applied, and when
- How much excess water was used
4. Technology database
Different technologies, which are suitable for different areas of the country, are developed, and tested by agricultural research institutes. Proposed information system should include technology specific requirements in terms of soil, and other environmental inputs such as:
- Title of the Technology
- Test location
- Land type
- Texture of the soil (for crops)
- Production package
Farmers are unwilling to use new technology, instead they prefer to rely on traditional methods of farming as they are used to it. Therefore, any new technology introduced should be well advertised through the information system so that farmers can get familiar with them.
5. Human Resource Development Database
If there is an upcoming agricultural event in nearby areas, proposed database can inform farmers about them. Often, farmer's decisions are based on their perceptions. Therefore, before introducing a new technology or method to the farmers, its characteristics must be explained through the system. Not only that, medias like TV, radio can also be used for further development rural manpower so that farmers can be benefited from anywhere in the country. Training materials can also be included in the database for extension workers.
This database contains information on:
- Title/Subject of event
- Type training provided
- Field of study
- Start date, and End date
- Benefits of attending
- Summary of the event
6. Agriculture product, and machinery database
Companies have interest in advertising the agricultural products such as seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, machineries etc. to its users as they produce as well as import them. A representative is usually appointed by the company to disseminate their product characteristics to retailers. Retailers then copy this information, and pass it to rural farmers. This information should be published in the system in such a manner so as not to mislead the farmers, and proposed information system should have the provision to do so. System should allow farmers to make comparison on similar available products, and machineries. This database can contain:
- Product category
- Price, and other costs
- Characteristics of the product
- Warranty, and support if applicable
- Name, and address of local dealer
- Credit facilities
7. Credit database
Major investment, and financial supports both are needed for agriculture similar to business. NGO's, development agencies, government etc. are different agricultural credit facilities available in the country. Farmers often borrow from local 'Mohajon' (local investors who lend money at high interest rate), and pay back a major portion of their income as interest mainly due to lack of information. Farmers get credits from different sources, and credit database should allow farmers to compare all the sources of credits so that they can get a better deal with local banks, and other authorities. María José Ramírez, and Eli Weiss (2007) thought that credit database can also provide a credit scoring system for farmers. Proposed database should contain:
- National bank credit policy for agriculture
- Credit facilities from govt. organizations
- Credit facilities from non-govt. organizations
- Comparability chart
- Interest rate
- Procedures to apply
- Corporative loans
- Credit pay off schemes
II. Weather Information
Nature (Excessive or less rainfalls, humidity, drought, high or low temperature etc.) takes a large part, and highly affects agricultural production. Climate data will be extrapolated for the proposed information system starting from weather stations to district level by collecting, and analyzing data from meteorological stations within a certain radius for specific district. Through graphic presentation, the information system can introduce a spatial database. Meteorological database includes the following datasets:
- Temperature (maximum, and minimum)
- Humidity, and drought
- Wind speed
- Sunshine/solar radiation
- Cloud cover
Mass medias (TV, radio, newspaper etc.) can deliver the information on flood, and other natural disasters through automatic SMS alert, if possible.
III. Research information
Besides, agricultural universities, NGOs, and other private sector organizations, National agricultural research system which comprises of ten different research institutes are consistently working to develop countries agro-economy. Duplication of research work is often found in the domain because research institutes work under different ministry of government, and other organization works isolated. As a result, time, money, and resources are wasted. However, in terms of research collaboration proposed information system can create a relationship among the research stations. Research database should consist of the following database, and their corresponding datasets:
1. General research database
- Research area
- Contributory institutions
- Research findings (latest update if not finished)
- Sources of resource materials
- Agricultural journals
- Library resources
- Details, and contacts of research personnels
2. Demographic Database
- Age distribution
- Literacy rate
- Women's participation in agricultural activities
3. Household Types Database
- Household classification based on farm size, farm household, landless, and agricultural labor households
- Occupational distribution of households
4. Land Database
- Farm size grouped by area holding
- Land use intensity
- Land tenure pattern by crop
5. Infrastructure Database
- Number of village/mouza (local unit of land area)
- Availability of electricity
- Availability of the number of road transports (public, and private)
- Educational institutions
- Number of small industries, and factories
- Number of post-harvest processing units
- Cold storage facilities
6. Farm related Database
- Number of livestock
- Grouping of livestock farms by number of animals
- Irrigation equipment, and cost
- Tillage equipment
- Charges for irrigation
- Farm powers hire charge, and expenses
7. Agricultural Production Database
- Area, and yield of crops
- Cereal food situation in a normal year
- Number of non-crop agricultural enterprise
- Fisheries production
- Prices of non-agricultural enterprises
8. Agricultural Input Database
- Prices of fertilizers, and pesticides
- Prices of seeds
- Number of Wholesalers/dealers of seeds, fertilizers, feeds etc.
IV. Marketing information
Farmers, retailers, and wholesalers need support, and motivation, and the Government of Bangladesh has taken such initiatives to develop a modern agro-market information system, which will help them. Farmers need information to negotiate with the middlemen or wholesalers when selling their products. Department of agriculture marketing under the ministry of agriculture designed a web portal which collect, publish, and update daily market information of different crops on per market basis to help the farmers. According to M. Sirajul Islam, and Åke Grönlund (2007), although this system solved many problems, some problems are still there. To access agriculture related market information in real time proposed information system should entitle stakeholders. Marketing database should contain the following datasets:
- Name of markets
- Name of crops
- Unit price for different crop, and quality
- Distance from local area
- Transportation facilities, and cost
- Comparison table
- Product supply on per crop per market basis
- Product demand on per crop per market basis
8. 6. 2 Central integrated Database
The above-mentioned databases systems are included in the central integrated database of the proposed information system. A tabular presentation is shown below:
Information sources will be local for the success of the project. For example: data will be collected by the authorized personnel at district level, and uploaded to a data repository at the head office. Information officers in head office will check for appropriate data format, and then with the help of data entry operators, will make the necessary entry to the appropriate database. Central integrated database is all the interconnected databases in the central office. For load balancing copy servers can be maintained in divisional levels, which will be synchronized as necessary with the central database server. Apparently collecting, storing, and distributing necessary agricultural information will be a three-layer system. Voice servers, SMS servers, and web servers will be provided in each divisional office, and the head office as an interface to the information system users to query the database. Following figure illustrates the structure:
8. 6. 3 Information output
Three different interfaces namely interactive voice recognition, Short message service, and Web interface are included in the proposed information system for its supply side stakeholders while disseminating information.
Voice based interfaces
In developing countries like Bangladesh, accessing information services with voice-based interfaces has a great potential. Majority of the rural population in Bangladesh is either illiterate or semi-illiterate, and they can take advantage of using voice-enabled interfaces of the proposed information system. Tucker, R. C. F.,andGakuru, M, (2008) found out that in Kenya, Spoken Language Technology (SLT) has been introduced so that illiterate farmers can access agricultural information system. In Gujrat, a state of India, similar effort was made to serve over 500,000 farmers (Neil Patel & Sheetal Agarwal, 2008). However, developing countries are still lagging behind in terms of getting benefit from this technology compared to developed world.
Primarily, a voice service (automated IVR) will be provided by the proposed information system for agriculture extension services over telephony in 'Bangla'. Moreover, all the telephony service providers will be connected to the system so that users enjoy cheap and competitive call rates. The following benefits will be provided by the proposed system to its users:
- Critical regional based information as in real time
- Information on extension services in terms of service, and extension workers availability.
- Creates a ready communication between extension service, and farmers
- Enables farmers to get real time price, and demand information of their product.
- Allow government to get feedback from farmers by analyzing the frequency of services used.
Different phone number will be used for different information. A user will be given a list of choice within the information domain when he calls into the system, and by pressing the right key on the telephone or mobile keypad he will reach at the right information source. The user will then listen to necessary information through an automated voice service. In the near future, to meet all the requirements more complex design can be implemented.
Another interface of the information system is the SMS service providers. A SMS server will be connected to the proposed information system so that farmers are able to send queries over mobile, and receive necessary information in real time. As a result, the system will contribute to more efficient marketing, improved distribution of weather information, and advertisement of upcoming agricultural events, and so on.
To communicate with the connected SMS server, users of the system will need to follow a specific set of instructions, and guidelines which will include the use of key word, and key-numbers for specific crop, and market. If a farmer, for example, wants to know the price of rice in a specific market, he needs to type a text stating rice, and the associate key-number of desired market in the message option of his mobile, and send to the SMS server connected to the information system. The system will automatically recognize the query, and will try to text back as quickly as possible. Some sort of skill is required for this interface of the system to find the necessary information. Following figure describes the system:
Web enabled interface
The most common interface to connect an information system is the web because other than a web browser, it doesn't requires installing any application. A web server will be connected to the proposed agriculture information system, which will enable users to query over internet. Several web portals can also be introduced into the system. To send necessary information without being asked, portals can allow users to register with an email address in the future. Users, at the same time can send feedback through emails regarding their needs, and the available facilities in the information system.
8. 7 Limitations of the system
The proposed system is found to have the following limitations, which were found after a careful review from the expert of the corresponding domain, and the users (over telephone):
- The system did not introduce an effective feedback system.
- Managing, and maintaining the system can be expensive.
- To use all characteristics of the system, and to learn the know-how, some sort of formal training may be required for rural people.
- Rural people may be reluctant to use the system because they don't have much technical abilities.
- The system does not emphasize sharing of local knowledge, and experience.
- Chosen data set may not be enough to provide all the necessary information to farmers.
- When the system was designed, implementation cost has not been considered.
- The proposed system didn't do proper requirement analysis.
In conclusion, all it can be said that, Bangladesh as an agriculture based developing country is lacking from adequate ICT resources, and infrastructure. This may hinder Implementation of the proposed agriculture information system. Some potential communication gap may still exist in the system even though careful consideration has been given to it. Government must facilitate necessary training, and development opportunities for rural farmers in order to take optimum advantage of the system. Since, no single organization or government itself can make this change alone, all the stakeholders have to play their role in full. Finally, to make the system work successfully, a combined effort from all the stakeholders of this domain is essential.
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