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UPTAKE: Stephanie on scale-up & climate change

Stephanie Gakuo project manages the UPTAKE project developing ICT solutions support maize, potato and cassava farmers in Tanzania, she explains how the project is developing…

We recently announced that UPTAKE will be sending over 1 million SMS’s to 41,000 maize farmers in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. But this is only part of the story of how we are reaching scale and making a difference in UPTAKE across the 3 target crops.

UPTAKE is an Africa Soil Health Consortium project – this means that there are additional resources available to make things happen. The maize campaign shows how this flexibility pays off.  It also shows how the convening power of CABI pushed the project to reach greater scale. Our maize work led us to work with seed companies and input suppliers who had a public private partnership with Uyole Agricultural Research Station. We quickly found that collaboration and trust paid off.  Pooling our resources from all our databases meant, collectively, we had 41,000 farmers contact details. Working with Esoko, our telecoms provider, we set about sharing around 25 message with each farmer. This level of trust and collaboration makes it possible to do things that would not have otherwise seemed possible.

Dissemination of the maize messages will be completed in April however the seed sales and fertilizer sales come at the start of the campaign. Our anecdotal evidence, so far, is that input sales and enquiry levels are up for inputs including seed and pest control products. Our job now is to try to quantify this increase and to understand why some farmers took the advice and others did not. Likely reasons will include access to credit and access to the input suppliers. Information campaigns can open doors – but other barriers can get in the way. We nevertheless intend to explore possibilities around continuity of this service. We will be gathering stories and building up evidence and sharing it on the ASHC website.

UPTAKE has two other crops, potato and cassava.

Irish potato is a new crop for UPTAKE which will commence in July this year. We have started recruiting, and we are well over half way to our target of 10,000 farmers.

Cassava is a crop the UPTAKE team has already targeted in the East of Tanzania. In addition to the work on SMS and radio – we are also looking at effective partnerships for the timely distribution to farmers of printed materials we have developed.  We are really interested in how different media work together and so this is an important part of the story.

We also know that however good our information materials, farmers always value the opportunity to ask questions. So, we are also exploring how a referral service that brings together critical partners in seed supply and extension might work in a more structured and engaged way with the farmer. We developed a concept note around this which we can use to support farmers to produce clean planting materials.

Finding clean cassava planting materials has been acknowledged as a problem in Tanzania. However, the late arrival of the rains last season coupled with climate scientists predictions of a second year of low rain, will give real challenges to farmers trying to grow or plant cassava planting materials. Being part of the ASHC family means we can create materials that help farmers to improve the water retention qualities of their soil this can include adding organic matter will help retain moisture.

The UPTAKE team continues to explore innovative ICT solutions to the information challenge.  We are gathering lessons that can applied to UPTAKE and shared with others. This might include aspects of project design, messages that worked (or didn’t) for whatever reason and how combinations of media work effectively together for different groups of farmers.

 We are also constantly looking at how we can move the project forward into sustainable partnerships and approaches and how the service can be more responsive to the needs of individual farmers.

 We will have lots to share over the coming months on the ASHC website and via Twitter on ASHC_SoilHealth