Assessing the Requirements for Electronically Linking Farmers with Markets

posted Aug 4, 2011, 8:52 AM by Andrea Bohn   [ updated Aug 4, 2011, 9:14 AM ]

in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Bangladesh as Determined by Key Stakeholders

Principal Investigators: Don Tobias and Khin Mar Cho (Cornell University)

Key Collaborators:
William Trochim (Cornell University), Dar Knipe and Richard Knipe (University of Illinois)

Project Context:
Since the early 2000’s the interest in the use of phone apps to link producers to urban markets has increased. Within the United States interest has been growing to use a variety of computer based software programs to link rural producers and urban markets; among these is the “MarketMaker’ program created by the University of Illinois. These programs, using web-based technology, are convenient and easily accessible to American producers and markets. However, this format is less desirable in developing countries where Internet service is often patchy. Due to the widespread and rapidly expanding use of mobile phones, phone apps appear to be a more appropriate technology for developing countries. The easy accessibility of cell phones and their relatively inexpensive costs have made them the most popular communication device in the world. One would expect that phone apps would be available to producers in many of the developing countries, but that is not yet the case. A number of private and public sector efforts to introduce phone-based market apps have, thus far, met with limited success.

Problem Statement:
We believe that a “bottom up” approach is best to determine the Agricultural market information technology small producers need. Further, we believe that a study of three countries with emerging needs for improved communication among producers and markets will be more likely to lead to generalized results. Consequently, we propose to conduct a “Concept Mapping” exercise in Bangladesh, Rwanda and Ethiopia including representative stakeholder groups i.e. producers, government officials, packers, and buyers to determine the technologies they are using and the technologies and features they desire.


We have worked with professor William Trochim and his Concept Mapping process for over twenty years. This software allows disparate groups to share ideas and have those organized and prioritized in a manner that allows for analysis by interest group or to be aggregates across the population. This program is in use by the National Institutes of Health for a variety of large scale projects and has been used for international work related to “Tobacco Policy”. Professor Trochim is past President of the American Evaluation Association, and the methodology is widely used and accepted in academic and government circles. The program uses accepted statistical analysis for interpretation of results (multi-dimensional scaling) but is easily accessible to participants.

Projects working with low literacy/homeless have resulted in mapping projects that are as valuable as those conducted with researchers. The mapping activity requires participants to respond to a “prompt’ that will produce a list of brainstormed ideas i.e. “one thing that would improve my ability to access markets is….”. These “brainstormed ideas” are then reduced to a common set of ideas or concepts typically less than one hundred items and they are sorted by participants into common groups and further, each item is rated on both importance and feasibility. This information becomes the basis for a Concept Map that is a visual representation of individual needs, sub group needs and the summative needs of participants, as well as, demonstrating both priorities and relationships among ideas and groups of ideas. This process requires two interactions with the group lasting less than an hour. The resulting map allows us to aggregate input but not lose the input of sub groups. We refer to this phenomena as “seeing both the trees and the forest”, as we do not lose any minority input. This ability to produce a map that is representative of all input leads to greater commitment to using the results.

Staff and Process:
Dr. Khin Mar Cho will provide leadership for the project and use her familiarity with both international agriculture and marketing to guide the activities. She has extensive academic and professional experience with a broad sample of countries and products. Working with MEAS team at University of Illinois she will identify in-country collaborators who will assist in gathering data. Dr. Cho will be assisted by Dr. Don Tobias, who has fifteen years experience with Concept Systems and assisted her on other market information projects. Jointly, they presented their marketing research in Germany and Switzerland this past year. Dr. Cho has been a marketing consultant for agricultural products with seven different countries in Africa and Asia. Dr. William Trochim, the author of Concept Systems will oversee design and data interpretation. Drs. Richard and Dar Knipe, University of Illinois will assist in the analysis of the data and its relevance to existing technology driven systems. This will be done in part examining in-country comparisons and comparisons with United States models. Stefan Einarson and Andrea Bohn, who have experience in connecting with individuals in those countries, will be able to help identify in-country people.

This project will begin in spring of 2011 with the development of the Concept Map prompt and the identification of in-country liaisons and stakeholder population. We will train the Liaisons during in country visits on the practices and procedures necessary for recruitment and data collection. Liaisons from each country will organize meetings for the purpose of conducting Concept Mapping exercises. We will conduct a brainstorming and the results will be shared with key stakeholders. Concept Map “Brainstorm” sessions as well as “Rating and Sorting” activity will be held in July. Each country will receive “Draft Map” inviting comment and reaction from a representative group of stakeholders. The project team will then meet to conduct a final analysis of the map and interpretation of the results visa vie the problem statement. The draft report and recommendations will be available to MEAS partners by September 1, 2011. A final report will be available for MEAS by mid November.

Project Findings and Outcomes:

The outcomes of this project will be discovery of concepts and needs leading to the successful development of technologies that support rural producers connections to urban markets. The use of Mobile SMS technology to link rural producers and urban markets is a relatively new process. In this case the different modality is necessary given communication limitations within each country. This project will identify core concepts and needs of each identified country and produced a template for information capability relative to accessing Urban Markets. MEAS project staff from Cornell University will meet with MarketMaker staff and programmers to debrief results of the study and to make recommendations of how the Market Maker software can be adapted to new uses. The MEAS Cornell University Team report will be the basis for University of Illinois to secure future funding to develop the appropriate programs. This baseline will inform the programmers who ultimately will design the “App” vehicle and do so and in a manner that is cost effective and highly replicable across culture and geography.

Those findings will guide the development of a MarketMaker prototype that balances the core technology and data system that is the current MarketMaker platform with the appropriate level flexible design features to allow customization of the resource. Future pilot projects will test the platforms ability to become a locally relevant resource that maintains a level of standardization that will insure its capacity to connect and interact across multiple trade areas.
Andrea Bohn,
Jan 6, 2012, 7:35 AM