What is Farmbook?

Farmbook is a suite of field-based ICT applications that were built and tested at the request of a consortium of NGOs working in the Southern African Agro-Enterprise Learning Alliance[1] and funded in part with support from MEAS [2].

 

The namesake application, the Farmbook Business Planner, is designed to enable field agents to help farmers plan their farm businesses more effectively and quickly evaluate their productivity and profitability.  

 

Farmbook also includes a set of nine distance learning modules on the Five Skill sets (Group Organization, Natural Resource Management, Financial Education, Marketing and Innovation - more at www.meas-extension.org/meas-offers/training/five-skills) as well as a “Map and Track” function. The latter is a tool to help manage field agents and to track field agent service delivery.  

 

Farmbook, the distance learning courses and Map and Track all run off-line and can be synced to a central database whenever field staff have access to the internet.

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Farmbook ICT platforms

Business Planner

Many smallholder farmers operate outside of value chains, lacking the skills to analyze market opportunities and costs to engage competitively with the formal market. Designed for use by field agents, Farmbook is a business planning tool enabling farmers to develop customized business plans with details about their costs, revenues, sales and profits. The software calculates profits and generates reports that can be printed and shared directly with farmers, and collects comprehensive agricultural data on inputs, cropping calendars, labor, costs, financing plan and sales that can be integrated into the monitoring and evaluation process for an extension program.

Map and Track

Recording the real time activities of field agents is critical to improving the management of extension services and to providing incentives to improve service delivery.

ILLINOIS and CRS collaborated on programming “Map & Track”, an application offers a low cost easy to use reporting ‘app’ that allows field agents to record their activities in the field in real time. ILLINOIS computer science engineering students Feili Liu, Dennis Lin, and Austine Roy Lakayil worked closely with Or Dashevsky and Shaun Ferris to develop mobile applications for the IOS, Android. The application also enables team supervisors and managers to better link service delivery and training with beneficiary group performance and results. The application is linked to Arc GIS to map service delivery and links data to business intelligent reporting, allowing it to be analyzed alongside other project data from Farmbook and the on-line learning platform. It is envisaged that the farm log option will be directly linked to support payments to field agents, reimbursing travel and per diem costs and providing incentives for service delivery based on performance tracking.

The Map and Track tool is now complete and ready for field testing.

Distance Learning

Farmbook is designed to be used within an integrated 5 Skillset project, including training on group management, financial education, marketing, natural resource management and innovation.  Historically field agents, extension workers and development managers focus on one particular area of expertise. The 5 Skillset training gives them a broader set of skills they need to support a robust enterprise approach, yet ensuring all field agents receive quality training and understand the material can be difficult to monitor and expensive. In order to ensure consistent transfer of knowledge to our field agents and to monitor their learning, 9 training courses on the 5 Skills Set approach are now available in e-learning format.   For multi-year, multi-country projects this provides a way to train, monitor and support large cohorts of field agents and extension officers and to quickly train new officers in locations where staff turnover is high.   E-learning courses are currently being translated into French and Spanish.  MEAS has provided support to the development of the 5 Skillset manuals, the written manuals accompanying the e-learning.


[1] Members of the South African Agro-enterprise Learning Alliance, include: CRS, ACDI/ VOCA, World Vision, CARE, Land o’ Lakes, Emmanuel International, World Fish, WFP’s P4P among others.

[2] MEAS is partnering with CRS on various aspects of developing Farmbook, namely through contributions to the training module content development, field testing, and the Track and Map function.

MEAS Supported Farmbook Initiatives

MEAS and CRS are collaborating on several pilot projects and research on the impact of Farmbook in Bangladesh and Kenya, and MEAS has helped to promote the integration of Farmbook into a USDA supported youth 4H program in Serbia.

Testing Farmbook impact in the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture Extension Services

The Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, CRS and the MEAS project are collaborating to assess the impact of integrating the Farmbook ICT Supported 5 Skillset project into government extension services.   The project includes three training of trainer (ToT) workshops to build the capacity of Ministry Senior staff and 30 extension officers to adopt ICT solutions to implement the 5 Skillset approach with their farmer groups.  The ministry is also rolling out a larger scale ICT initiative and assessing the feasibility of integrating Farmbook ICT into national extension services. 

Led by MEAS post-doc Dr. Joyous Tata and Dr. Paul McNamara, MEAS is also carrying out research on the impacts of the Farmbook Five Skills Set training on farmer livelihoods. This assessment will be carried out in three phases. The first phase will assess the impact of the five skills set training on extension agents, the second phase will assess impact at the farm level and third phase will assess impact at the program level.

Adapting Farmbook to the BIID Bangladesh Environment

Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development (BIID) is an inclusive business initiative engaged in developing ICT enabled products and services to support private and public (Government and NGO) initiatives targeted for the BoP (Base of the Pyramid) segment is also collaborating with CRS and MEAS.  The BIID project is working to adapt Farmbook the Farmbook tools to the public and private sector extension environment in Bangladesh to provide business services in the form of (i) registration (ii) profitability analyses, (iii) business plans (iv) loan cost calculations, and (v) loan proposals for bank credit.

Once tested these services may be “productized” to offer to farmers on a fee for service approach. However, to do this field research is required to learn more about the business process in which Farmbook could be applied in the Bangladesh environment, and also the affordability and willingness to pay for the identified services.

BIID is working to introduce the Farmbook service into 25-30 locations within the Upazilla Sub District with a team of 25-30 Business Promoters / Entrepreneurs who will be assigned for the Farmbook business service delivery. Through the network of trainers and field staff, the pilot will reach approximately 2500-3000 farmers. During the pilot period, CRS will work with BIID to provide ToT training, build awareness about working on market linkage with the team and also work with the teams to develop core skills in using the business canvas to help farmers and local entrepreneurs to build the new business plans. The BIID team will be responsible for localization and customization of local language training materials and background database of the software.

 

Farmbook Piloting with Serbia Youth 4H

The purpose and functionality of Farmbook were presented at the MEAS GLEE conference. Subsequently, Clemen G.Gehlhar of USDA/FAS contacted CRS to explore the viability of using Farmbook in Serbia (presentation by Shaun Ferris on Sept. 6, 2012). In December 2012, a small pilot group of youth entrepreneurs and their organizations in Serbia were trained in the use of Farmbook.   The rural youth entrepreneurs have been successfully using Farmbook to work with local farmers to develop business plans.  USDA has renewed the contract for 2014, expanding the reach of the Farmbook tool to 30 users.


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