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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)


Evaluation study of the use of digital technologies for agriculture and food security in Mali

PI: Amadou Sidibé, sidibe.amadouy@gmail.com,  Institute Politechnique Rural Katibougou
U.S. Partner: Laura Schmitt Olabisi, Michigan State University
Project Dates: December 2017-October 2019


Project Overview:

Research on technology in a developing world context, particularly in Africa, is sparse, with studies on technology adoption and diffusion focusing mainly on descriptive statistics. However, such statistics do not offer much insight into the process of technology adoption or productivity growth. This project will contribute to theoretical and methodological perspectives on the processes of innovation and technology development in the context of Mali. On one side, the research will contribute to understanding not only what digital technologies fit into which socioeconomic context but also what enabling conditions are required to allow their inclusive use across scales. On the other side, the NSF-funded project headed by the U.S. partner is aimed at studying the drivers of food insecurity in West Africa using a participatory modeling approach. Stakeholders at national and local levels are involved in the modeling process and in identifying drivers of food security and coping mechanisms for food insecurity. Digital technologies are being proposed in Mali as partial solutions to food insecurity. For example, mobile phones are proposed to guide farmer decision-making through expert advice on the issues of concern farmers may have, including the right period for sowing crops and market information like the price and demand for different crops. Digital technologies are also used through the combination of mobile phones and remote sensing to provide extension services, to improve agriculture statistics compilation, and to help define and document land rights, thereby reducing conflict and improving tenure security. The NSF-supported project will incorporate data collected under this PEER project to determine how effective these technologies are under different conditions. This PEER project will also yield important insights into how farmers alter their decisions after receiving enhanced information. This will help to refine how the agent-based models under the U.S. partner’s project work.


Summary of Recent Activities

Dr. Sidibe's project has come to an end. The PI reports that they emphasis is in the conclusion of one of their papers that the development of new technology is not a panacea but the beginning of a long process of matching the intention of designers and the need and desire of users. The uptake and use of technology are therefore a collective performance build around an iterative process revolving around a feedback mechanism between trials, errors, and redesign. The technology diffusion and intake could make a leapfrog if a feedback mechanism between the design and the use is clearly established since the onset and integrated to the diffusion and the adoption process. It is essential to consider that the technology is designed with embodied intentions that need to engage in open discussions and accommodate the needs, aspirations, and desires of the users driven by specific socioeconomic conditions different from the designers ’ones and in which the technology is introduced. That suggests that the adaptation of technology to users’ conditions and aspirations is essential for technology intake.

6-157 Sidibe
PEER project students. Photo courtesy of Dr. Sidibe

This study also invites to make a distinction between the adoption of, on one side, digital technologies whereby the users remain engaged in a collective performance with the service provider and other technologies such as seeds and fertilizers which once acquired is used upon the individual decisions and performance of farmers. That conclusion leads to the following highlights:
  • Rather than a panacea, the development of new technology is the beginning of a long process of matching the intention of designers and the need and desires of users.
  • The uptake and use of technology are the outcomes of an iterative process between trials, errors, and redesign.
  • The technology diffusion and intake could make a leapfrog in developing countries if a feedback mechanism between design and use is integrated at the onset of the diffusion and adoption process.
  • Digital technologies whereby the user remains engaged in a collective performance with the service provider differ from other technologies such as seeds and fertilizers which adoption and use are mainly based on individual decisions and performance of farmers.
The positive outcome of their research is that it allowed the different stakeholders to get together and to discuss the issues of concern around the use of digital technologies. This raised the awareness of the telephone company for instance on the need to enlarge the network coverage and to take additional measures for widespread use of the services they provide including adapting the services to socioeconomic conditions of users in terms the way to charge the service provision, the nature and the quality of the service.
Their feedback events pointed to the need for the telephone company to consider the way they communicate with farmers the users of technologies.




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