Educating for success

Farmers in remote parts of the Commonwealth have been learning about modern farming techniques through lectures delivered to their mobile phones, thanks to an award-winning scheme that partners communities with local universities 

The future looked bleak for Kenyan farmer Immaculate Awino Ouma after her family was displaced by civil unrest in Kenya’s Central Province in 2008. But a Commonwealth scheme came to her aid, providing her with training in financial management and poultry keeping, which meant Ouma was able to secure a loan from a banking co-operative and use the money to buy 200 birds. The birds were matured for eight weeks before being sold for 350 Kenyan shillings (KES) each, a profit of KES250. 

Ouma’s training was made possible thanks to inter-governmental organisation the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL), which has taken steps to improve the livelihoods of farmers in developing nations with its Lifelong Learning for Farmers (L3F) initiative. The CoL, in partnership with learning institutions, ICT service providers and banks, has attempted to help farmers make effective use of technology in order to promote lifelong learning for development. The programme is designed to reach a large number of small farmers and marginalised sections of rural communities in developing nations in South Asia, Africa, and the smaller Caribbean and Pacific islands. 

Ouma is delighted with the training she has received, which means she is now able to sustain herself economically. “I have never been to a classroom; but I’m glad to have had L3F training,” she says. 

The success of the CoL’s L3F programme was celebrated at a gala event held in London at the end of June, when the initiative won the Making a Difference award at the 2013 Nexus Commonwealth Awards. These awards are given to projects that have made a positive impact in the previous year, and have the potential to be replicated across the Commonwealth. The initiative was specifically praised for its work promoting learning through mobile phones. 

The CoL, which focuses on the standard of education in developing countries, initially introduced the L3F scheme as a pilot project in 2004 in four rural communities in southern India. The pilot project was deemed so successful that L3F was introduced in Sri Lanka in 2007, followed by Jamaica, Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius and Papua New Guinea. 

The initiative works on the premise that farmers need to learn and develop their skills constantly to adapt effectively to regularly changing physical and economic environments. Unfortunately, small developing villages and communities that are most in need of support often fail to benefit from the wealth of agricultural research and development information that is available. Partnerships between the CoL and learning institutions worldwide have helped make L3F a reality. The University of British Colombia’s Networks and Internet Computing (NIC) Lab in Vancouver has helped to develop innovative new software, known as Learning through Interactive Voice Educational Systems, which delivers audio lessons using mobile phone networks. The CoL has used this software to take advantage of the rise of mobile phone use in developing countries. 

The CoL began working with nongovernmental organisation Vidiyal (meaning ‘dawn’) in south-east India in 2008. In an L3F initiative, Vidiyal teamed up with local institutions to provide selfdirected mobile-centred lessons on goat and sheep husbandry practices. The initiative was used by 300 women in the region, who received regular audio messages developed by Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University via their mobile phones. Significant improvements have been seen following the implementation of L3F in the region, with L3F farmers now averaging an income 80 per cent higher than non-L3F farmers. Farmers report finding the mobile-based learning both accessible and useful. “Whether I am in the kitchen or managing the grazing goats in the pastureland, I am able to listen to the messages, which are very helpful,” says participant Peria Jakkamal. 

Elsewhere the CoL has partnered up with charitable organisations to help deliver mobile phones and radio programmes to those communities most in need of assistance. 

The Batwa is an indigenous honeygathering community based close to Africa’s great lakes. The CoL, in collaboration with the Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo, brought L3F to 500 Batwa and Bakiga communities living in south-western Uganda. Information is distributed via radio programmes and through mobile phones supplied to Batwa leaders. Learning materials are distributed via audio messages in local dialects, enabling Batwa leaders to share the information with the rest of their community. The L3F initiative has enabled the Batwa to learn to make and use modern beehives that are more suitable to changing climates than the ones they traditionally used, and they can now produce honey all year round. 

Lifelong learning is not just about developing methods and practices, but teaching correct management as well as assisting communities in acquiring funds. Arasakumari, a female dairy farmer from the Tamil Nadu region of India, joined the L3F programme in 2005. The local L3F initiative taught 30 women about livelihood opportunities, including backyard dairy management. The programme also formed partnerships with local banks in order to provide credit. Arasakumari secured a bank loan and bought two cows, using her new skills to manage the animals and yield 15 20 litres of milk a day per cow – up to ten litres more than the village average. 

When foot-and-mouth disease devastated Arasakumari’s farm in 2006, the community was able to work together to pick up the pieces, thanks to knowledge acquired through the L3F initiative. Arasakumari was able to have her bank loan waived under a Government of India scheme, and the local community, with a self-help group forged under the L3F initiative, collaborated to give Arasakumari a new loan. Arasakumari bought new cows and consulted with a veterinary expert to develop a balanced feed and disease management plan. Today both of Arasakumari’s cows are healthy and yielding up to 20 litres of milk a day.


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