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Philosophy and principles

The CKW approach puts in motion the ‘last mile’ principle, which takes RAS to farmers and households that are difficult to reach. CKWs bridge the usual RAS delivery gap because they are integral members of the communities they serve. Scholars have bemoaned that traditional systems often prioritise and thus benefit mainly farmers with larger farm sizes. This may be because many smallholder farmers usually have holdings scattered across difficult terrains, which traditional agents find difficult to visit.

CKWs operate in different parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda), Latin America (Colombia and Guatemala), Asia (China, India, and Indonesia), the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Although they are called different names in different countries (e.g. they are known as líderes productores or production leaders in Colombia), (5)

Grameen Foundation. 2013. A digital revolution in agricultural extension – the CKW initiative.
the core principle of reaching the last mile remains the same.

CKWs work in partnership with other organisations, known as service partners. Operational arrangements with these service partners vary depending on the setting. For instance, in Guatemala, an organisation called Crecer coordinates CKWs, who then train farmers’ groups on how to meet value chain requirements. In Kenya, where CKWs are called Village Knowledge Workers, they work in partnership with Farm Concern International, a market development and smallholder commercialisation organisation. Among other services, these village knowledge workers help farmers store their crops and provide them with access to market price information and to financial institutions that offer advanced payments for their harvests.

Implementation: The Ugandan experience

The CKW approach, which has been replicated in other countries, started in Uganda where CKWs worked with different service partners, including the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project, MTN-Group, National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), Uganda Department of Meteorology (UDoM), and Makerere University. In this set-up, the NARO and Makerere University serve as major providers of crop and livestock information, while UDoM provides seasonal weather information.

CKW smartphones contain three major apps – CKW Search, CKW Pulse, and CKW Survey (now called TaroWorks). CKW Search is used most frequently to look for agricultural, weather, and market price information in the phone’s databases. (6)

(6) Campenhout, B.V. 2013. Is there an app for that? The impact of community knowledge workers in Uganda. International Food Policy Research Institute, Discussion Paper No. 1316. Washington, DC: IFPRI.
 CKW Pulse is used to communicate directly with support specialists at the CKW headquarters, to access monthly targets, and monitor individual progress. Data collection or surveys are done using TaroWorks.

TaroWorks and the CKW Search app both function online and offline. Thus, in remote locations without cellphone coverage, CKWs can perform searches or track farmers’ activities offline. Information generated offline is cached and later transmitted to Salesforce when the CKW comes within cellphone coverage.

CKWs are complemented by government field extension officers at the district level and call centres at the headquarters. Farmers can request additional information from call centres by speaking directly to experts. Thus, the CKW approach supports two-way information flows between farmers and experts. This feedback loop helps determine the types of information to be included or updated in the apps.

Implementation usually involves the following steps: 

  1. Identification of districts and potential service partners. In most cases, CKW roll out to new communities depends on the availability of service partners who often use CKWs to conduct surveys and other data collection activities. After suitable districts and partners are identified, farmers’ groups are mobilised in each designated operational community. Each group is briefed on the potential role of a CKW within its service sphere and what the community expects of them. 
  2. Peer nomination. Community members nominate candidates from farmers’ groups based on key requirements, including basic education, leadership potential, residency in the community, trustworthiness, enthusiasm towards innovations or new ideas, and willingness to devote 10 or more hours per week to RAS. The sponsoring agency and community leaders vet the nominees for training. 
  3. Training. Potential CKWs are trained for an average of 4 weeks, usually divided into the following phases: (1) developing proficiency in the use of the smartphone and its apps, (2) understanding the use of content such as information on specific value chains and good agricultural practices, and (3) use of monitoring and evaluation tools. 

CKWs are usually paid per month based on monthly performance targets, which vary. For example, in Uganda, each CKW is expected to conduct 48 or more searches, register 15 or more new farmers into the service, and conduct 8 or more surveys. Those who meet monthly targets receive about UGX60,000 (Ugandan Shillings), which is equivalent to approximately US$24 per month.