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Dr Simon M commented on Talisman, a shining light for small-holder farmers

Hi Chioma,

In terms of the type of content that we're making available for farmers we've been working directly with small-holder farmers on real projects for years and taken their input all along the way as to what they need as well as conducting global secondary research on what farmers in different regions want to know in terms of priorities.

In terms of they types of content and ways of sharing, we've found the most important thing is to share knowledge that helps farmers to really learn about the subject closest to their hearts ie agriculture and when we can do that you can see the thanks on peoples faces as they are given an opportunity to really learn.  

I've just emerged from a major project proposal which is working with groups of farmers and again the feedback on the content and ways of communicating is all very positive as we look to help them take a farmers producer group to the next level.  

I've added the text to the full description and also attached a document to the submission with answers to the reviewers questions, I've also include a few images from a farmers convention which will hopefully convey the level of interest in our solution, videos of farmers giving their feedback included earlier.

Thanks for all the thought provoking questions,

Simon

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Dr Simon M commented on Talisman, a shining light for small-holder farmers

Is video a more effective channel than other lower cost channels (e.g., SMS) or more personalised/trusted (visits from agricultural extension experts)?

“A picture tells a 1000 words”, and yet a video can explain concepts not visible in an image and an animation can bring simple concepts to life through magnifications and other techniques to help get messages across.

In terms of cost, this is completely dependent on the market and in many markets SMSs are the most expensive form of data transfer due to their historic delivery mechanism. However, if they are cheaper then our application can use these for data transfer instead of 2.5/3G data transfer.
 
Remember because our content is embedded in the App on installation we don’t used bandwidth for service delivery and in fact a machine coded message can convey far more information than a linguistic text with the same number of characters. So SMS is not necessarily or even likely to be a lower cost channel than our service delivery unless it’s free (in which case we can make use of that also).

The other area of importance is that SMS is only effective for literate farmers and there are large communities of farmers without the skills to access this type of information and they’re frequently the ones who need it most.

In terms of agriculture extension experts, there’s no doubt that experiencing a training event is likely to embed learning better and the reason we’re working on extension tools (AgXpert) is that we consider effective extension to be the gold standard for farmer knowledge sharing. It does however have an associated cost and suffers from the quality and motivation of the individual trainers / organisations delivering service.

So in summary, we believe Talisman and AgXpert to be important tools in the delivery of knowledge and extension services to as broad a farmer population as possible and also see them as a way to improve upon and enhance premium extension services by making them more tailored and consistent in their delivery.

Thanks Chioma and hope that's a reasonable first attempt at answering your questions, by all means let me know if you'd like me to clarify any points further.

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Dr Simon M commented on Talisman, a shining light for small-holder farmers

Will it eventually be replaced as precision agriculture technologies become cheaper/more widely available?

The current role of precision agriculture in the west is to identify and treat different areas of a large field with different levels of fertilizer using a significant degree of mechanization. In most low-middle income countries farm sizes are very fragmented (less than 1/2 acre (1/4 Ha)) with very limited farm mechanization. Mechanized service provision is being developed in many regions but the uptake and reach is very slow and the appropriateness for very small fields can be debated.

Many of the mechanisms which work well for small farms such as ecological solutions (see animation above) are incompatible with mechanization yet can give yields above those of simple chemical based farming depending on the conditions. Also, scouting and understanding the different pests and ecosystem balances before taking a treatment decision certainly work better with a close-up field inspection than a remote analysis.

That's not to say that precision agriculture, GIS and mapping etc are not important and developments in areas such as vegetation index based insurance pay-outs are proof that remote sensing can have a number of very useful roles to play.

Our expectation is that the combination of localized practices choices, effective training content, on-ground observations and remote sensing are the ultimate evolution of these types of services in Low & Middle Income Countries and we look forwards to being in a strong position to lead this with large practices and content databases and simple interfaces to deliver choice and decisions support. Of course the other integrating element is value-chain linkages which we expect to evolve with our services.
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Latest research (Mary Meeker) shows smartphone penetration slowing (India is the exception). Will video be supported sufficiently in the contexts where this is being piloted?

The very first work we did to incorporate video and animations was on a feature phone (before smartphone OSs existed) where the choices were governed by numeric input from the keyboard. The challenges we faced then were lack of memory in simple function phones and lack of standardized OSs, fortunately both of these have changed for the better so we know it is possible to use function phones to deliver these type of services if needed.

However, our view is that if compelling content which is not only interesting and useful but also provides an effective connection to buyers and enhanced income then this in itself can support a more compelling reason to choose a smart-phone vs a function phone, especially with the price differential being minimal and smaller every month.

In terms of the levels of penetration already, unless we set unrealistic market penetration rates above 50% market share, there are more than enough smart-phones in nearly all markets to allow us to deliver our services with many more smart-phones left untouched.

The final element to this is that we’re not reliant on smart-phones only for delivering services, it’s just that these let us deliver a better service as well as to establish learning and profiling loops, thus we can expect some farmers to benefit from this content through profiling and subsequent calendared actions.
 
In terms of seeing how to undertake best practices in their field there are multiple options depending on the context, for example they might view content on another farmers phone or be linked to an extension worker / extension group that can share content or demonstrate practices in the field with the aid of our AgXpert solutions.

... To be continued