Enhancing the Seed Value Chain in Rural Mali

This section describes the ongoing project on the Seed Value Chain in Mali by AOPP with support from VU and the W4RA team, with a grant from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through a Nuffic OKP project grant (RC/0019/0026).

Since 2015 researchers from VU (Network Institute, Computer  Science Department, Centre for International Cooperation) have worked with farmers organization in Mali to help improve the efficience of the seed value chain, to the benefit of local smallholder farmers, and to help increase food security in this country (See SDG2: Zero Hunger).

Background to the problem
The seed value chain in Mali is hampered by a lack of information and channels for communication. For many smallholder seed producing farmers this is a serious problem. Farmers do not have access to market information; they have difficulties in finding customers and are often not up to date about market prices.

Seed producers buy and sell seeds, but they are often confronted with surpluses when there is a lack of demand for seeds, especially in the occasional good rainy season and a good harvest. Especially farmers  in rain-fed agriculture, in remote regions are the most vulnerable for price and demand fluctuations.

AOPP, — an association of farmer organizations  that reaches up to 3 million people in the whole of Mali —  is concerned with the condition of the member OPs (organisations paysannes). AOPP as a national umbrella organization supports about 250 local farmer organizations, enhancing communication and trying to provide them with timely, accurate and relevant information about all segments of the value chain. To improve communication, AOPP is developing an online seed information system.

The research project of VU uses a participatory action research/design science research approach, based on fieldwork in Mali. It starts with a context analysis, to understand the problem, the stakeholders and their concerns, the current information workflows and the barriers as expressed by the stakeholders. This is done using a design science/action research-based framework, named ICT4D 3.0.
Based on the collected context information and an extensive use case and requirements analysis in Mali, (done in 2019 and 2020) the VU research team is designing, together with the local farmers,  the architecture of a voice-based market information system for farmers in Mali. The user and technical requirements of this system are: it has to work, also in an environment without internet or smartphone, and only GSM voice-based phones.  It has to have a spoken interface, in French and in at least one Malian local language: Bambara. It has to be a technically stable and financially affordable system, in simple words, it has to survive the rural conditions  of e.g. dust, heat, lack of local technical assistance, without being too expensive in its use for the local users.

The VU team supports AOPP’s efforts by designing, in co-creative workshops, new channels for communication and e.g. mobile and voice-based access to seed information. Currently computer science student Sophie Vos (supervised by Prof. Patricia Lago and Anna Bon) is working to design the architecture for this sustainable ICT system, that may serve the seed-producing farmers in Mali.

This project is ongoing. It is actually only beginning. But wit the longstanding socio-technical field experience of VU in ICT4D in rural Africa, this will continue as an important, relevant, real-world research project, carried out in the framework of the W4RA research program.

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