Greetings from Catholic Relief Services (CRS)! We, Suzanne Andrews and Shaun Ferris, from the Baltimore-based Agriculture and Livelihoods Program, presented at the American Evaluation Association’s Annual Conference in Washington DC on a Farmbook suite of on/off line tools to help us to better build capacity, gather data and develop business plans with smallholder farmers.
Lesson Learned: A Challenge: One of the key problems we face in working with smallholder farmers is understanding who our clients are, where they live, their cropping systems, their costs of production and the market opportunities near their communities. There are very few tools to help field agents gather these types of monitoring and evaluation data in a systematic way and few means of aggregating and sharing this information.
A Product: CRS has been working to develop tools that help field agents to develop farmer group business plans, to gather data on production and profitability levels, sharing this information with farmers, local project managers and globally through a digital data platform.
Rad Resources: We manage, analyze and share our data through cloud-based data management systems that allow global users from CRS and other organizations to view our data and create customized reports. We are also working with Nethope’s cloud services, creating webinars to share ideas and get feedback, and also link with potential users. We have held several webinars about our e-learning platforms and the business planner /profitability tool . We also share the information through our ICT4D conferences that we hold every year, in Africa.
Lessons Learned: Field agents who tested the Farmbook business planner and profitability calculator, performed much better when they first enrolled in the e-learning course in marketing and gross margin analysis. We have developed comprehensive training curricula for smallholder capacity building, to support the farm business plan development and data gathering process.
Developing the Farmbook suite required a team of people with diverse expertise, ranging from agriculture advisors, software architects, programmers, instructional designers, subject matter specialists, editors, and artists, to innovative field managers and field agents to design, develop and test the beta versions of Farmbook. Holding that team together in the build, test and deploy phases has been critical to getting to the starting point. We are still working on the business models!
Get Involved: If you would like to test drive our learning tools, the Farmbook business planner, or the Map and Track service delivery audit, let us know! Contact Suzanne.Andrews@crs.org to request a training version of the software, allowing you to assess the profitability of your farm and your farmers!
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