IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Fall 2013 - 18

in yield, and a perceived increase in soil fertility. A survey conducted of users of the service among 200 users
(about half the total) indicated that there was an increase
in yield (for rice) of between 10-15%, and 15-25% for
vegetables, and a cost reduction for rice of 5-10%, and
for vegetables of 10-15%.12
Anecdotally, and not surprisingly it would appear
that fRS users are overall among the younger and
better educated farmers.
Implementing the New Ecosystem
The fRS was initially only deployed in 30 upazilas,
as it was decided to only undertake a limited field
test of the system and the delivery channels in certain selected regions while the full digitization of
the SRDI database was in progress (covering the 465
upazilas).The digitization is now completed for 200
of the upazilas with plans to complete the digitization
process for nationwide delivery.
What is Needed for Full Implementation
Based on experience with the partial implementation (in
30 upazilas) a full national implementation will require a
very significant investment in resources including public
service announcements through the various media - particularly radio and television, local demonstration projects, and extensive training programs for local telecenter
operators. These requirements would be partially offset
if the Agriculture Extension service were to take on the
program as one of its service offerings and thus use its
very extensive field operations (some 14 000 field based
AE officers) as the means for local implementation. Discussions are currently underway with the AE service and
they in turn are doing pilots and testing towards the possibility of this development.
What Happens When There is Full
Implementation
full implementation would mean that the fRS will
be locally available in some 460 of Bangladesh's 503
upazilas and thus available for implementation by a
very large proportion of Bangladesh's 14 500 000
farm households. Should this occur, the impact at the
national level could be quite substantial particularly if
the observations concerning the increase in yield (20-
30%) and decrease in cost/use of fertilizer (15-20%)
were to be projected on a national basis!

What Can We Learn From
Katalyst's Experience?
Building Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships
A significant feature of the fRS is the manner in
which Katalyst has been able to build and sustain a
12

Internal fRS Survey.

18

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multi-stakeholder partnership between a government
research body SRDI and the private sector - with
Banglalink, Grameenphone, and Katalyst as civil
society "catalysts." It is notable that the project would
not have been possible without the commitment of
each of the parties and a clear recognition by all of
the benefits obtained through this ongoing relationship. In the longer term, developing more extensive
community-based linkages may also be desirable as a
way of enhancing interest in the use of the system at
the local level. An issue for the ongoing sustainability
of the activity however, is by whom or how will the
catalyzing role of Katalyst be executed once Katalyst
chooses to withdraw, as it has indicated that it has an
intention to do. At the moment Katalyst is the only
organization with on-going effective ties to all three
partners (SRDI through the Department of Agriculture has an MoU with Grameenphone but no formal
ties with Banglalink).
Building and Implementing Complex
Systems to Help the Rural Poor
The fRS is a quite complex data management and decision support software system. While the user interface
"front-end" is extremely simple - requiring only five
generally known and highly simplified data inputs, the
back end consists of a series of tables and data sets corresponding to each of the input elements. These tables
and the controlling algorithm allow for a focussing of
queries into discreet elements. In addition a series of
calculations translates these tables and data into discreet
and very simple output usable by an illiterate farmer or
at least usable by the farmer in association with his fertilizer supplier. The use of this type of systemto support
decision making by very poor illiterate farmers, while
not unique overall, is significant and note worthy from
several perspectives.
Design
The design of the system interface had to be highly
simplified to allow for data input by generally illiterate farmers with little or no experience with ICTs or
with abstract information processes in general. This
interface seems to work very effectively for the end
user - a notable feature of the system.
Back-End Complexity
One expects decision-support systems to be used to
support decision making by relatively sophisticated
end users in relatively information-intensive environments. This particular system belies this pattern, indicating a possible direction and even a new paradigm
for the development and use of information systems
in support of the poor. That is, with a highly simplified front end (which generally involves considerable
planning and design and as well as additional back-end
IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

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fALL 2013



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