The internet. The repository of all knowledge. One internet connection and all the information in the world could be yours. The information is available so go and get it; things which were genuinely impossible less than 10 years ago have become very much possible now. Take the 15-year-old kid from Mongolia who got a perfect score on M.I.T.’s first free open online course (or MOOC, the ‘M’ is for massive) and was accepted to study there less than two years later. And was teaching there not long after. That is some great stuff.
Sadly, we are not all boy-geniuses. But more to the point, simple opportunity is not really enough. The vast majority of the farmers who work with Seed Change have some internet access. In theory. Not regular access by any stretch but someone would know someone with a smartphone and there are a handful of internet cafes in town. It might be an hour or two on the bus to get there… but you could end up at M.I.T! By in large the internet is around. So why are our farmers not already cultivating palm according to well established best practice? Or designing their own drip irrigation systems? Perhaps it’s similar to Amartya Sen’s thinking on famine. Some famines have nothing to do with drought or lack of food; some famines happen because food is very imperfectly distributed. People are hours or days travel away from full markets, or they are unemployed so can’t afford food, or other richer people are panic buying or hoarding and forcing prices higher. Perhaps information is like food – access and distribution matters as much as existence.
So how do we turn the existence of opportunity provided by the internet’s infinite knowledge into results in people’s lives? How do we get the free knowledge provided by Shamba Shape-up or Access Agriculture into the minds and hands of those of need it? In short, it’s not easy. People who actually need information on how to raise a dozen chickens aren’t typically also sitting around on their laptops googling ‘raising chickens for a basic income’. While I find the videos interesting, my livelihood doesn’t depend on it. If it did, I would probably sell my laptop.
Seed Change is tackling this information distribution problem in a couple of ways. We have our farmer extension work. But we also have our farmer resource centre. We hope to soon start screening episodes of Shamba Shape-up and videos from Access Agriculture for free at the centre. We have a projector, will pre-download the episodes (internet is very patchy) and see who is interested in learning. We are rather unlikely to spark any M.I.T. applications but hopefully we can improve a few chicken businesses.