“Conferences this size are nearly always Powerpoint-led,” said CTA’s Giacomo Rambaldi during the closing ceremony on Thursday evening. “But right from the outset, we decided that this one would be different – that interaction would be at the core of the conference.” And that’s exactly how it’s turned out.
There were no big set piece speeches in the Thursday plenary, ‘Implications for inclusive agriculture – what next?’ Opening the plenary, Pete Cranston of Euphoric Services explained that during the final parallel sessions he and his fellow facilitators had asked everyone: “What was your ‘wow’ moment?” This helped to identify some common themes, or clusters, both within the three conference streams and between them.
Communications consultant Nancy White invited the delegates to leave their chairs, walk round the room, study the cluster sheets on the walls and choose the ones that interested them most. They had headings like: Recognising the importance of local content; Business models; Building on existing communities; Using ICTs to attract youth to agriculture; Putting farmers at the centre.
This was followed by 30 minutes of intense group discussions around each cluster sheet. Some attracted over 30 people; some just a handful. A delegate from each group was invited to describe why their particular theme was so important in just one minute. Here, to give a flavour of the discussions, are a few of the observations:
- What goes into the context box is more important than the technology itself
- We need to focus on proven ICT tools, and recognise the importance of two-way communication
- Let’s get interesting ICT tools into the hands of extension workers, in the hope of attracting more women and young people to the profession
After the group discussions, Chris Addison, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for Knowledge Management, suggested it was time to reflect on what we’d achieved over the past few days. He reminded us of the pre-conference objectives: to share innovations; exchange solutions; review R&D; debate impact; foster partnerships; network. The conference’s success, he suggested, owed much to the excellent enabling environment: to the Serena Hotel and its staff; to the dedicated team of organisers from CTA and MINAGRI; to the excellent facilitation; to the daily videos and other reporting.
Pier Andrea Pirani, leader of the social media team, said he was proud of his 15-strong team of young African men and women. They had posted over 60 blog stories online, as well as videos. Their activities had complemented significant national and international media coverage. Almost 1000 people had been following the conference on Twitter and Facebook, and between them they had made 7000 contributions by Thursday morning.
Pier invited two members of the social media team to say a few words. “This has been quite an experience for me,” said Catherine from Malawi. “I have learned how to write blogs, and I think I have been improving all the time, thanks to training from CTA. At home I work with farmers every day, and the conference has reinforced the importance of putting farmers first.”
Krishan Bheenick, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for Knowledge Management, provided a brief overview of some of the key points – “the things that really caught our attention” – for each of the three conference streams. A comprehensive account of these will shortly be posted on the ICT4Ag website. He concluded with the rallying call: “What next? It’s up to all of us here! Let’s go out there and make it happen!”
“The conference has brought together people who often don’t come together in the same forum,” said CTA Director Michael Hailu. Among the delegates were representatives of both the public and the private sectors. The conference had attracted delegates across the age spectrum, with young people playing a major role. It had also brought together farmers and ICT experts.
This theme was taken up by the Minister of Agriculture, the Hon Agnes Kalibata, who had attended not only the opening plenary but some of the parallel sessions. “A very cool field – ICTs – has been married at this conference to a not-so-cool field, agriculture,” she said. She had been very impressed by the Hackathon, and by the energy and innovation of the young people involved. “This is just the beginning,” she said. “We need to keep working at it, to keep the momentum from this conference going.”
The closing ceremony
The evening began with a colourful entertainment provided by the dance troupe INGANZO NGARI. This was followed by a barnstorming speech from Rebecca Enonchong, founder and CEO of AppsTech, which provides enterprise application solutions to clients in 50 countries. A native of Cameroon, she mixed English with French. “I was so excited to see so many women involved in creating new technologies,” she said. She was excited by a lot of other things too. “We techies are here, at this conference, with ministers, policymakers and everybody else, we’ve made it!” She talked about “geek power” and asked all the ICT experts to stand up and take a round of applause. “You’re a central part of generating economic growth, and you’ve been recognised for what you do at this conference,” she told them. Then she quoted Albert Einstein: Logic will take you from A to B; imagination will take you everywhere. “I’d like to thank CTA for letting us imagine, for providing the tools that make our dreams a reality.”Maria Protz, CTA consultant, announced the winners of the Media Competition, of which she was one of the judges. In the run-up to the conference, young journalists from ACP countries had been invited to submit articles on the conference theme. There had been over 100 submissions, the best six of which were selected as semi-finalists and invited to the conference. Each had to produce four different pieces. “All rose to the occasion,” said Maria. The winner was Joshua Masinde of Kenya. Second and third prizes were awarded to Arison Mbuli Tamfu of Cameroon and Fidelis Zvomuyu of Zimbabwe.
Brief speeches from representatives of two sponsors, James Nguo of SINFA and Qureish Noordin Mohamedin of AGRA, were followed by prize-giving for the Hackathon, introduced by CTA’s Ken Lohento. Ken praised the competitors’ dedication, imagination and skills. Rebecca Enonchong said the judging had been a truly testing experience, with so little to choose between the front runners.
Ensibuko, from Uganda, were declared the winners for designing a web and mobile application, also called Ensibuko, that enables savings and credit cooperative societies of smallholder rural farmers to mobilise savings and receive and disburse loans. The team members were Opio Obwangamoi, Gerald Otim, Kalinzi Kalinzi, Winnie Muhoozi and Angella Nkalubo. They were supported by Outbox Hub.
Second prize went to MAgric of Ethiopia for their product AgriVas, an information resource centre for farmers delivering information via radio, SMS and the Internet. The team was supported by the hub IceAddis. Third prize was awarded to the Ugandan all women group, Agrinfo, who developed the Agrinfo web-based and mobile geographic information system platform for mapping farms and lands.
The three winning teams received seed grants of €5000, €4000 and €3000 respectively. The hubs which nominated the winning teams also received a €3000 grant to undertake post-competition incubation and business support for the winning teams.
The conference concluded with brief contributions from CTA director Michael Hailu, the Ministers for Youth and ICT and the Minister of Agriculture. Passionate, light-hearted and witty, the speeches captured the mood of engagement and optimism. It was, everybody agreed, a week to remember.