A pilot image of Digital Herder Centre - A tablet based application
A pilot image of Digital Herder Centre - A tablet based application

At the School of Communication and Arts’ Research Seminar in April 2017, CfCSC Director Elske van de Fliert, spoke about her experience leading a three-year (2013-16) collaborative project that aimed at designing and establishing a demand-driven Agricultural Extension system for the Green Gold program in Mongolia. The Green Gold program is a Swiss Government funded innovative rangeland management initiative that has established a large network of Pasture User Groups and Herder Cooperatives to restore degraded rangelands while improving herder family livelihoods in the seven most western provinces of Mongolia.

In the Extension Component project, the CfCSC partnered with the Association for Sustainable Rural Development, a Mongolian NGO. The project aimed to achieve sustainable herder livelihoods through the establishment of demand-driven rural communication services and facilitation of exchange. To achieve this, Elske said the project adopted a participatory rural communication rather than a traditional extension or transfer of technology approach.

Rural Communication Services (RCS) is an emerging concept in the communication for development (C4D) field that reinforces a people-centred approach in rural development processes.

“RCS involves facilitated, deliberate and planned processes, characterised by a strategic use of interpersonal and mediated communication methods to facilitate stakeholder participation.”

The Green Gold Extension Component adopted a number of demand-driven initiatives including the establishment of district based Herder Service Centres that facilitated participatory exchange meeting and both classroom and field training, as well as the circulation of information bags containing a rural Mongolian newspaper and magazine, a project newsletter and other information materials.

According to Elske, the information bag that circulated around herder households recorded a high success rate for disseminating information to herders and collecting their feedback. 

“The satisfaction rate of herders with the information bag ranges between 68 and 100 percent,”

“The information bag also fulfils an essential role in strengthening the extension system itself by highlighting the role of herder advisors as information providers as well as by offering an opportunity for the district governments and the herders to connect with each other on an ongoing basis. Unlike meetings that only allow a few herders to speak, the information bag allows every herder in the community to share their concerns and critiques with the local government”.

Elske also articulated that the active involvement of the Mongolian government and herder cooperatives as additional, complementary extension service providers contributed greatly to the success of the Extension Component of Green Gold.

"Together, the innovative communication approaches embedded in the Extension Component of the project are most likely going to be sustained beyond the project lifecycle," she said.

One of the approaches she reinforced in her concluding remark is the Digital Herder Centre (DHSC). This tablet-based platform facilitates information transfer through interaction with images and characters the herders can relate to easily.  

The DHSC will form part of the integrated, people-centred RCS communication framework as an emerging frontier for leveraging effective rural development initiatives, not only in Mongolia but also in other low-income countries. 

While the DHSC will just begin to be piloted in Mongolia, a similar initiative of a tabled based prototype for cocoa farmers in Sierra Leone indicates that there is tremendous potential for using technology for learning and exchange in isolated and marginal communities.

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