During the month of October, I had the fortunate opportunity to work with a rural agricultural agent, located in the rural village of Kalanje in Zambia’s Eastern province. The agent was trained to be a sales person and advisor on chemical products for an agro-chemical supplier. During my time with the agent, it became apparent that there was a knowledge gap when attempting to assist farmers. The agent was having trouble retaining and understanding the complex knowledge that was disseminated to him.
To bridge that gap, I decided to test the assumption that by having the information in a chart on paper, he would be better able to refer to all the information, instead of attempting to recall everything that was taught in a workshop. Before I left, mid-October, I provided him with charts that linked crop problems, such as disease and pests that were prevalent in the area, to the proper crop-related agro-chemical product.
At the end of November, I made a trip back to Kalanje to record and capture his sales. My main objective was to see if the product charts had any impact on the sales of crop-related products. With better customer service for crop-related products, I expected to see an increase in sales of these to compliment his livestock sales, which he has been trading for months prior.
RESULTS… SO FAR
If the product charts proved successful in allowing the agent to solve these problems, there should be some indication in the sales records. If you refer to the graph below, it is evident that there was no significant increase.
View the raw data – many records were not dated and lumped together on the far right of the graph.
Some hypothetical conclusions for this:
- Vegetable crops that were almost ready to harvest in October were already harvested before the agent was given the charts. Therefore no products were needed in the time frame.
- The agent’s core competency is in supporting livestock and he puts all his sales effort into that business.
- During November fields are being prepared for planting maize. Only herbicides are needed whereas pesticides and fungicides are not. (There was no chart given on proper safe use of herbicides)
- Product charts are, simply, not useful for agents to use in the sales and advising process
- The idea is simply not effective in a rural Zambia context
- The agent may not actually know how to use the charts, despite my test results that indicated that agents with grade 12 education can quickly understand how to use them in less than a few minutes
- Farmers are more focused on protecting their livestock from the increased probability of disease brought on by increasing rains beginning in November
With so many environment-related factors affecting the test, we are not able to conclude on the effectiveness of (or lack thereof) the intervention at this point. Future trials will be needed to shed more light on the initiative.
The costs for this initiative (approximated):
- 2 days to create the charts
- 1 day to determine to how long how long it takes for an agent to understand the chart
- ~$50 round-trip travel to the agent from Lusaka
I initially published this article saying the information was from Chinjala. The data is actually from Kalanje.