We recently announced the 5 Winners for the FACT Social Justice Challenge and we are thrilled at the caliber and impact of all the Projects. As such, we want to give you a closer look at these collaborative technology Projects and the people behind them. Each Monday in the month of November, we'll be posting an interview from one of the Winning Projects using the fact interviews tag - we hope you'll follow along!
This week, we're featuring Tambe Hary Agbor from AMIS-CAMEROON. AMIS seeks to solve the problem of unequal food distribution in Cameroon by employing simple Information and Communication Technology tools to address the communication needs of farmers and consumers.
Learn more about AMIS-CAMEROON in the interview below!
What was the inspiration for your Project?
As a child I accompanied my parents to the farm after school. Despite having just rudimentary labour intensive farming equipment, we worked very hard under the scorching sun because our entire livelihood depended on agriculture. Every Wednesday we kids would carry our mother’s harvest to the local market. She would spend long hours in the market either haggling for a suitable price for her wares or waiting for buyers to come. If the haggling and waiting paid off and she sold our wares, then we were sure to get soap, pencils and books; but if she sold nothing, then we simply abandoned the unsold crops in the market, the same products of our hard labour, as we were too tired to take them home again.
I never knew what happened to the cassava, vegetable and fruits we often abandoned in the market until 1996. One evening, while on a visit to my grandmother, I passed through the same market. Unsold crops had been abandoned by farmers just like in the old days when I was a boy. What did I see? I saw stray goats and pigs feasting on crops farmers had suffered so much to cultivate but had abandoned in the market because the cost of taking them home overshadowed the time and energy spent in the market, screaming out to attract unwilling buyers. Then I felt the need to do something to correct this reality which as a child I didn’t fully grasp. When I enrolled for a Masters program in Electronic Government, I kept thinking about what contribution I could make to better the lot of these farmers who work so hard but get little or nothing for their efforts.
What else are you working on right now?
Right now my team and I are working on four different projects. Our projects are coordinated through the AMIS Business Creation & Development unit (ABC&D). These projects include: (i) Seeds4TheFuture Project (S4DF-Project), (ii) Local Talent Rehabilitation & Insertion Project (LTR&I-Project), (iii) Keep It Simple for Success-Kit (KIS4Success-Kit) and (iv) the CameroonBusinessTrustCentre(CBTC).
The Seeds4TheFuture Project is an initiative by AMIS-CAMEROON that encourages donors and sponsors to provide seeds for farmers without the means to buy inputs for the agricultural season. Recipients of S4DF are in turn encouraged to generously donate twice what they received through the S4DF Project. This means a farmer who receives one kilogram of seeds brings back to the S4DF seed bank two Kilograms of same seeds after the harvest season. The accumulation of agricultural inputs through the S4DF program enables and empowers AMIS-CAMEROON to come to the rescue of farmers who through some unexpected natural disaster lose their investment. It also enables AMIS-CAMEROON to be in position of helping farmers from neighbouring countries survive acute seed shortage and avert famine.
Our Local Talent Rehabilitation & Insertion Project is inspired by a problem that is both real within Cameroon and a threat to the future of agro-industrial productivity among a group of very talented youths. Today, three out of five young people with a University degree never get a job. Most of them are really smart. But they use their talents in a negative way. They become scammers and rip unsuspecting nationals and foreigners alike of their hard earned income. Mass unemployment has turned the scamming business into a lucrative venture into which all the smart kids turn to for subsistence. Their actions impoverish their unsuspecting victims and discourage investors from establishing trust and start up any kind of business within our national borders. Our interview with some of them proved that they see themselves as not good for the society, and hence seek to express themselves through illegal activities. So far our government hasn’t taken this evil as a significant handicap to the national economy.
The Local Talent Rehabilitation & Insertion Program is meant to curb this ill through engaging these scammers into meaningful activities where they use their talents to initiate brainstorm and turn their ideas into valuable product packages which we at AMIS-CAMEROON can turn into a business venture with them as valuable partners who now use their talent to serve the general good.
The Keep It Simple For Success-Kit (KIS4Success Kit) is a consultancy and advisory services that we operate. What we offer through the KIS4Success-Kit is basically advice to farmers, companies and corporations. We let them see how profitable, funny and easy work becomes when it is broken down into simple manageable sets and modules.
The CameroonBusiness Trust Centre (CBTC) is basically a web presence featuring a compilation of credible Businesses in Cameroon. We realised it was necessary to compile a list of trusted businesses and post them online so that foreign investors can be sure they are doing business with real corporations and not ghost companies or scammers. We invite the public to nominate credible businesses within their locality. Whenever we receive a nomination, we carry out an investigation, and once we are satisfied beyond reasonable doubts of the credentials of the business, we then publish them on our web site at www.CBTC.org which shall soon be published.
The relationship between our S4DF-Program, the Local Talent Rehabilitation & Insertion Project, the KeepItSimple4Success Kit and theCameroonBusinessTrustCentre is that all four projects contribute towards our primary goal of providing Valuable Information Services to individuals, groups and Corporations that enables and empowers them with the potential to make risk-free decisions, undertake bold business initiatives, build relationships and infuse new life into a way of doing business that once appeared impossible, desperate and meaningless.
Where do you see your Project in 5 years? What about in 20 years?
When AMIS-CAMEROON was created in 2008, we were just a handful of inexperienced graduates blindly but purposefully seeking solutions to problems faced by Cameroonian farmers and consumers. Without any knowledge in organized fund raising approaches, coupled with our ignorance about the stark reality between writing a good project proposal for grants and actually getting the funds needed for running an Organization, we were able despite our limited experience to make known the problems faced by Cameroonian farmers who represent our base populations to a broad sympathetic audience first as Finalists at N2Y4 at San Jose, California in 2009 and also as Semi Finalists for the 2010 Echoinggreen Fellowships Seed funding. Although we never received a winning cheque at any of these events, the recognition for our efforts locally and internationally, and the support we received from various quarters are indeed plausible for an Organization like ours that is just into its second year of existence.
Over these two years, we have been keen observers, cautious copycats and humble listeners to the advices offered; these have greatly helped us fine tune and adapt our project goals and vision to current trends and practices. Two years ago, our project idea could be best characterized as gigantic, chaotic and disproportionate. Today just two years after, we are better organized and more focused about what we want to do, who to partner with and how to blend our different knowledge bases in the right mix to achieve results. In the course of this year alone, we have received requests for cooperation from renowned academics and researchers who see AMIS-CAMEROON as “that spark in the dark” that needs to be protected from “stormy winds” and nurtured to maturity and independence so that it can serve as a “safe shade and refuge” for needy populations struggling to fend off the threats of famine and poverty.
If we get enough funding to support our activities, we can look to the future with much optimism. We shall spread out our project goals over a series of 5 year development plans. In this way we can be able to trace the success and lessons learnt after each 5 year project cycle.
In the first 5 years, we envision AMIS-CAMEROON to be a fully embedded National grassroots Organisation in Cameroon. The landmarks of this first 5 year plan include: sensitizing rural farmers about the role of ICT in providing information that enables them preserve the ecosystems, increase food production through seminars in planting, harvesting and food preservation techniques; provide farmers increased opportunities for marketing their products, make of AMIS-CAMEROON a trusted household brand that shall be synonymous with poverty alleviation and improved economic conditions for the hardworking farmers.
Our subsequent three 5 year plans shall include the following:
Empower youths through creating jobs for them within the different modules that make up AMIS-CAMEROON.
Broker markets for farmers’ produce out of Cameroon and get foreign capital.
Cooperate with other NGOS in the agricultural sector towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals like increasing food supply and moving food to needy regions to combat hunger and famine.
Create an exchange forum through which volunteers from other countries visit AMIS-CAMEROON offices for knowledge transfer seminars and experience to meet new challenges.
Sponsor AMIS-CAMEROON staff to attend international capacity building workshops and seminars.
Given the positive response I have already on the ground along with the unswerving commitment of AMIS members, I am absolutely confident that with needed funding, this project will revolutionise at least 30% of the Cameroonian farmers' market landscape. We shall meet our objective to connect at least 30% of Cameroon's farmers to vital information relating to advanced farming techniques, markets and actually provide them with tools to enable them access markets beyond their immediate geographical location. In 20 years, I see this project covering the entire national territory, including farmers in every rural area in Cameroon both in its English- and French-speaking regions. Today we are helping Cameroonian farmers meet their food needs, in 20 years we shall be partnering with the Food and Agricultural Organization to fight hunger in the most affected parts of the world. That is our broad vision.
What help do you need to to get your Project off the ground?
Indispensable to the project’s full operation are 7 components which will require assistance from funders. The need for communication credit for SMS and Calls is crucial. While computer literate farmers can browse the AMIS website for information, survey from field studies carried out in 2008 (Tambe Harry) shows that just 1 in 10 farmers was familiar with the Internet. However, statistics from the 2 mobile operators in Cameroon (Orange and MTN) show a combined subscription rate of nearly 6 million persons. Targeting mobile phone users with SMS means reaching more persons with timely information than radio and television combined. In view of the foregoing, we prioritize our needs as follows:
Funding is our main handicap. If we had the funding that permits us to function, we would not have to get up every morning and start worrying about looking for sources to finance our different projects. With very large funding we are sure to concentrate our efforts and work hours fully on the project and implementing the solution packages we come up with. The lack of funding means we cannot retain the very valuable volunteers we have today on a permanent basis. They would spend 3 months and leave us because they need to work and get a salary to sustain themselves.
We need sponsors for SMS credits which we basically rely on to push out information to farmers, consumers and other stakeholders in agriculture. We need to send a modest 100,000SMS weekly to farmers and stakeholders in the agricultural sector. Sometimes the owner of an idea like ours is never taken seriously by the Mobile operators. We would appreciate any measure that would help us improve upon the SMS marketing plan that we have produced, and subsequently sway the Mobile operators from resigned sceptics to rational realists receptive to a model that works and assures they get Return on Investments.
We need programmers for our complicated back office integration, especially with the growth of our membership over the years. The help here could mean offering training to a staff member of AMIS-CAMEROON. We shall be grateful to anyone who can give us office equipment to enable us set up at least 3 active regional offices out of the 11 regional offices that we need to operate. Office equipment needed shall include computers, furniture and stationery.
Agronomists and Agricultural Experts whom we consult over the changing needs of the agricultural sector and how we can help framers meet up with these new trends
Writers to document and produce all that we do as a reference for research and other academics.
We need agricultural inputs especially to support our S4DFuture-Program
By trimming our organizational processes into the following business processes, we have simplified our organization and made it easy for investors to choose any of the following modules and sponsor as full scale businesses within AMIS-CAMEROON: AMIS Cash Vendors, AMIS Logistics, AMIS Agro-Consults, AMIS-Text Messaging, AMIS-Info-Kiosks, AMIS-Database Management, AMIS-Warehouses, AMIS-Cooperatives, and AMIS-Content Providers.
How can people best follow your progress and/or get involved?
People can get involved through Volunteering, making a contribution or other in kind donation.