Asia / ILRI / India / Interview / Knowledge and Information / Staff

The ‘ILRI crowd’ in Asia: Paolo Ficarelli

Each week on this blog, we will meet with ILRI staff members, partners and projects in Asia to learn about their work, challenges and the opportunities they face to leverage livestock knowledge in Asia.

With a long family lineage based upon veterinarians and livestock traders, it’s almost natural that Pier Paolo Ficarelli would see his ‘link with livestock being genetic’. Originally from the northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia, Paolo spent two decades working in Sub-Saharan Africa before joining the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) two years ago as a Knowledge Management Specialist in the New Delhi office, or what he likes to call – ‘ILRI’s spiciest side’.

ILRI Asia: After working in India for two years, what are some of the challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered so far?

Paolo: I think that the major challenge in India stems from the incredible number of people whose lives still depend primarily upon agriculture – 700 million or so – and their diversity in terms of languages, culture and agricultural practices. As it is commonly said, it is a continent in one country. It is truly a country of incredible complexity.

On top of this, India is home to the world’s largest cattle and buffalo population and is also the world’s largest milk producer. This provides the country with an amazing opportunity to improve livelihoods through livestock. Yet, at the same time, it is necessary to decrease the environmental impact of livestock through increasing both productivity as well as farming system efficiencies. The key challenge here is to reach out to such a diverse and numerous farming populous – one that is scattered around congested urban hubs and to communicate this information effectively to bring about change rapidly.

The other major challenge I believe is finding a way of harnessing the incredible knowledge potential of the multitude of organizations that are involved in the agricultural sector here. It really takes years just to have a grasp of this complexity and to find your way in.

ILRI Asia: Since joining ILRI, what major projects have you worked on; what are some of the research highlights?

None up to now. This has allowed me to focus on Knowledge Management (KM) intervention that could be useful, with an ILRI project perspective. KM is a pillar to ensure effective and long-lasting development interventions. Scientific progress and innovation development is largely based upon the establishment of networks for the exchange of experiences. This is as valid for scientists, as it is valid for farmers.

The ILRI projects implemented in India already recognize the importance of KM. They do so by communicating their results in different forms and channels, thus ensuring stakeholder learning through innovation platforms. Building upon this, the projects here are proactive in involving farmers in the research process and integrating local knowledge to improve adoptability of the technologies developed. To add value to these on-going ILRI KM efforts, I decided to focus on KM in relation to the use of Information and Communication Technologies (KM4ICT). This is part of the new emerging science, which is sometime referred to as “community informatics”.

KM4ICT in our sense refers to the process of livestock extension and content development and management for different digital media, such as mobile and videos. The purpose is to make use of the opportunities of the digital revolution to exchange information and knowledge more effectively and more rapidly in rural areas. The focus in this case is on giving access through suitable digital devices (e.g. mobile and video projectors) to agricultural information, mainly through voice messages, short messages and videos to farmers on a large scale. I summarized my research in India on the topic in an initial paper. An extended and open version of the study will be published soon as an International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) working paper.

ILRI Asia: With such an immense livestock sector in India, how does your work with ILRI contribute to the Indian livestock sector?

Paolo: My primary goal is to make available livestock advisory services to any farmer who has access to a mobile phone, as it will help to amplify the impact of the different innovation platforms supported by ILRI in India. Ensuring this basic communication system is in place will provide the hundreds of million Indian livestock farmers with an easy-to-access and cheap avenue to receive vital information on disease outbreaks, tips on where they can get the best price on a drench or a concentrate or how they can increase milk production through better feed management for example.

India is at the forefront of ICTs for Agriculture, making it in my opinion currently the best place for ILRI to learn how to best harness mobile and digital media to disseminate relevant agricultural information on a large scale to smallholder farmers. Couple this with the fact that only 7.4% of farmers in India are reached by public extension services and I really do believe there is a great opportunity here for ILRI!

ILRI Asia: Finally, what’s in store for you in 2012 with ILRI?

Paolo: We are about to finalise a proposal for the viable use of mobile for agro-advisory services. It is a consortium composed of CABI, Digital Green and a mobile Value Adding Service company called Handygo. ILRI participates in the project as knowledge provider for livestock.

The project which is in the frame of the mFarmer initiative will take place in six major Indian states. It aims, through a sustainable business model, at reaching more than one million smallholder crop and livestock producers in two years. By navigating a simple voice interface (IVR) on mobile we would like to test the effectiveness of a suite of advisory services to farmers: crop and livestock information on voice and SMS, including weather and market prices, a farmer help line, video links and video audio scripts, moderated knowledge sharing tools, such as multiparty conferencing and farmer voice posting, including syndication for farming inputs and produce. The challenges to be addressed will be to firstly maintain the quality of the service given the large scale, whilst also managing the mobilization and validation of knowledge from its sources, and crucially its translation in to multiple languages whilst maintaining simple and succinct messages. There is definitely a lot in store for 2012, meaning lots of work and sleepless nights!

For more information on Paolo, please view his ILRI Profile Page

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