De-centralsied knowledge service is vital for empowering the knowledge deprived poor people. Aiming to provide contextualised and localised knowledge for the poor communities and developing a channel of reliable information for its various clients, Practical Action-Bangladesh promotes grass root Knowledge Centres called GyanerHaat.
With the changing context in the environment, farming systems and local-global trade, the value of a knowledge service and role of knowledge centres in the development process is gaining priority. People need more knowledge to act. Access to information alone, perhaps, is not enough.
Currently, there are many types of Knowledge Centres running in Bangladesh, such as, Ministry of Agriculture’s AICC – Agricultural Information and Communication Centre, Local Government Division’s UISCs – Union Information and Service Centres, Grameen’s CICs – Community Information Centres, D-Net’s ( NGO) Pally Ththya Kendra. These are the widely known ones.
Practical Action started promoting grass root Knowledge Centre called GyanerHaat (Knowledge Shop) in various locations. This is a knowledge access point having knowledge entrepreneur, ICT internet facility, booklets and 10-20 local knowledge actors (extension agents or service providers). Back in 2000 to 2006, Practical Action, first promoted this kind of Knowledge Centres, attached to local NGOs, managed by paid staff. There were several challenges and it didn’t finally sustain beyond the project period, because of the limitations of a project driven approach.
Recommended by a study (Practical Action, 2007) in 2007, Practical Action, shifted its focus from ‘information dropping’ to a process of knowledge creation, sourcing, updating, sharing, influencing, internalizing and conserving, at the grassroot level. It established Knowledge Centre with one Union Council and a school where an entrepreneurship model has been explored. By 2008-09, we tried to understand institutional capacity of knowledge management, various contents for clients, role of human knowledge agents for semi-educated clients, an operational model for knowledge centre, which finally evolved into knowledge partnerships and an established Call Centre.
During 2012, a study was conducted in 10 GyanerHaats located in northern and southern Bangladesh, to understand the nature of service and its effectiveness. These ten centres were located in six districts of Bagerhat, Jessore, Cox’s Bazar, Shatkhira, Sirajganj and Rangpur. The study captured regular monitoring data of the centres, made direct contact with entrepreneurs and Rural Technology Extensionists (RTE) and associated stakeholders such as government line departments, local Union Council representatives. More than 4 informal discussions were conducted in each centre. Some of the most important insights of the study were captured from our 4-5 years’ experience in two centres located at Atulia (under Shatkhira District) and Borokhata (under Lalmonirhat district) and two years of working experience of the authors with 10 more centres.
The GyanerHaats provide a place where communities can access technical and knowledge services and support. Each GyanerHaat has internet connectivity and is managed by a private entrepreneur who charges a small fee for additional services (photocopying, letter writing etc.). Linkage to the wider community is assured through a team of 8-20 Rural Technology Extensionists (RTEs), operating as infomediaries. Having received technical training in agriculture and/or animal health, the RTEs generate their own income by providing technical services and selling inputs, vaccinations etc. It was observed that access to advice, and provision of inputs and services together provided an incentive for the community to utilise the GyanerHaat on a continuous basis.
GyanerHaats were established in coordination with a range of partners and in a variety of settings. In our experience, partnership with local government institutions (the Union Parishad) and national government agencies, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, provide the greatest potential for long-term viability and impact. GyanerHaats based within existing Union Parishad (Council) buildings received more visits from the local community and greater support from local government. Practical Action also operated successful GyanerHaats attached with a secondary school where the knowledge shop attracted students, their parents and additional farmers through the RTEs and teachers for knowledge information services. As of 2012, Practical Action was managing around 30 Local Knowledge Centres (branded as GyanerHaats) as a part of two nationwide programmes.
Solve small snail infestation problem in Shrimp pond
Bishwajit Mandal is a shrimp farmer in Shyamnagar. Shyamnagar is an Upazila in the coastal district of Bangladesh, where most of the farming households are engaged in shrimp cultivation, using saline water.
Bishwajit’s pond was infested with small snails, which is not suitable for shrimp cultivation. It is necessary to make the water body free from snails before starting shrimp cultivation. He consulted Noorun Nabi, an entrepreneur of the GyanerHaat who in turn introduced him to Taposh Pal, a Rural Technology Extension agent for Fisheries. Based on Taposh Pal’s advice, Bishwajit prepared a medicine using tobacco dust and water and spread it on the infected pond. After 4 days Bishwajit Mandal found that all the small snails had died. He was happy to start shrimp farming during that season.
Each centre responded to the enquires of farmers, both at the centre and at the village level, through its Rural Technology Extensionists. The study recorded that each centre could respond to around 1500 -1800 enquires per year, through different means. Maximum enquires were made during face to face visit of the RTEs and some were over phone and at the centre. Most of the enquires were about farm related problems.
It was found that a centre could reach around 15-24 villages and 628 people per month (with overlaps) depending on the concentration of clients around number of RTEs attached and also road connectivity. Usually one RTE reached around 100 households which led to a total outreach of 1000 households per center (having 9-10 RTEs). However, from our long working experience in Centre no. 5 (with 20 RTEs) and in a school based centre, the coverage of clients reached up to 2500 households.
One of the unique characters of the centre is its local expert pool of around 20 self-employed rural technology extensionists, one self-employed knowledge entrepreneur with one assistant, in each centre. They are well connected with the government, other NGOs and Practical Action’s experts. The centre has a range of farm and non-farm technology booklets, leaf lets, CDs and fact sheets on local solutions.
This apart, the other functions served by the centres were – providing e-services such as – skype, video chat, passport and visa processing, on line birth registration, downloading government forms, job search, sending email etc. Services like photocopying, computer text work, printing, computer training, renting multi-media projector etc., were also found to be very useful.
With varied startup investment cost from $2500 to $12500, a knowledge centre can run on its own, if it can earn $125-200 per month. The operational model does not require project based support. It can run independently following a cost recovery method and local institutional support. This centre can be attached with a rural school, Union Council or a NGO, a Community Based Organization (CBO) or a network.
Morjina, a successful goat rearer
Morjina lives near Atulia GaynerHaat. She bought two goats to supplement her husband’s petty earnings. Shykul, a livestock extension agent of GyanerHaat provided them with information on how to manage small goat farming including feeding and disease management. In an year, they had three mother goats with five kids, with a market value of around 400 USD.
In conventional knowledge management system, information control lies with conventionally educated groups. This creates knowledge banks, but not effective ‘knowledge societies’ that engage poor people. A comprehensive knowledge service is about generating, sharing, updating, disseminating, internalising and conserving knowledge. It requires technology, human and institutional support.
The GyanerHaat is capable of serving people, mostly from low and medium strata. However, the approach didn’t completely exclude the rich. It was found that advice combined with the necessary inputs, skills and services will facilitate action. Therefore, an effective working model combining with advice (information, knowledge), input (e.g. quality seed, vaccine) and service (pushing vaccine, animal treatment) made a big difference in knowledge services. Sustainability of such centres depend upon the capacity of local actors, legal and institutional arrangements and local ownership of the centre. Subsidy may be required for running such a centre in very remote locations.
Practical Action, “A Study on People’s Empowerment through Decentralized Knowledge Development and Management”, 2007, Final Technical Report, Practical Action, Bangladesh.
Practical Action, “Program Document on knowledge service of Practical Action, Bangladesh 2012-17”, 2012, A strategic document of Practical Action.
Velden, van der M., “The end of diversity?”, 2002, Paper presented at the ‘Third international conference on cultural attitudes towards technology and communication’, Canada.
Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan
Sr. Knowledge Officer (M&E)
House # 28/A, Road # 05
Dhanmondi, Dhaka – 1205