Oduor, Erick, Peninah Waweru, Jonathan Lenchner, and Carman Neustaedter. 2018. “Practices and Technology Needs of a Network of Farmers in Tharaka Nithi, Kenya.” In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 39:1–39:11. C

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Contributed date

June 12, 2018 - 6:28pm

Critical Commentary

Angela Okune: This 2018 paper, written by a research team from IBM Research headquartered in Nairobi sets out to understand how and why rural farmers in Kenya use technology in their routine farming activities. They find that "even though a considerable number of our participants were not technology savvy...mobile phone chat applications could be leveraged to promote information sharing in rural farming communities where persistent disparities in terms of income and access to financial support opportunities are prevalent." Not only is there a narrow focus on a limited concept of what constitutes "technology" and an assumption that such "technology" will lead to improvements in everyday lives of rural farmers, there is no discussion of the broader structures that have created challenges for these rural farmers (such as national politics, global trade policies, lack of government support for subsidized agricultural inputs, etc.). These are not challenges that IBM technology can solve and thus appear to have fallen outside of the scope of research.

This 2018 paper echoes the strategy adopted by colonial policy makers of the British colonies in Africa to adapt a less academic and more agricultural curriculum for African needs. The emphasis (as noted by Ball 1983) was "*not* to attract the African away from the land into the modern sector of the colonial economy" but rather the general aim of such education was to "develop habits of steady industry" leading to a "settled and thriving peasantry." Similarly, it appears in this contemporary paper that the use of technology is not to attract the "African" away from the land but rather to empower him to be more technology savvy (and more productive on his small individual plot of land?).