Problem Solving using Critical Thinking: a case study of rural telecentres for improving farm productivity

TO: Those who wish to apply critical thinking to solve problems, big and small
FROM: John Vong

Nations have national issues. People have personal problems. Many approaches to resolve the issues and problems have been ineffective, because of the lack of critical thinking. Some suggestions to resolve very serious issues can be considered humorous and very entertaining, but largely missing the mark. Thus the issues remain unresolved. A case in point:

"There is a highly populous nation, despite being a top producer of rice by world standards, still has to import rice. Many of its citizens called for ways to improve crop productivity among other measures. One startling suggestion from an influential member of the political community was to stop consuming rice and replacing rice with a diet of potatoes. While this is an laudable suggestion at least in the short term, it does not address the national issue of low crop productivity due to pestilence, pricing or climatic changes or something else".

How to apply think critically to solve issues and problems?
There are many books that "tell" you how to think critically but there is a case study or project document written below that actually "shows" you how to think critically, plan and act to resolve a national issues. This project was implemented in Vietnam and was sponsored by UNDP, Government of Vietnam and Intel USA. The approach used in the case study could be easily applied to resolving personal problems too. Read on.

(Sub component project of PAR in MARD UNDP VIE/02/016)

This document is prepared in accordance with guidelines of circular No. 06/2001/TT-BKH dated 20 September 2001, which guided in details the implementation of Decree 17/200/NN-Cpdated 04 May 2001 regarding regulations on managing and using ODA (Official Development Assistance). This outline is written in accordance with formats laid out in Index 2, Page 3 of Circular 06/2001/TT-BKH.

I. Sub-component information

  1. Sub-component title:
  2. Host agent: PAR in MARD Project (VIE/02/016)
    (a) Address:
    (b) Telephone/fax:
  3. Telecentre Pilot Executive Agent:
    (a) Address:
    (b) Telephone/fax:
  4. Agent proposing Telecentre Pilot: PAR in MARD Project (VIE/02/016)
    (a) Address:
    (b) Telephone/Fax:
  5. Estimated start time/end time: 01 July 2005 to 31 December 2006
  6. Location of Telecentre Pilot: 13 communes in 10 provinces
  7. Total Budget: USD500,000, in which
    7.1 UNDP: USD400,000 (grant)
    7.2 Government of Vietnam Budget: VND1,500,000,000 (equivalent to USD100,000) in VND
  8. Form of ODA funding: Grant

II. Telecentre Pilot Content

1.0 The Need of the Telecentre Pilot

1.1 Context

The emerging nation of Vietnam has at least 70% rural population engaged in agriculture production but contributes to only 22% of the GDP. The UNDP have conducted two studies on farmer livelihoods in 2003 and 2004: Farmer Needs Study (UNDP VIE/98/004, 2003) and Feasibility Study on Rural Pilot Telecentres for Farming Households (UNDP VIE/02/016, 2004) that revealed the plight of poor farmers and confirmed a need for information to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural production leading to higher incomes.

1.2 Main findings of the Farmers Need Study and Telecentre Feasibility Study

The Farmers Needs Study (2003) under the Public Administration Reform in MARD Project, identified problems faced by farmers in their efforts to increase the size and quality of agriculture production, and the alternative ways to support rural farming through public service delivery. The six-month Needs Study conducted not less than 1200 door-to-door interviews in 60 communes in 30 randomly selected districts that were engaged in crop cultivation, animal husbandry, fishing and forestry. Among the key findings is that almost all farmers are poor, having household incomes of VND 10 Million or less. The farmers voiced their major problem as the lack of information to help them: control insects, rats and fungus devastation; and increase the selling price of agriculture products..

The 2004 ICT Feasibility Study took the form of a structured field survey of 20 randomly selected communes in 10 districts within 10 provinces across the nation, over a period of four weeks. The ICT Study found that information on agriculture output is most helpful to farmers; information is urgently needed for agriculture production reform; and technical information on agriculture extension, animal health and plant protection is urgent for farming communes. The ICT Study also highlighted that the district and communal extension at present has limited capacity to help farmers to resolve their problems and they themselves lack information and technical knowledge. The deployment of ICT for poverty reduction is already welcomes at three levels: commune, national and international.

The main findings of the two studies highlighted that the “information gap” lowers farm incomes and production due to:
1. Price exploitation of farmers by middlemen, slaughter houses, and food manufacturers;
2. Devastation of crops and animal husbandry by fungus, rats, insects and disease thus lowering production volume and quality;
3. Inability to find long-term buyers to stabilise their incomes;
4. Inability to seek the best credit sources (80% of farming communes borrows to fund their agriculture production) thus paying higher interest rates and reducing incomes;
5. Inadequate knowledge of agriculture marketing skills to increase sales volume;
6. Lack of forward production planning thus lower incomes;
7. Inability to increase crop yields and husbandry;
8. Inadequate knowledge of agriculture extension to help farmers;
9. Outdated and non-specific training from agriculture extension;
10. Untimely and sporadic TV broadcast of agricultural information.

1.3 Market knowledge
Field study shows that in all communities, the biggest difficulty encountered by farmers is the lack of information on their output market. In both those communities where the target is the domestic market and communities where products are mainly for exports, farmers sell their products through individual middlemen. Rarely do processing enterprises come to farmers to collect raw products nor do they contract farmers to grow specific plants and commit to purchasing all the outputs if the qualify is satisfactory. Thus, the sale of agricultural products of farmers is totally dependent on the middlemen. However, the middlemen only participate in the process of delivering agricultural products from farmers to purchasing agents/collecting enterprises, they are not very effective in assisting farmers to select what crops/trees to grow, what animals to raise.

1.4 Technical knowledge:
The changes in agricultural production are posing new challenges for farmers. When new seeds or breeds are introduced, new farming techniques must be applied. Farmers cannot just apply traditional techniques and take care of their production based on experience. For example, in Vinh Long, many farmers are shifting from growing rice to developing “Tam Binh” orange, a crop that brings much higher profit. But this kind of orange necessitates special efforts, especially in selecting saplings. Many farmers are now learning the costly lesson that free-from disease saplings must be selected carefully from reliable suppliers.

1.5 Agriculture reform
Resolutions of the 5th and 9th Plenum of Vietnam’s Communist Party (Term IX) stressed the importance of “strongly changing agronomic structure aiming at the creation of cash crop production areas which focus on intensive cultivation”. Following the resolution, there is a restructuring in farming activities in all communities investigated. However, the extent to which agricultural production is restructured varies between different communities. In some communities, there are small changes such as increasing from 2 crops of rice per year to 2 crops of rice and 1 crop of non-rice food, or introducing new seeds or breeds to production. For example, in Thanh Hoa, Thai Binh, the communities are now making efforts to achieve a target of 50 millions’ revenue per hectare by rotational and alternate crops. In Binh Phuoc, Dak Lak, new types of cashew nuts and coffee are introduced. In other communities, there are basic changes in the structure of cultivation and husbandry, such as shifting from paddy fields to fishponds in Bac Ninh or from paddy fields to fruit in Vinh Long. In all cases, significant information is needed on land use.

1.6 Agriculture extension services:
The system of these agencies is the most important source of technical information for the farmers. These agencies issue farming manuals, leaflets, brochures etc. to introduce farming techniques, pest and disease prevention and treatment etc. and provide training to extension officials of the agencies of the lower level and to farmers. Currently, the extension workers at the commune level have limited capacity to train farmers, thus all training for farmers is either provided by the district or provincial officials.

At the commune level, there are usually one to two workers who take on the responsibilities in all three areas: agriculture extension, animal health and plant protection. These workers are not Government personnel, and they are not administratively linked to the support systems. They are paid with allowances of from VND 100,000 to VND 200,000 from the provincial budget, resulting in low motivation to advance their skills.

1.7 TV Broadcast of information:
At present VTV2’s weekly programme “Friends of Farmers,” is very popular with farmers. Television stations in the provinces surveyed also have similar weekly programmes under different names. They provide farmers with introduction on new production techniques and models, new breeds and seeds etc. However the broadcast often stop at introduction while detailed and specific information is needed and (ii) and that the broadcasts are in the morning and afternoon at a time when farmers need to work. Therefore, ICT to be established should have appropriate facilities to record agricultural-based TV programmes and circulate the discs/video tapes amongst farmers.

2.0 Telecentre Pilot Goal and Purpose

a) Propose development and sub-component purpose:

The propose development goal for the sub component is:

To improve the lives of the rural community through providing them with better access to information.

The proposed purpose of the sub-component is:

Piloting 13 Telecentres in farming communes to identify appropriate and financially sustainable Telecentre model/s that can best provide information to enhance income generation capacity of farmers.

b) Immediate objectives

To deliver and exchange useful and useable information services to farmers based on their needs, priorities, aspirations and identified opportunities for improved agricultural production, leading to increased incomes, and within a tested and replicable mechanism that makes effective and sustainable use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

3 Major Outputs for Telecentre Pilot

3.1 Output 1: 13 pilot Telecentres established
3.2 Output 2: Capacity of Telecentres’ operators improved
3.3 Output 3: Information supply channels developed
3.4 Output 4: Information distribution channels developed
3.5 Output 5: Impact Study of Telecentre Pilot

4 Overview, Scope and Activities of Telecentre Pilot

4.3 Overview

The underlying reason for the sub-component of support is to reduce poverty in the rural areas by increasing the income-generation capacity of farmers through the deployment of ICT. This is a direct contribution to national priorities in agronomic restructuring and ICT application for poverty reduction in Vietnam.

Resolutions of the 5th and 9th Plenum of Vietnam’s Communist Party (Term IX) stressed the importance of “strongly changing agronomic structure aiming at the creation of cash crop production areas which focus on intensive cultivation”.

Directive No. 58-CT/TW has outlined the main targets of ICT application for rural development and poverty alleviation in Vietnam.

Decisions No. 158/2001/QD-TTg and No. 95/2002/QD-TTg of the Prime Minister were promulgated, providing basic contents of ICT application and development in rural infrastructure construction and poverty alleviation.

Decision No. 272/2003/QD-TTg approved the Science and Technology Development Strategy and indicated that, “by 2010, ICT must make important contributions to progressive rural development. Besides, ICT application and research should be further enhanced in agriculture, forestry, fishery and food-processing industry to take full advantages of tropical natural resources and to improve the competitiveness of export farm products equally to developed regional countries. This will lead to rural economic restructuring, creation of jobs for rural people, improving people's lives and our agriculture improvement..”

4.2     Scope

Piloting 13 Telecentres in farming communes in 10 provinces to identify appropriate and financially sustainable Telecentre model/s that can best provide information to enhance income generation capacity of farmers.

The 13 pilot locations were selected based on the factors of ecology, key agriculture production areas, ICT awareness of communes and the ease of accessibility of digital.

4.3 Major Activities

Output 1: 13 pilot telecentres established
Activity 1.1: Recruiting operators for the 13 pilot telecentres
Activity 1.2: Leasing premise for the telecentres
Activity 1.3: Procuring equipment for the 13 pilot telecentres

Output 2: Capacity of telecentres’ operators improved
Activity 2.1: Preparing a manual of running a telecentre, including procedures for monitoring its operation
Activity 2.2: Conducting a training course on (i) the use of computers; (ii) searching for information; (iii) running telecentres
Activity 2.3: Organizing experience exchanging workshop

Output 3: Information supply channels developed
Activity 3.1: Establishing a central information help desk
Activity 3.2: Establishing a library of books, videos/VCDs in the central information coordination unit and pilot telecentres
Activity 3.3: Developing a list of information sources
Activity 3.4: Contacting and studying information sources
Activity 3.5: Establishing cooperation mechanisms with information sources

Output 4: Information distribution channels developed
Activity 4.1: Strengthening common interest groups/extension clubs
Activity 4.2: Developing forms of bulletins
Activity 4.3: Issuing bulletins regularly
Activity 4.4: Developing a form to receive queries/requests from farmers
Activity 4.5: Processing queries/requests from farmers
Activity 4.6: Developing a mechanism to support the development of demonstration models

Output 5: Impact Study of Telecentre Pilot
Activity 5.1: Contracting an external consultant to conduct a baseline study
Activity 5.2: Contracting an external consultant to conduct impact studies

5.0 Underlying reasons for proposed funding

5.1 Project objectives relevant to Donor’s interest

UNDP has provided assistance to the PAR process to the Government of Vietnam from the early stages. The Telecentre Pilot falls neatly into UNDP’s global mandate to support poverty reduction and governance to attain sustainable human development. Sustainable human development is, within the on-going Country Cooperation Framework Vietnam (1997-2000), aimed to assist PAR efforts in Vietnam and the access to PAR experiences in the world. It is also that the PAR in MARD Project is considered a success in administrative reforms in the Government of Vietnam by both the UNDP and Donors.

5.2 Comparative advantage of Donors in terms of IT, finance and management experience

UNDP’s global experience recognized in the creation of UNDP New York of the Management of Development and Governance Division, its network of country offices in over 135 countries, and its tradition of high0-quality, neutral advice to governments makes it a partner of choice of many countries I such sensitive reform areas, particularly in the group of countries that is transitioning to a market based economy.

In addition, in supporting the Telecentre Pilot (a sub-component of the PAR in MARD Project), the UNDP proved itself to be a powerful potential donor for effective support to the PAR process in Vietnam. In addition, UNDP at the request of the Government of Vietnam and donor community plays a key role in providing expertise and assists the Government in mobilizing and coordinating donor funds. The UNDP also helps to develop several PAR projects that need bilateral funding through the organization.

6.0 ODA Capital and National Capital

6.1 ODA Capital

ODA funds will be taken under the following forms:

(a) UNDP grants;
(b) Budget for capital construction;
(c) Budget for administration cost, which account for 100% of total ODA capital;
(d) On-lending

6.2 National Capital

National budget will be mobilized in one of the following forms:

(a) Budget granted by the Government accounts for 100% of the total National Capital (in which, Central Government budget is at 0%, local budget at;
(b) Investors’ capaital accounts for 0% of total National Capital;
(c) Beneficiaries’ investment capital accounts for 0% of total National Capital.

7.0 Implementation Organization

The Telecentre Pilot will work within the existing structure of the PAR in MARD Project (UNDP VIE/02/016) with the PSU working in close collaboration with DARDs, ICARD, Department of Rural Cooperatives, Agriculture Extension, Farmers Associations, district agriculture stations, Peoples Committee, civil society organisations, and community schools. The PAR in MARD National Project Director, and National Project Manager and the UNDP Resident Technical Adviser will take on added responsibilities.

III. Analyzing the efficiency of the Telecentre Pilot

  1. Preliminary assessment on economic and financial efficiency

For this type of project sub-component, it is difficult to quantify economic and financial efficiency. However it is certain that PAR has made significant contribution to economic growth in Vietnam. Targets that the Telecentre Centre Pilot aims to achieve are:

(i) Íncome-generation capacity of farmers is increased;
(ii) Quality of agriculture production is increased;
(iii) Volume of agriculture production is increased;
(iv) Effective land use;
(v) Better methods of animal disease control;
(vi) Increase ICT knowledge in rural areas;
(vii) Speed up the reforms in agronomic sector;
(viii) Rural poverty is reduced.

  1. Preliminary assessment on social efficiency

Social efficiency is better recognized in terms of:

(i) An effective local government would ensure stability and sustainable development;
(ii) Improved methods of public service delivery to the rural population;
(iii) Wins the trust of the citizenry on the Government;
(iv) Having greater levels of transparency and accountability that ensures social equality between citizen classes, areas, gender, individuals and organizations.

  1. Preliminary assessment on environmental impact

Though the Telecentre Pilot has no direct linkage to the environment sector, there could be indirect impact, such as:

(i) Decision making by the rural population on agriculture production planning and land use as a result the development of Telecentres may affect the environment;
(ii) Improvement of administrative procedures or internet use to deliver public services in some departments may reduce the time travel of the rural population, which may help to reduce traffic congestion

  1. Preliminary assessment on sustainability of Telecentre

The Telecentre Pilot will create sustainability because it is designed to develop capacity and to identify the best approach towards assuring financial sustainability when the pilot ends. Different models will be tested in 13 pilot telecentres and key success factors are identified to ensure sustainability, including building capacity in ICT skills among the rural population through:

(i) Training of Telecentre Staff, DARDS, People Associations, Farmers Unions, Rural Cooperatives;
(ii) Operations of the Telecentres;
(iii) Replicating Telecentres based on identified key success factors from the Impact Study;
(iv) Increased knowledge of maintaining and sustaining a Telecentre using appropriate entrepreneurship models


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