Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

I grew up on a farm in Germany where my family raised cattle, horses and sheep, but I had never seen anything like the scene I recently witnessed at a cattle market in Adama, Ethiopia. The market was a sprawling collection of huts and outdoor pens crawling with all manner of livestock. Farmers, traders and buyers sized up the animals and dickered to make deals. It seemed like chaos to the untrained eye.

The Adama, Ethiopia cattle market

The Adama, Ethiopia cattle market

In fact, it was more like a puzzle to be solved. Two IBM colleagues and I who are members of the Corporate Service Corps team in Ethiopia were visiting Adama to learn how livestock markets in Ethiopia work. Our goal was to be able to make recommendations on how information technology could help them work better.

IBM isn’t known for having expertise in agriculture, but part of the company’s commitment to Africa is being willing to listen to the local people, understand their needs, and produce technology-based solutions that improve local businesses, economies and society as
a whole.

Agriculture is of vital importance in Ethiopia. It accounts for 48.7% of GDP, 85% of employment, and 90% of exports.

The author (third from left) with the rest of the Ethiopia Corporate Service Corps team

The author (third from left) with the rest of the Ethiopia Corporate Service Corps team

IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, a pro-bono philanthropic program modeled on the United States’ Peace Corps, sends teams of a dozen IBMers to places around the world for four-week visits to help local leaders solve problems. I’m part of the first CSC team to visit Ethiopia. Since IBM doesn’t even have an official office here yet, our team is like a group of goodwill ambassadors in the country.

In a way, this is a listening tour. My CSC colleagues and I interviewed dozens of government officials, academics, representatives of non-profits and participants in the livestock economy.

In Adama, we spoke to a trader and a farmer. I was surprised to learn that neither of them knew of the existence of a Livestock Market Information System (LMIS) that has been functioning in the country for three years. The system was designed to improve the transparency and efficiency of the markets. These interviews taught me a lesson: Just because you build something useful, that doesn’t mean people will know to use it. I’m in marketing & communications at IBM, so, in a way, it was gratifying to know how important that work can be.

Our first few weeks here have been an intense learning experience. Everything is new – the striking countryside, the bustling cities, the friendly people, and the diverse cultures. (There are 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia.) We had the incredible experience of visiting the National Museum in Addis Ababa to see the fossilized bones of Lucy, the oldest human remains, from 3.2 million years ago. Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity. It was from here about 150,000 years ago that homo sapiens began the migration that eventually covered the globe. We all have our roots in Ethiopia.

My team’s goal before we leave the country is to recommend a series of improvements to the LMIS. I’m working on that project with colleagues from Australia and China. Together, we’re developing recommendations for improvements to the measurement, analysis and reporting structure for the LMIS. This is one of several projects being undertaken by the Ethiopia Corporate Service Corps team.

I look forward to a time when a farmer in a remote part of Ethiopia can check livestock prices, interact with potential buyers, and handle government paperwork – all on a mobile phone. In fact, technologies that bring connectivity and transparency to markets via mobile phones could have a powerful ripple effect all across the developing world. Anything we IBMers can to do help produce that outcome will be time well spent.

Kaethe Engler is an industry marketing expert with IBM Germany.

Related Resources:

IBM Develops Plan to Enhance Ethiopia’s Trade and Streamline Governance

IBM Expands Across Africa

IBM Corporate Service Corps

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5 Comments
 
September 16, 2013
12:03 PM

Excellent article Kaethe, I enjoyed reading it and I enjoyed sharing CSC Ethiopia 1 with you.


Posted by: Myrtle Ingrid Lalchan
 
September 17, 2013
8:46 AM

Hi Käthe,

I hope, you are well. The IBMers in Frankfurt are full of expectation to hear about your experiences and to see many pictures from Ethiopia !!

LG Manfred


Posted by: Manfred Ludwig
 
September 27, 2013
5:04 AM

Hi, Kaethe,

It’s really veric nice summary. I’m very pleasure to work with you on this interesting project.


Posted by: Steven Lu
 
October 1, 2013
9:21 AM

Hello Käthe,
I am impressed what you have done in this short time. This was for sure a very exciting, adventurous and exhausting time.Looking forward to see some pictures and more stories. Gudrun


Posted by: Gudrun Hilden-Posner
 
October 28, 2013
12:00 PM

Hallo Kaethe,
Great to read your report. Good news travels fast: I spoke to Olaf Erz (IICD) last week and he told me about the good work of the team in Ethiopia.


Posted by: warner
 
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September 10, 2013
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[...] To read more, go to the CitizenIBM blog. [...]


Posted by: Can Technology Help Transform Agriculture in Ethiopia? « A Smarter Planet Blog A Smarter Planet Blog
 
September 10, 2013
8:48 PM

[...] This post originally appeared on the Citizen IBM blog. [...]


Posted by: Can Technology Help Transform Agriculture in Ethiopia? | IBMJobs
 
December 10, 2013
11:41 AM

[...] countries. We had been working for four months to prepare for our 30-day pro bono engagement in Adama, Ethiopia. Our team was engaged in helping three of Ethiopia’s key ministries – Agriculture, Trade, and [...]


Posted by: Helping Ethiopia Achieve Its Economic Goals | Citizen IBM Blog
 
December 12, 2013
12:46 AM

[...] countries. We had been working for four months to prepare for our 30-day pro bono engagement in Adama, Ethiopia. Our team was engaged in helping three of Ethiopia’s key ministries – Agriculture, Trade, and [...]


Posted by: “Helping Ethiopia Achieve Its Economic Goals” | Desi Corps
 
December 12, 2013
1:13 PM

[...] countries. We had been working for four months to prepare for our 30-day pro bono engagement in Adama, Ethiopia. Our team was engaged in helping three of Ethiopia’s key ministries – Agriculture, Trade, and [...]


Posted by: Helping Ethiopia Achieve Its Economic Goals | IBMJobs
 
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