Monday, September 11, 2006

Agriculture Micro-Enterprise: The TaniNet Experience

Malaysia has long promoted ICT4D in her Bridging the Digital Divide initiatives. Among the earlier initiatives beginning year 1999 are community-specific projects under the Demonstrator Applications Grant Scheme (DAGS).

TaniNet was initiated in September 1999. It started off as an online interactive service through the Internet offering agriculture and biotechnology information and services to the rural farming community in the State of Selangor, Malaysia. To improve farmers’ access to online services, each of the four Area Farmers’ Organisations (AFOs) involved in the project were provided with one PC and Internet access. The officers and AFOs committee members manning the offices were trained to facilitate and assist members and their families in using ICT for their daily activities. The software engine structure consists of a web portal equipped with a typical set of website facilities and online applications. Community-based activities include field and online surveys, stakeholders’ workshops, capacity building and other community events.

At the project beginning surveys were done to ascertain how community members fulfill their daily information needs. Popular periodicals and newspapers in the local language and style were high in the list. The TaniNet website was thus designed accordingly with feature articles and news articles posted periodically in popular style magazine format. Other appropriate online application modules were also developed.

For the farming business needs, a simple e-commerce engine was deployed for demonstration and trials. This was followed by field visits and workshops with the farmers’ organizations. It was observed the unique socio-political and organizational set-up, trade practices and culture among the farmers, farm units, farmers’ organizations, the Farmers’ Organisation Authority and other associated business units provide a good opportunity to fulfill the socio-economic objectives of the farmers and Government by incorporating ICTs for development. Use of ICTs can be integrated into existing business processes in a continuous an incremental manner. The right approach and methodology is crucial to ensure minimal disruption to existing practices so as to ably manage intermediation and change in long established legacy systems in the agriculture industry in Malaysia.

It is learnt that solutions are also specific to business processes. Examples of business processes among the small farmers are issuance of farm subsidies, micro-credit management, business flow from production to market of specific farm produce such as palm oil, padi, chicken meat, fresh vegetables, etc. Certain activities are also locality specific due to local socio-political and economic conditions.

The TaniNet project concept and design is in line with many successful e-agriculture projects in other parts of the world. Among the interesting features of TaniNet is the low-cost telecentre set-up, use of intermediaries, appropriate integration of ICT into existing business culture and practices. Due recognition is given to TaniNet by international agencies - it is recognized as a success story in the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP;,

a finalist in Infodev / IICD Award Competition in 2000 (, published as a case study in the Journal of Informing Science (, the experience published as a book chapter (Electronic Business and Education – Recent Advances in Internet Infrastructures, Chin, Patricelli and Milutinovic, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston/Dordrecht/London, 2002) and as reference in many Malaysian and International conferences on ICT4D.

TaniNet has demonstrated the approach, project design and methodology to be used to incorporate ICT into community development. In March 2001, with the Farmers’ Organisation Authority as Co-Promoter and endorsed by the Malaysia's Ministry of Agriculture, the Strategic Thrusts Implementation Committee under the National Information Technology Couuncil (NITC) accepted the pilot phase of TaniNet as “Proof of Concept” and directed for it to be up-scaled and implemented for national roll-out into the next phase incorporating e-business solutions. This however has not been executed due to various reasons, among which is the promotion of many uncoordinated initiatives and proposals being championed by different implementing agencies in the agriculture and ICT sectors.